A few weeks ago, while performing the rigors of maintaining a bear camp, the movie “No Country for Old Men” keep playing in my head! Not that I ever saw the movie, but the “title” sure seemed to fit the situation.
It had been several years since I had attempted to do a self guided bear hunt, and for good reason. In the “old” days several of my brothers and a few close friends would embark on our yearly Marquette fall bear hunt. Licenses were sold over the counter, and we always knew a butcher who could get us plenty of meat scraps. Donuts from the bakery, and fish from Thills fish market in Marquette were always on the menu. Of course this involved many helping hands, countless hours on the road, and the backbreaking task of checking and maintaining bear bait sites. Some sites were 20 miles apart, which left little time for sight-seeing or actual relaxing! I didn’t even mention setting up tree stands, or “humping” them back in the woods, or up a steep ridge. We would always eat good in camp, but to the man we would all drop a few pounds during our bear hunt. That was in the 1970-2000 era of bear hunting.
Because of anti-hunting pressure on our Department of Natural Resources, and our state legislators we now have a totally different bear hunting structure in place. Permits are given on “drawing” basis. This means the Ansel boys would no longer be hunting as a group, due to the fact that we could not be “drawn” for the same time period. There are three different hunting time periods, and for the 1st. hunt it usually takes 5 years to draw that choice! So you see that we now have to venture in small groups of 1 or possibly 2 which makes for a lot of work on those that are fortunate enough to draw a tag.
I usually put in for the 3rd. hunt which is later in the season and runs the month of October. If I draw a permit I have to then talk a friend into going with me, and that’s not easy. In fact most “friends” will only go once, when they find out about all the work involved.
Thankfully My good friend Pastor Bob Baltrip volunteered to be my “hunting buddy” this year. In our younger days we did a lot of hunting and camping together, but the years had taken us separate ways, until fate intervened a few years ago and restored our old friendship. I am a type 2 diabetic with high blood pressure and several other issues, while Bob has a pace maker along with some limitations set forth by his heart doctor. Our wives were somewhat concerned about the rigors they knew we would put ourselves through. We joked with one another as to who would be giving “mouth to mouth” to the other before this adventure was over!
The day we left we had a trailer full of 4-wheelers, bear bait, tree stands, and an assortment of other necessities! Marquette was an 8-1/2 hour drive away. Once at the Baldwin camp we set in to unpack and ready things for maintaining three bait stations. Carrying 75-100 pounds of bait into each bait site on a daily basis is not for the faint hearted. It’s messy back breaking work, especially when one bait site is 100 yards up a steep ridge! We had two sites getting hit on a daily (nightly) basis so we concentrated on those two baits, but still drove several miles to check the third site.
The actual hunting involved arriving at the stands many hours before the bear had been arriving, and then sitting quiet and motionless for long stretches of time. The old “rear end” doesn’t do well perched high in a tree stand with a metal seat. Legs need to move, arms fall asleep, eyes grow droopy, and “gas” wants to escape in the worst way! Are we having fun yet?
Our third and last night in the stand Bob whispers “There’s a bear coming in!” Now that will get you heart thumping! To make it even more exciting it was my 68th birthday and the script was going according to plan. A double lung heart shot put old “blackie” down within earshot (the death moan) but cost me a severe gash in my thumb. Dragging the bear through a swamp turned out to be quite a trick for two old timers. We huffed and we puffed, and we fell down, and we stopped to catch our breath on several occasions. That’s when the thought hit like a “ton of dead bear!” This is “No Country For Old Men!”
Laying in the emergency room several hours later just reinforced that thought, as the Doctor stitched up my thumb. The crossbow string had sliced a wicked path through my flesh and tried to steal the excitement of the moment. Even my own blood trail through the woods couldn’t quench the excitement of downing a trophy size black bear in the hills of Marquette.
Back at camp we secured the bear, and took more pictures. My legs were sore, and my thumb was throbbing. Both Bob and I were tired and worn out, but it was a “good” fatigue. Gary Baldwin had helped us once we got the bear back to camp, and that made a big difference in the scheme of things. As I laid in my bunk bed that evening my mind told me I belonged here in this wilderness place, ruled by bears and wolves. After all I was victorious, but my body tried to remind me of the cost of that “victory!” I decided to bask in the victory of the day, and enjoy this special birthday moment I just hope I hadn’t ruined Bob for next years hunt in “The Country That Test Old Men!”