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If You Are What You Eat
Then I Am About To Become A Bear.

by Stephen Nicolosi

This was an exceptional trip and I was thoroughly prepared to return without a bear while bearing tales of an eventful time. I saw 12 bears and decided not to take opportunities to shoot on four occasions for various reasons. I fully expected to return without a bear but with a wealth of experiences. Fate dictated otherwise and I was provided a very intense experience. My Casull saved my life, and I was surprised by the accuracy of all my shots. Soft factory loaded bullets for the 45-70 lever action rifle with iron sights failed to deliver the penetration I expected and this made for a unique and unexpected experience.

The trip evolved with a regular set of bear sightings, but under unexpected circumstances. It appears that the bears will be in trouble this year. The unusual weather, (I heard an early frost) has severely compromised their food supply. Unlike in previous years, the acorns were essentially gone when I arrived. Thus the bears were increasingly harder and harder to spot as time went on. They dispersed and went on their way to find food elsewhere. The area I hunt is rich in scrub oak, and bears love it when there are acorns. The dearth of food meant every day brought fewer and fewer bears, for what they wanted just wasn't there.

From talking to the locals I heard that lots of bears were in town. There was also a motor cycle gathering and two motor cycles met bears. One cycle with two riders hit and killed a bear and both riders. Another cycle hit and killed the bear, killed one rider, and put the other into critical condition. I suspect that a bear would slow down a motor cycle quite quickly.

The bears that I saw were more or less split between single bears and sows with cubs. The single bears were generally on an opposite hillside. The sows with cubs were all at rather close range. I was bluff charged once by a beautiful brown bear, but she only came within about 60 yards of me. I believe that this was a sow with cubs that I had seen a short time earlier.

I spent a great deal of time hiding on the ground amongst scrub oaks down in a valley. Since the bears were pulling down the scrub oaks to get at the acorns that may have been overlooked at the top, I could generally hear them coming. The most memorable in this regard turned out to be a fairly large brown bear. It was working its way up the valley and just making a racket. My little spot in the scrub oaks allowed me to see a small open area and had small open areas to my back and sides as well, but leaves and the slope of the land made these other angles hard to watch. As I heard the bear coming, I turned in its direction and got my rifle ready. The wind was now a slight breeze blowing towards my right. As you might expect, the bear's direction eventually veered to the right, rather than into the nice little open area I could see so well. From all the noise it was clear that this bear was eventually within about 20 yards of me. I could not see it however due to the density of the leaves in that direction. As fate would have it, that was also downwind of me. The bear suddenly became completely quiet. Just like other similar experiences, the bear was able to silently reappear way down in the open area to my left that I could see so well. I have experienced the ability of bears to be absolutely silent, even among dry leaves, on other occasions. There the bear stood in the clearing looking at me, about 60 yards away. I turned and leveled my rifle finding my sights on its midsection. I steadily moved the sights to the left to catch its shoulder. About halfway to the shoulder, the bear took a few steps forward and placed the front third of its body behind a tree with branching limbs, and other shrubbery. The back half of the bear remained completely exposed. This is not the shot that I needed. I looked and looked but could not find a suitable shot. So, I waited and the bear eventually continued on its way into the scrub oaks never to be seen again on this trip.

On another occasion, I had not seen bears for two days. I decided I needed to move around to see if I might be able to find an area rich in berries since the acorns weren't panning out. Later while moving along small clearings amongst scrub oaks, I heard that familiar racket of a bear working on the upper part of a scrub oak. Sure enough there was a bear as big as me about 50 yards away on the other side of a scrub oak back lit. The bear was on its hind legs with its arms way up into the upper reaches of the bush/tree. It offered a clear shot into its chest. The problem was that I was looking at it back lit through a thin veil of leaves. It was clear that it was a bear, however my rules of engagement prevent me from shooting something I can't see clearly. I looked and figured I would wait until the bear went to the next tree. I also figured that the bear would pick me up before long and be gone in a flash. I didn't see any cubs around so there was every indication that this bear was legal for the taking. Then it happened, a small black cub with a white mark on its neck stepped out of the woods and walked to a bush about 10 yards from me. Now here I was, right by a cub with momma bear about 50 yards away, and not legal to shoot. I figured that she might be downright annoyed at my presence. Using my vast intelligence I thought it wise to whistle softly to let the bears know that I was in the area, not to panic, and to basically move away. With this plan in-place I whistled softly. As you might expect the cub then started walking straight towards me. This was not part of the plan and seemed that it might make momma bear even more upset if she found out. When the cub was about 5 yards away I whistled loudly twice and said 'don't you know that I can't shoot sows with cubs.' Upon hearing this, the cub took off like a little furry canon ball through the brush towards momma bear and momma bear dropped down onto all fours and they all silently disappeared. I believe this is the beautiful brown bear that bluff charged me about 15 minutes later.

On the tenth day, I spent the entire morning working one of my little haunts in the scrub oaks, but did not see any bears. After a few hours I decided that although the food supply might be depleted that it was hot and dry and a water hole might be just the prescription. So I set off to find a water hole. I tried to sneak around the area. As I came close to a small water hole I noticed a lone black bear of moderate size walking across a small open area on the opposite hillside about 200 to 300 yards away. I put my sights on it but decided that it was at the limit of my range for this rifle. I felt this was the time to have my .338 with me, but you can't use what you aren't carrying. After a little thought I decided to let the bear go. I approached the water hole and found a fresh track. I figured that I just pushed that bear away from the water hole. Since there was only one set of tracks, I decided not to stay at that water hole but to explore further. Eventually lunch time rolled around and I decided to head back up the side of the valley to the dirt road and then walk the half mile back to the truck for lunch.

As I worked my way up the side of the valley I noticed that I was really worn down from the long morning and small breakfast. I suspect that not being used to the elevation may have contributed as well. About 3/4 of the way to the top I climbed over a barbed wire fence that ran alongside a cattle trail. I planned to follow the cattle trail up to the dirt road. After a short while of trudging along, I found myself about 15 yards (I later measured 14.5 paces) from a surprised brown bear that was standing by some berries. I saw the bear was in the open and no cubs were present. The bear took off to the right, probably planning to go through the barbed wire fence and down into the valley. I cocked the 45-70 and aimed for the right shoulder. The round seemed to have no effect and I thought "well you are committed now." As the bear was traveling I worked the lever and aimed again for the shoulder and the round seemed to have no effect. (I later found three rounds in an almost straight line within an inch apart in the shoulder, but the rounds did not penetrate into the rib cage. They broke the shoulder but were otherwise non-lethal.) I thought "am I missing?" The bear got to the fence and seemed to linger there for a moment. I aimed again for the shoulder and again the round seemed to have no effect. I found later that when the bear lingered at the fence for a moment that it bit an almost four inch deep chunk of wood out of a fence post. The bear then faced me and I remember looking into its eyes or face as I aimed, but I don't remember where I was aiming. Then the bear started towards the left and as I was squeezing off my last rifle round the bear spun quickly causing me to miss and hit the mid section high. The round passed through below the spine but above any organs, so this round was also non-lethal. The round broke a rib entering and leaving and apparently delivered a temporary shock to the spinal cord. The bear stopped moving but was still standing. I found myself pulling my 454 Casull from its holster without thinking. I realized that I now had an empty rifle and a bear that took four rounds of 45-70 and was still standing. I thought I could easily place the four rounds in the Casull into the bear and then have nothing left if the bear then charged me. I then thought, the Casull is for emergencies only and reholstered it. I decided to reload the rifle and consciously told myself to take my time and to do it carefully because you can get into a lot of trouble reloading under pressure. Now this rifle is sometimes finicky to reload and I was wearing leather gloves. I was watching the bear carefully during this procedure. The bear had fallen to the ground stunned but it was clear that this bear was not dying, but was quickly recovering. I got one round into the magazine and was going to reach for a second round but decided that I didn't have time to load another round. I worked the action to chamber the round, and found my rifle thoroughly jammed. (The magazine latch may not have closed all the way due to interference from the fingertips of my gloves.) I tried to clear the jam, but it was really jammed. As I fiddled with the rifle it became apparent that the bear would soon get up, so I said to myself "this is an emergency." With that thought, I put my rifle on the ground with my left hand and drew my Casull out of the holster with my right hand. I don't remember cocking the Casull (it is a single action 5 shot revolver), but I remember several thoughts that went through my mind. First, this is a serious situation and I must do well, I also reminded myself that I am capable of shooting that gun extremely accurately, I remembered Norm telling me that he shot his just once without hearing protection and that his ears never stopped ringing from it, and I remember telling myself "I don't have time for hearing protection." With that thought I took very careful and steady aim and carefully worked the trigger. The bear convulsed once and its legs and head fell to the ground. The life was clearly taken from it, but it was still breathing. The round entered exactly in the center of the back of the neck. Autopsy showed that the round took out a chunk of the left part of the spine. Rather than waiting a minute to let the bear die, I decided to take it with one more round to the spinal cord. I did not want to use any more rounds from the Casull than I had to, due to my mindset that it is for emergencies only. I holstered the Casull, picked up the rifle, cleared the jam, chambered another round and placed a final round in the spinal cord and the breathing stopped. The only effect was that of the impact of the bullet like hitting a sack of potatoes, and its chest stopped moving.

The bear was a beautiful brown colored black bear with a large blond section on the shoulders and back. Since the carcass weighed in at 95 pounds, the bear originally weighed slightly over 200 pounds. It placed 50 pounds of meat in my freezer. It is terrific, and very lean (probably due to the early season). The butcher cut a little less than half as steaks, chops, and roast; and the remainder was chopped. The chopped meat is very red with sparse white specs of fat.

A few weeks later I did some bullet penetration tests with a colleague (Harvey) using water-soaked paper manuals. We also shot into an old three foot section of telephone pole that was available to us on the ranch. Both the Casull and 45-70 blasted through the telephone pole section. I was amazed and realized that a bear is tougher than a telephone pole. Harvey responded, well off course, look at how it bit a section out of the fence post.





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