Missing My First Black Bear

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Missed Opportunities Hurt The Most

Missing, no matter if it’s a buck, bear, turkey, or any other quarry you’re chasing through the woods – it just stings. But I don’t think it’s necessarily missing that particular animal that hurts the most. As a bowhunter, so much goes into each and every hunt.

Bowhunting, especially with a mobile setup, such as a saddle and sticks, is gear-intensive and tiring. Just getting to your tree is often a feat of endurance. Making sure you’re in the right spot, you’re playing the wind, you’ve taken care of your scent the best you could – that’s all hard enough as it is. But that’s only half of it.

When you do finally play all your cards just right and that animal comes walking by at 30 yards, you still have to slowly and quietly draw back, anchor, get your pin floating as little as possible, control your breathing and slowly execute your shot. All the while, your nerves are going haywire. So, I think more than anything, it’s the missed opportunity that hurts the most, knowing how many times you struck out before you finally got that deer in front of you. And you blew it. Then, you walk back to the truck, knowing how long it could be before another opportunity like that comes along again. That hurts. I hope you can tell I’m speaking from experience. More than I’d care to admit.

“Once In A Lifetime Bear”

missed black bear

In case you can’t tell from the picture above, that’s my arrow sticking in the ground in the middle of a bait pile. My arrow, along with the giant black bear I was aiming at, were caught on camera, offering me some kind of consolation for a 5-hour sit that ended with one of the greatest disappointments of my hunting career.

It was my first black bear hunt. The trip just kind of sprang up out of nowhere. My Dad knew someone who knew someone who offered us the opportunity. And being only two hours away from my home here in South Carolina, I just couldn’t pass it up. It would have been a great day for some pre-Rut action in the deer woods, so even though I was excited for my first bear hunt, I was a little disappointed to miss out on the opportunity to tag a buck.

Act I – Excitement To Dismay

That disappointment faded as we approached the property in North Carolina. Being a DIY hunter, I had never been to an outfitter. When we arrived, I met the land manager for the first time and we talked bears and bowhunting for a bit, shot some field tips at a 3D target, and off we went. He drove me to a ladder stand with a side-by-side, dropped me off, then took my dad to his elevated blind where he would rifle hunt (I’m still trying to get my dad to take his first deer with a bow).

My ladder stand was 30 yards from a bait pile of corn cobs, sitting among a beautiful scenery of oaks and mountainous terrain. The land manager had a lot of bears showing up at my location, as well as my dad’s, so we expected an eventful day. The weather was cool and overcast with a little rain sprinkling throughout the day. All-in-all, it was a beautiful day to be in the woods. I got in the stand around 1:00PM. The hours started rolling by and sometime around 3:30PM or 4:00PM, I text my dad and asked if he had seen anything. He had passed on a small bear around 3:00PM. That news got me excited, knowing one of us had already laid eyes on one. Around 45 minutes later, I heard a loud boom. He had shot one. I sent him a congratulations and kept watching, starting to believe that my hunt might end without a single bear passing through. Around 5:00PM, however, I looked to my left and saw a black blob moving in slow motion about 30 yards away, heading toward the corn. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a very large bruin.

I was blown away by how slowly he moved, without a care in the world. I was used to seeing only prey animals who are constantly looking around in an attempt to spot the next creature that has come to kill them. An apex predator doesn’t have to think like that. This bear didn’t cary the wariness of a prey animal. He slowly made his way to the corn as I went to full draw. But when he reached the pile, he completely faced away from me, and for long enough that I had to let down. I knew I needed to wait for a perfectly broadside shot. He sure was taking his time. Finally, he turned his head, so I drew back. As he turned more, I let it fly. Right under his chin. Terrible miss. I punched the trigger, and after watching back the footage caught on my bow-mounted Tactacam, he wasn’t even broadside. I had rushed the shot. He ran 10 yards and stopped, smelled around and turned back toward the corn.

Act II – A Second Chance

In disbelief that I might get another shot at the bear,  I nocked another arrow. However, he didn’t quite get back to the corn before slowly walking off, unaware of what actually happened. Saying I was deflated is about as accurate as calling the Titanic a boat. I had sat 5 hours with zero action. Then, when a bear finally came in, it was a monster. So, yeah, I was more than a little deflated.

After texting my dad to let him know that I had royally messed up, the land manager came cruising up on his side-by side. After telling him the bear didn’t run off, he told me to stay put in case he came back. “That bear’s never coming back,” I thought, but I told him I’d sit tight. He left to go help my dad with his. As nightfall crept in, the disappointment grew, until…

I couldn’t believe my eyes. There he was, walking back up through the woods, just as slowly as before. I readied myself for another shot, but this time the bear simply grabbed a piece of corn and turned around with it, again facing away. After eating for a minute or two, he turned, offering me a broadside shot. I didn’t hesitate. I put my 30-yard pin on him center-mass and let it rip. He let out a roar and tore off through the timber. I couldn’t believe it. I had just shot a huge black bear with a compound. Utter disappointment had turned to elation as I quickly text my wife and dad. When my dad didn’t respond right away, I called the land manager, who told me to, again, sit tight.

Act III – The Search

After about 45 minutes, the three of us starting making our way with flashlights in hand, creeping through the dark to look for my bruin. We immediately found good blood, and a lot of it. It was headed toward a creek, but never entered the water. Instead, it stayed along the edge, making its way through some nasty brush. Remember that elation I was talking about earlier? Yeah, that turned to anxiety after the great blood trail we were following eventually started to get thinner and thinner until finally, we were finding only drops every so often. Long story short, we never recovered my bear. The running theory is that I single-lunged him. A bear that size would likely survive a single-lung shot.

The next day, as I was back at home licking my wounds and dreaming of what could have been, the land manager text me, letting me know he’d gone back out in search of what he called, “a once in a lifetime bear,” in daylight. No dice. That bear had travelled down a huge ravine and back up the other side, then the trail went cold. 

Why Do We Miss

Sometimes, missing an animal can be attributed to just one mistake – rushing the shot, punching the trigger, trying to shoot through foliage, shooting past your maximum effective range – but sometimes, it’s a collaboration of mistakes that all come together to send you to the truck with your tail between your legs. Whatever the case, the most important lesson to learn from every miss is that you need to – wait for it – learn from every miss. So, what did I learn from missing that bear? 

Find out here, where we look at the most common reasons for missing with a bow, and how to move on after, a little better than before.

And if you’re interested in learning the correct shot placement on a bear, this article will help tremendously.


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