Check out this article describing my successful hunt for a Georgia Black Bear several years ago.
Next weekend, I’m going on a Coastal Black Bear hunt on the Pacific Coast of Washington with my good friend Matthew. The area produces very large salmon fed black bears and should provide us with an interesting adventure. As hopefully a preview and a indication of good things to come on this hunt, today I’m writing about the story of my Georgia black bear.
Matthew is one of my best friends in the world. We were roommates together in college and quickly found a shared love of the outdoors in each other. He introduced me to fishing and bird hunting while I introduced him to big game hunting. While at college, I was there to share the experience when he shot his first deer. Since then, we have shared many hunting trips together, both successful and unsuccessful. While we were together at at Fort Benning, Georgia, we booked a trip with a black bear outfitter up in northern Georgia.
I had recently returned from a year long deployment to Iraq and was suffering through a frustrating streak of bad luck when it came to hunting. It was now 2011 and I had not shot a deer since 2008. The deployment timing was exactly right for me to miss the majority of both the 2009 and 2010 deer seasons. These circumstances, combined with several missed shots on a few deer and hogs, left me very discouraged as we made the trip to the northern part of the state.
Even though discouraged, I was very excited to go on this trip. We were booked for the opening weekend of deer and bear season and I knew I stood a good chance of getting a shot on a bear. After we arrived in camp, the guide showed us numerous trail camera photos he had recently taken of bear in the area and my hopes started to rise.
On this trip, I was using a brand new rifle that I had never taken an animal with before. During my deployment to Iraq I had saved my money in preparation for a trip to Zimbabwe to hunt Cape Buffalo with my father. As part of the groundwork for that hunt, I purchased a left handed Ruger M77 in .30-06. I then sent it to a gunsmith who re-barreled it for the potent 9.3x62mm Mauser cartridge (shortly after I re-barreled mine, Ruger started to offer the M77 in 9.3x62mm, so there is no longer a need for a custom job if you want one). It is does not have the reputation of some of the best bear defense guns, but with a 4x Lyman scope mounted on it, the rifle was an absolute tack driver and I was very interested in testing it out on a big black bear before I took it to Africa.
I brought two types of bullets on this hunt: 258 grain RWS H-Mantles and 286 grain Swift A-Frames. The H-Mantle is an outstanding bullet developed in Germany that combines rapid expansion with deep penetration. Now there is no such thing as a free lunch, but the H-Mantle comes pretty close on medium sized game. The bullet also has a sharp shoulder that cuts a “cookie-cutter” clean entry and exit hole to ensure that the wound does not close up and will continue to bleed in order to aid tracking. With this in mind, I chambered one of the H-Mantles and filled the rest of the magazine with A-Frames.
I had also recently purchased a set of Howard Leight electronic earmuffs. They are both noise canceling for loud noises and noise amplifying for quiet ones. While these particular earmuffs are designed for regular sport shooting, I decided to see how they would work for protecting my hearing while hunting. My experiences in Iraq left me very conscious of preserving my hearing, even for a single shot, and I figured any noise amplifying advantage that these earmuffs could give me would also be a great bonus.
The first day of the hunt dawned in the high 20s, much colder than I was used to for Georgia in October. Matt and I awoke and had a quick breakfast while we prepared for the hunt. Since black bears have such a keen sense of smell, the guides covered Matt and I head to toe with scent blocking spray before driving us to our respective stands. The sky was black as coal while the guide drove me to my stand in his ATV. Once there, he left strict instructions not to leave under any circumstances, especially if I shot a bear. If I shot a bear, or wanted to leave for any reason, I was to call him on my cell phone and he would come to get me.
I was in a nice, two person elevated tree stand about 10 feet off the ground and had a shooting rail all the way around. The stand was located about 100 yards just outside a state forest with the boundary marked by signs along a creek directly in front of me. The woods were relatively thin immediately around the stand and there was only sparse vegetation on the ground outside the state forest.
The guide informed me that any bear I saw would most likely come from the state forest and though they could come at any point during the day, they would most likely appear just before dark. Fortunately, the wind was in my favor, blowing from the state forest towards my stand. I brought my lunch and I elected to sit in the stand from dawn to dusk in order to maximize my chances of seeing a bear.
Most of the day was extremely boring. Once the sun came up, I only saw a few squirrels. Other than that, the woods were almost eerily still. I passed the time by reading, and over the course of 13 straight hours in the stand, I read almost an entire book. Other than that, I did my best to stay quiet while I waited for something to happen.
A few minutes before it got dark, I heard splashing in the creek to my front. I looked up to see a large black shape moving diagonally towards me from left to right. Realizing that this was a bear, I decided to get ready for a shot. Almost immediately, I felt my heart beat accelerate rapidly and I could soon hear the roar of blood pulsing through my ears.
The bear disappeared behind some bushes and I brought my rifle up and prepared to take aim. I also took the opportunity to look around and ensure that there were no cubs following it. In Georgia, it is illegal to shoot a sow with cubs or a bear weighing less than 75 pounds. I’d never seen a bear before, but I knew that he was bigger than 75 pounds! Satisfied that he was alone, I decided to take the first shot that I could.
After he reappeared, I quickly found the bear in my scope as he ambled towards me. About 20 yards in front of me, he stopped near an oak tree and started feasting upon acorns on the ground. Fortunately, the bear was very interested in satisfying his hunger and had no idea that I was there. However, it was getting dark fast and I knew I did not have much shooting light left.
There were several smaller trees around the bear that complicated the shot, so I decided to wait and see if he would move. Unfortunately, he was in no hurry to leave and it was getting dark fast. He turned away from me and paused in a small window through the trees, munching on something on the ground in front of him. Looking at him through the scope, I knew I that it was now or never. He was facing directly away from me, and I had a slight downward angle on him. It was not an ideal shot, but he was stationary, the range was short, and I had complete confidence in my bullets to penetrate deep enough to put him down.
My Lyman scope did not have traditional cross hairs. Instead, it had a thick vertical post in the center and a thin horizontal cross hair on top of that. There was so little light left that evening, and the bear had such dark hair, that I could not see where the top of the vertical post was when I aimed at the bear. Centering the post as best I could on the bear, I then used the horizontal cross hair for the appropriate elevation. I aimed to place the bullet just behind his shoulder blades so that it would hit him in the “boiler room” and exit out the front of his chest. Aware of the fact that, like many hunters, I usually shoot high in low light conditions, I consciously aimed slightly low.
Since he had been in view for what seemed like hours, but was more like two to three minutes, I had time to calm down. My heart rate, though still elevated, was significantly slower than the 300 beats per minute it was when I first saw him. I forced myself to breathe slowly and deeply and told myself that this was just a normal shot and nothing to get worked up over. Strangely calm, I checked and slightly adjusted my aim one last time, and squeezed the trigger.
Taken completely by surprise, the bear leaped forward at the report of the rifle, but discovered that his rear legs no longer worked. He rolled onto his side and pawed at the ground with his front legs, but went nowhere. The bear gave a few grunts, then about 30 seconds after the shot, expired and was still. I quickly worked the bolt on my rifle to chamber another round, but he was lying among the small trees that earlier obscured my shot. After about a minute passed and I saw no movement, I concluded that he was indeed dead.
It then dawned on me that not only did finally break my streak of bad luck, but I had actually shot a bear! Full of elation, I gave a shout of triumph and my voice echoed through the still woods. When the guide arrived, we went up and examined the bear and I was happy to see that there was no ground shrinkage. If anything, the bear was even bigger than I thought he was. It took all four of us to drag that bear out of the woods and load him up on the truck.
Back at camp, I had a chance to examine the bear more closely after taking photographs. I discovered that the angle of my shot was shallower than I originally thought it was. Instead of hitting him just behind the bear’s shoulder blades, I hit him about eight inches above his hips. The bullet hit exactly in the center of his back, breaking his spine, then travelling through his intestines, stomach, liver, and lungs before exiting out his throat.
The H-Mantle performed flawlessly. Both the entrance and exit wounds were perfectly cut holes that would not have closed up had the bear run off. The front core of the bullet rapidly expanded then broke up, just as advertised, and scrambled his vitals while the rear core of the bullet penetrated the length of his body, nearly three feet, before exiting. There are not many bullets that can punch through thick hide and heavy bone like that without being deflected and still penetrate almost three feet before exiting. Based on the performance of this bullet in this instance, I can highly recommend the use of the H-Mantle on all but the largest species of game.
Unfortunately, Matt was unsuccessful during that trip. He saw a medium sized boar the next afternoon which somehow caught his scent. Since it was the afternoon of the last day of hunting, Matt elected to take a less than ideal shot. The bear was behind him and over his left shoulder and he had no support for his rifle for that angle. Due to the complexity of the shot, he missed and the bear disappeared into the woods.
The processor that butchered and packaged the meat from the bear said that he weighed 280 pounds, not bad for a Georgia black bear. That old boar provided me with a very large amount of meat which I ate steadily for the next three months. While many people look down their noses at black bear meat I can say that it is quite tasty if prepared properly.
The bear measured 5’10” from nose to tail and with a skull measuring out at 17½”, he just barely missed the SCI record book minimum. However, he was still a quite remarkable trophy and now occupies the floor of my office in the form of a very impressive rug. Even though I may shoot bigger bears in the future, there will only be one “first” bear and that was quite a hunt to remember. I can only hope that Matt fulfills his dream of bagging a beautiful black bear and has a hunt as memorable as mine.