Archive for August 24th, 2008


August 24, 2008

I was reading Dave Petzal’s blog where he was talking about seeing the 1st elk trophy he had taken 35 years earlier and how it was much less impressive than what he had remembered.

Now memory is a strange thing in itself; selective at times and self-generating at others, but Petzal’s blog took me past ‘memory’ and on to what we call ‘groundshrink’ in hunting.

It took Dave P. 35 years to see the groundshrink on his elk. But if you want to see instantaneous groundshrink you need to hunt bears.

I hunted black bears religiously for a good number of years, put a few on the ground, saw other hunters do the same, and heard a lot of stories in the process about big bears becoming small bears after the action was over.

There are a number of rules about how to judge a trophy bear; head size, legs, general appearance and how they move, but even experienced bear guides will tell you that you can get fooled. Duncan Gilchrist, in his book All About Bears, wrote : “Judging bear size is almost a gut feeling”.

Over the length of my personal bear hunting career I shot a half dozen or better blacks, the largest of which squared out at just around 6 feet. At that point I decided that I wasn’t going to take another bear unless I judged it to close in on the 7-foot mark. A BIG bear.

For several years I hunted with that as my goal. Where I hunted we were able to glass some 20 plus bears every day we were in the field. Some small, some average and a few (a very few) that were what we judged to be “better than the average bear”.

We never did see what we thought could be certified as a bona fide 7-footer, although one (just one) was estimated to be a 6 1/2-foot bear. That was by a very experienced bear guide who came along with us for a couple of days.

But in truth, the only way to validate your judgment (other than by taking a measuring tape and wrestling the bruin to the ground – not a recommended procedure ) is to pull the trigger and walk up to view your trophy.

A good friend, who has shot many blacks over his hunting lifetime told me that he was tired of shooting small bears and promised himself that the next one he pulled the trigger on would be of respectable size. Shortly thereafter he came upon an unsuspecting bruin ambling across the mountainside. He said he studied it carefully, coming to the conclusion that this was a “good” bear. But when the bear was on the ground it turned out to be not just small, but tiny. However it did have the finest hide I’ve ever seen.

This fellow also shot blond-phase bears two years running. Something that gave me an acute case of “bear envy”.

The biggest bear I’ve ever seen was back many years when I was living on the Alaska Highway – and here memory takes over.

I was driving back to Dawson Creek from a job in Fort Nelson and came upon a black bear walking down the center of the highway. Whether he was old and deaf or simply absorbed in contemplating the meaning of life, he was oblivious to me as I came to a stop right behind him. I reached for my rifle, which in those days was always on the seat beside me, and then thought about the amount of work involved if I killed this bear.

It was late in the afternoon and I had a ways to go before I arrived home. I had never killed a black bear at that point (although I had hunted them over bait in Saskatchewan) and had no intense desire to do so. Instead, I blew the car’s horn which startled the hell out of old Smoky, who came alive and bolted off the road and down a cut line.

Now in my mind’s eye he may have grown over the years, but I can still see his big butt waddling down the road in front of me. In retrospect, I wish I had put a tape on him and checked out the groundshrink.