Around our house, this deer season is the Year of the Bear. No, we didn’t shoot a bruin. Instead, a bear cub has become our hunting party’s unofficial mascot. He (at least we think it is a he) showed up a couple of days after the hunting season started and has been around ever since.
Actually, Vikki saw two Teddy-bear-sized cubs the first day, and only one afterward. He seems to live in a balsam thicket on the edge of our yard. The little guy is quick to climb a tree whenever the dogs or I come too close. He can also make some impressive noises from the safety of his perch. But he is equally quick to clamber down from the tree as soon as the coast clears.
As you may have already discerned, we are faced with a dilemma. The baby bear clearly doesn’t have a mother. Winter is arriving. We are not sure if he is ready to hibernate or if he can do so on his own.
What we do know is he was attracted to our yard by the garden scraps in the compost and that he is, well, as hungry as a bear. So we crossed over a line we do not like to cross. We put a few apples in the compost pile. When they disappeared, we put some other edibles on the heap. We know it isn’t smart to offer food to a bear, even a cub, but if one showed up on your doorstep in mid November, what would you do? Our neighbors seem to have a mixed response to that question. Nearly everyone feels sorry for the little guy, but none want him to survive the winter only to become a backyard nuisance next year.
Of course, if she could, Vikki would invite the bear cub into our home for his long sleep. Unfortunately she’s already given him a name, Hubert, which was coined by her 13-year-old grandson, Joe. Why Hubert?
“It’s a good name for a bear,” Joe told me last weekend when he came up from his home in Duluth to go hunting.
Joe was curious to see the bear, but he was really fired up to get out in the deer woods. On opening weekend, he’d hunted with his Grandpa Steve near Duluth and killed his first deer, an eight-pointer, followed by a forkhorn the following morning. On top of his good luck, he’d met a local television crew at the registration station and wound up talking about hunting on the evening news.
“This was the best day ever,” he said when I called to congratulate him.
My hunting partner, Alan Lutkevich, and I hoped lucky Joe would improve our lot, since we hadn’t killed anything on opening weekend. Certainly, our luck improved when the snow began to fall on Saturday afternoon. We like snow, because it makes it easier to quietly sneak through the woods, creates a backdrop that improves visibility and makes it easier to track deer. Best of all, snowy weather usually triggers whitetail movement.
Joe saw a buck Saturday afternoon—and we’ll avoid the somewhat embarrassing details of how it got away. On Sunday morning, the three of us visited a place that has been very good to us in the past. Al went one way, Joe and I another. We followed a trail through the woods. I’d have Joe sit in a likely spot, then move ahead of him. When he got bored or impatient, he would come and find me.
At midmorning a doe stepped out to Joe and, again we’ll avoid the somewhat embarrassing details of how it got away. Stuff can go awry when you are 13 and learning the ways of whitetails. Heck, stuff goes awry when you are 50 and think you know it all, which you never do. What Joe did figure out was the deer were moving around in heavy cover.
So when we split up again, Joe stayed on the trail and I sneaked into tangle of blow downs. The kid was right, fresh deer tracks were everywhere. Within minutes a doe appeared. She was followed shortly by a heavy-bodied buck. Not long afterward, Joe showed up to help me field dress the big guy.
It was a long haul back to the truck, made easier by the toboggan we use to drag deer from the woods. Rarely do we hunt in places where you can reach the kill using an ATV, which means we work a little harder for our deer and are rewarded with a lot less human company in the woods. Even though the deer outweighed Joe by a considerable measure, he pitched in and tugged the toboggan for more than a quarter mile.
Along the way, I realized we hadn’t taken a picture of the deer, which is not surprising because this is one outdoor writer who rarely carries a camera in the woods. So I asked Al and Joe if either of them had a camera. Joe looked back at me as he marched along, toboggan in tow.
“You already have a picture,” he said, pointing at his temple. “It’s up here.”
He was right. As it turns out, that’s the only “picture” I have of the buck. We hauled it home and hung it in the garage. Tonight I’ll skin it and tomorrow we’ll cut it up. I’ll save the antlers and maybe put them on a plaque to hang on the wall. That way, I can relive the snowy morning with Joe and Al whenever I look at them. For me, that’s way better than a photo album or, heaven forbid, a video of the kill.
This year, I hunted hard for six days before my path coincided with a buck. There’s no way to take a picture which would even come close to capturing the essence of such a hunt. But I think I can sum it up in a few words. After we field-dressed the deer, I told Joe to wait while I walked back to the truck to retrieve the toboggan, knowing Al was hunting nearby. When I reached a deep ravine along the trail, a mature bald eagle suddenly launched from a white pine towering overhead and soared majestically across the valley. Maybe the moment with the eagle was a coincidence or maybe it was something else. I choose to think it was the latter.
As for Hubert the Bear Cub, instinct may help him build a cozy winter nest where he can soon go to sleep. We’ve done what we could to prepare him for hibernation. Hopefully, the eagle is looking out for him, too.
Airdate: November 19, 2010