I met Tom in the early 90’s when I lived in Maryland. He was a transplant from the state of West Virginia and a bow hunter. My bow hunting experience up until that point was just flinging arrows with my Bear recurve bow and not knowing what I was doing. I never hunted with the bow, just a little target shooting.
Most of my hunts and to be honest, they were few and far between were done with my Remington 870 shotgun and slugs. It is a great shotgun, but I hate the recoil from the shotgun. My current .300 Winchester Magnum doesn’t kick as hard as that shotgun. Or maybe it does, it just isn’t the same kind of kick.
When Tom started talking about bow hunting I was intrigued and picked his mind for more information. Not only did he bow hunt, he used to shoot for one of the major bow manufacturers when he lived in West Virginia. Obviously, I stumbled upon a gem right at work.
After a lot of conversations about bow hunting Tom encouraged me to get outfitted with a compound bow and he would take me bow hunting. This was a great offer and one I could not turn down. He even told me where to go to get set up. It was a super bow warehouse located in Pennsylvania; one that rivaled Cabela’s in size, but limited just to archery equipment and accessories.
I took the next day off and made the drive to our adjoining state. I was a kid in a candy store and put myself at the mercy of the store clerk who was very knowledgeable. First, he measured my draw length; 29 inches. We then started looking at all the models. I settled on a PSE compound bow and then we equipped it with a sight, rest and peep sight.
They set the bow up for me and soon I was on my way. I told Tom about my purchase the next day and he remarked, “Geez, one day you have nothing and the next day you have it all. It must be nice.” It was and you have to keep in mind that I was a single guy with a full-time job so discretionary cash was not a problem and I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission to buy a bow. I wanted it so I just went out and got it.
Tom had me come over to his house and he set up a target. He showed me how to adjust my sights and how to place my fingers on the string. Tom told me not to get a release, but instead to use my fingers to draw the bow. His reasoning made sense. The release was just another piece of equipment that could malfunction or be forgotten so keep it simple and use your fingers. He also pointed out that Chuck Adams was a finger shooter. It was only until just recently that I made the switch and started using a release.
Tom also had a novel idea to aid in using fingers. Instead of a tab or leather glove, he gave me a jersey glove that he had inserted these little rubber thimble-like devices. Actually, they were used by secretaries to aid in sorting paper, but they worked great to keep you feeling the string while at the same time keeping the pressure off your finger tips.
We practiced until he felt that I was good enough to go on my own. I spent countless hours flinging arrows at targets and losing quite a few in the process. I finally became proficient enough to hunt.
Tom kept his word and took me out bow hunting whitetail deer, but that isn’t what this story is about. No, this is about a Canadian black bear hunt that Tom and I went on in 1994.
Tom had run into some guys from West Virginia who trekked to Canada each year to hunt black bear. They suggested that Tom join them in camp that year and he floated the idea past me. The trip would require two days of driving to the town of Cadillac, Quebec and cost us $1,000 each. We would have to supply our own food, but lodging in little cabins with a stove, dishes and utensils would be provided.
It didn’t take me very long to agree to go. This was going to be an adventure that I wasn’t going to pass up. So we got the paperwork filled out and sent in our deposits. We left in June for the spring bear hunt.
The drive was about 18 hours and took us through some beautiful Canadian country. I had never hunted out of my home state, let alone the country before so to say I was in awe of what we were doing and seeing was an understatement. We spent the night a few hours from camp and finished the drive the next day.
After getting settled in camp, the outfitter had us meet at the range to have a lesson on shooting a black bear and to demonstrate our proficiency. He stressed to shoot high and close to the shoulder. He emphasized emphatically not to shoot too far back. It was the wrong thing to do with Tom.
You see, Tom is a smart-ass and loves to give people grief in his slightly demented brand of humor. I took careful aim and tried to make a perfect shot. I didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of the outfitter and the rest of the guys in camp. Tom on the other hand, saw an opportunity to mess with the outfitter. So when he stepped up to shoot he proceeded to put an arrow right in the butt of the 3 D bear target.
As you might imagine this got the outfitter excited and the guy started ranting with a thick French accent, “no, no, you don’t shoot so far back, you have to shoot by the shoulder.” Tom was delighted; mission accomplished.
The next day started with a leisurely morning around camp. It didn’t get dark there until well after 10 pm so there was no hurry to go hunt. We’d be in the stand to begin hunting by 7 pm. The hours dragged for me, but soon it was time to head out. I followed the guide and dropped Tom off at his stand. We then went to my stand and hauled in some bait. We put old pastries into buckets and covered the buckets with logs. He showed me the fifteen foot ladder stand I was to sit in and off he went.
I was wide-eyed as I sat in my stand. This was the most amazing thing I had done and I was just inhaling the moment when suddenly there was a bear. I hadn’t bear hunted before, but I knew it was a small bear. So the question before me was to shoot or not shoot?
When I saw the bear I was so excited I began to hyperventilate and had to calm myself down. I worked hard to get my breathing under control while I had a conversation with myself. Finally I decided that yes this was a small bear, but I had never taken a bear before so it would be my biggest bear to date. And, I had heard plenty of stories about hunters getting skunked and coming home empty-handed. I wanted to fill my tag.
I hadn’t heard the saying then, but the current saying about not passing on an animal on the first day that you would take on the last day certainly applied. The excitement and hyperventilation was a blessing in disguise because the truth is I suffered from “buck fever” in those days and would get excited and forget all my training and practice. Instead of picking a spot, I would just hurl an arrow at the body of the animal. Needless to say I missed a lot.
So, in the time it took me to calm down I was able to focus on picking a spot. He was quartering away from me when I let loose my arrow. It hit him perfectly and so hard it knocked him over. You see, in those days, in my youth I was shooting an 80-pound bow with 125 grain Thunderhead broad heads. It carried a lot of kinetic energy and force and the bear felt its full force. It regained its composure and ran out of the bait area.
I took a breath and started to hang up my bow when to my surprise; the bear returned and started eating the bait again. He must have been very hungry to return. So there was the bear I just shot eating at the bait again. I could see the wound in his side, it was bleeding profusely and I was sure it was a mortal wound, but what should I do? Do I let him just eat and bleed out or do I shoot him again?
I opted for shooting him again, why take a chance. This time he didn’t return and I waited a little to begin tracking him. I observed the arrows during the wait and saw that they were almost touching in the logs where they lodged. Both shots were almost identical. I took pictures of the arrows and then began trailing the bear. I didn’t think the outfitter wanted me doing this, but I just couldn’t wait.
I trailed him for about 70 yards through some thick brush before finding him. I marked his location with some ribbon and waited for the guide to return to pick me up. He came back around eleven p.m. and said let’s go get your bear. I asked about picking up Tom who was waiting for us, but the guide said he could wait a while longer. So, Tom had to wait until about midnight before being picked up.
The ritual was to bring the bear back to camp and lay it out on a skinning table and process him in the dark under the camp lights. The guided used a sharpened butter knife to ply his craft and it was an art to watch him. Part of the process was also doing an autopsy of the bear to see where the hunter had hit him. Did you get one lung, two lungs or a heart or the Golden Grail of all three? Those that got all three wore it as a badge of honor.
I was just happy to make my first archery kill and to do it on a black bear. Tom got his bear the next day and most, but not all in camp were able to get a bear. The fact that two hunters did not get one made me stop second-guessing my decision on whether or not to take the bear. I was going home with a trophy and a cooler full of bear meat and I was a happy camper.