My Scariest Bow Hunt!

If I had to pick one moment in time that I was the most scared and alive at the same time it would have to be this moment. It was back in 1979 and I was on delayed enlistment with the U.S. Air Force. After graduating high school I had enlisted but wanted one last hunting season before entering the Air Force so I went delayed until 4 January 1980. I worked hard all summer and saved money so that I could hunt all of October through December.  I had gotten up early this morning to make the trek to where we hunted on the Massanutten Mountain in Virginia for an early October bow hunt. I had just turned 19 and as with most teenagers was in great shape, and ten foot tall and bullet proof. That ten foot tall and bullet proof would all change later this day.  As it turned out the morning hunt was very uneventful.  I had seen deer, but I was unable to put on a good stalk on any of them. I was pretty good at stalking back in those days, and rarely hunted a stand. Preferring to still hunting or spot and stalking back in those days.  As the morning hunt was drawing to an end, I decided to head home and get a bite to eat and return in the early afternoon for another hunt and scouting trip.

After having a little something to eat I starting getting my gear ready for the afternoon hunt.  I packed a backpack with snacks, a piece of rope, a hatchet and also a light jacket for good measures.  It was just a little past noon when I headed back to the mountain. I didn’t have a four wheel drive in those days, so I couldn’t drive the old fire road up to where we normally started to hunt. This place was the better part of 2 miles from the main road, but I was young and in good shape in those days and didn’t even break a sweat.  Besides October in Virginia is nothing like October in Texas.  The days had cooled off nicely and the higher you went up the mountain the cooler it would get.  That’s the reason for the jacket I had in my backpack as it would likely dip in the forties after the sun went down.  Once I was up above the huge bramble briar thicket, I moved over to the small spring at the base of the first main rise of the mountain. At the spring I filled my canteen for the upward trek ahead. My goal for the afternoon was to go to the top of the mountain and cross over to the divide that joined 1st and 2nd mountains. This divide is a very large flat area between the tops of the two mountains and at times held large numbers of deer. Few people ever hunted this area because of the effort it would take to get a deer out after a kill. Again I was 19 and figured I was tough enough to get a deer out of there if I was lucky to make a kill.  Heck in those days I thought I could do just about anything.

With my canteen full, I turned and started up the first rise of the mountain. The sun was high and bright in the sky and I didn’t figure I would see any deer until I reached the ticker stuff up ahead.  Not expecting to see anything to shoot at, I did have an arrow nocked. The bow I was using in those days was a Bear 76er take down recurve that was 50lb draw at 28 inches. I was really good with a bow as I practiced all the time. In my teen years I preferred hunting with my bow more than with my guns.  I only wish I could shoot longbow today as well as I shot that recurve back in my teens. The arrows I used were your standard Bear Cedar arrows that you bought with broadheads already attached. The were not cut or custom to me in the least bit, but with them and that bow I could hit a rabbit up to 30 yards without blinking. I would make my brother so mad when we went rabbit hunting in those days. I generally went armed with my bow and him he carried a .22 rifle.  There were many hunts that I’d get more rabbit them he would.  I really miss that old bow sometimes and to this day don’t know what happened to it after I joined the Air Force.  I now there are still boxes up in the attic back home so mom might have tucked it in one of them and forgotten.  I hope so and when I get time to go through some of them boxes I might get a surprise.

As most of you know, you just can’t go straight up a mountain. To work my way higher I started moving along the ridges, picking my spots for the easiest and quietest travel I could find. About half way up to the top I ran across a very well worn trail that had many fresh deer tracks.  I figured what the heck and started to follow it for a while as it was heading up the mountain. Game know the easiest way from point A to point B so I though why not.  I paused only long enough to nock an arrow because if I was quiet I might even get a shot at a deer.  As I started along the trail I was careful with my foot placement and all my senses were on full alert for any sign of game ahead.  After following the trail for some time I came to a place where the mountain laurels were very thick. These laurels were about 4 to 6 feet tall and looked to be complete impenetrable, but the trail lead into them. I could tell that if I bent down and walking along in a crouch I would be able to make it through the laurels.  I unnocked my arrow and returned it to the quiver as I needed to be as small as possible.  Crouching down, I entered the laurel tunnel and continued to follow the trail.

When I first started into the laurels I expected to only have to be crouched over for a short distance, but it seemed like this little tunnel I was in was going to go one forever. Just as I was thinking of turning around I saw the opening just up ahead.  As I exit from the laurels and straighten up, I could see a small flattish clearing that is totally surrounded by laurels, but more importantly the other thing I see in this clearing was a very large black bear that was taking an afternoon nap. The bear was lying on the other side of the clearing in a spot that was being warmed by the sun. It was just lying there and was not moving, other than the big breathes it was taking.  The moment I saw this bear I felt that was my first priority was to nock an arrow, but this was a very big mistake.  They say if foresight were as good as hindsight we would get ourselves in as many predicaments.  Looking back on that moment in time, I can clearly see what I should of done was let sleeping bears lay and backed outer of there.  However you must also remember I was 19, and invincible or at least I thought I was.

I started pulling an arrow from my quiver, but made another mistake as I was watching the bear more than what I was doing with my arrow. Some of you might remember the old Bear 76ers had a metal riser that the two fiberglass limbs inserted into. Well you also might guess what I did while watching the bear and not paying enough attention to nocking my arrow. If your answer was hit the metal riser with the metal broadhead then you win the prize.  When it happened it was the loudest little “Ting” I had ever heard!  At that moment in time, things started to move really slowly for me.  I could hear every beat of my heart thud in my chest and every breath I took seemed like an eternity.  While I was in slow motion, the bear seemed to moved with lightening speed. The big boar was up and staring at me in a flash and he didn’t look too happy being disturbed from his nap.  In what seemed like another flash he was up standing on his hind legs. He was huge and by far the biggest bear I had ever seen, much less been seen up close and personal.

Even though it seemed as though I was moving in slow motion, I did get my arrow nocked.  The clearing was not very big and the bear was only about twenty yards from me.  There was not a doubt in my mind that I could plant an arrow in his chest where he stood, then or to this day.  However I was very unsure if the arrow would break his breast bone and if it did, I knew he wasn’t going to drop in his tracks.  This thought crossed my mind as I was half way through my draw and at that moment I went from ten foot tall and bullet proof to scared rabbit. I really don’t remember letting off the draw, but I do remember when I turned and started running I didn’t have the arrow any longer.  I headed back through the laurel tunnel as fast as my feet could carry me.  I didn’t crouch down to run back down the trail either; I ran down through those laurels upright and could hear the bear following. The big bear was growling and tearing up the laurels behind me as he followed. It still seemed as if I was moving in slow motion, but I knew the bear was at full speed and catching me.  When I finally I broke from the laurels, I turned quickly to the right and ran straight down the ridge. I was moving so fast at that point I wasn’t sure I could keep my feet under me but I wasn’t about to slow down.  I just ran and really don’t remember if I could still hear the bear behind me or not. I expected him to grab me with one of his big claws at any moment.  All I could do was to keep running and run I did, as I ran all the way out to where my car was parked. I almost just kept running when I got to the car, heck it was only another mile down to the house.

I did stop and get my car. Once in the car I just sat there for a while and caught my breath. At the time I don’t think it occurred to me just how scared I actually was, all I knew was that I was safe and very winded. Needless to say I never return to that little clearing to get the arrow I dropped and the truth be known of the many times I have returned to hunt that mountain, I have never even come within a hundred yards of that laurel thicket.

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