WRITTEN BY: PAUL SERVEY
“My heart was pounding through my chest… in an instant ScarFace came whirling out from under the bait as if it had smelled or sensed something.”
I started preparing for the 2015 hunting season when I received an amazing invite from my good friend, Zach Owens, in Idaho. He wanted me to go on a backcountry black bear spot and stock hunt. This hunt evolved into one of the most memorable hunting journeys of all time and I am excited to share my epic adventure.
Preparation began in early March by reloading for my rifle and going to the range to make sure my 300 Remington Ultra Mag was driving tacks. I assessed all my equipment and also increased my physical training to be prepared for the grueling Idaho backcountry. In the middle of April the day finally came to travel to Idaho.
I woke up at 3:00 a.m. filled with excitement to make the trek. The plan was to meet Zach and be at the trailhead by early afternoon. As we arrived at the trailhead, I took one glance at the country we would be hunting in and knew this would be a legitimate backcountry bear hunt. It was some of the steepest and most rugged country I had ever seen in Idaho. We loaded up our packs and quickly headed out since it was a 6-7 mile journey. We rolled into camp shortly before dusk and set up our tents just below the snowline; it was a bit chilly! The mornings were in the 20’s making glassing uncomfortable while waiting for that first ray of sunlight to crest over the ridge.
The next four days were tough and full of blisters, sore muscles, and plenty highs and lows. We saw a few bruins just out of hibernation roaming the area, but none were the caliber I wanted to harvest. After four days of hunting hard we decided to go home and regroup for round two.
After several weeks I was going bear crazy and could not wait to get back up to Idaho. I called Zach and we made a plan for my second trip. Zach has had great success with bear baiting so we decided that would be my best chance to harvest the caliber of bear I was looking for. Zach had spent countless hours researching an area that he felt had less baiting activity and could produce some great bears. I loaded up and was on my way back to Idaho with 700 lbs. of expired bread and pastries in the bed of my truck. The sun was blazing that day and the weatherman said it was going to be a warm week. Zach and I found a great spot with amazing shooting lanes and set the bait. We hung scent in the trees and crossed our fingers as we hiked away.
After only four days since placing my bait, I returned to Idaho hoping some bears were frequenting the area and had the buffet of goodies. Just like a typical Rocky Mountain spring, the weather turned cold and snowed in the high country. The trip was a bust, and as I drove back to Utah in complete discouragement I began to second guess my choice of passing some of the smaller bears during our first trip.
The pressure was building as I had one final trip planned for the last week of the hunt in June. The scary part was I would not be able to check on or refill my bait over the next three weeks before I could return. I knew it was only a matter of time before the old bruins would sniff it out. With only 700 lbs. of bait, it would surely go fast.
After 23 long agonizing days I was on my way back to Idaho –solo this time– for my final opportunity to harvest a great Idaho black bear. On zero sleep from working a graveyard, I drove to our hunting spot. I was super pumped and scared as I hiked the trail into the bait. My body racing with emotions, I was praying there would still be some bait left. To my surprise there was a little left but it was very close to being completely consumed. The bears had been working it very hard! I sat for seven hours the first day and did not see a single bear. I returned to camp, ate some dinner, and crashed.
Having slept for only five hours in the last two days, I was back up in the morning having coffee and hoping this would be my lucky day. I sat on the bait for three hours seeing only deer and elk. I was having a lot of trouble staying awake. I decided to go for a small hike, glassing some clear cuts hoping to catch one of the bears that had been hitting my bait. But something kept telling me I needed to return to the bait and sit on it all day. I decided to listen to my gut and return to my blind. I also felt like adding something to the miniscule pile left at the bottom of the bait. I felt my pockets and checked my gear for something to add. I pulled out a Mountain House and emptied it on top of the remnants left by the unseen bears that had devoured everything. I sat back on the hillside and sleep deprivation set in again. I didn’t want to take a nap for fear of potentially missing a final opportunity. My body and mind finally gave out, so I gave myself permission to take just a short nap and I was out cold within seconds. As I awoke, not knowing how long I had been asleep, I sprung up like a rocket as if I knew something was at the bait. As I looked down the hillside, I was in complete amazement as I saw a very big black shadow the size of a 50-gallon drum glistening in the sun. I was in shock and I tried to get my senses about me.
The bear was tucked under the bait eating the last bit of the Mountain House I had just placed there. He was only 115 yards away. The five yards I had to crawl up the hill to my rifle felt like a mile. My heart was pounding through my chest. As I reached my rifle I positioned myself for a shot and wondered if it was a boar. I settled the cross hairs of my scope on the bear and waited for it to come out. In an instant the bear came whirling out from under the bait as if it had smelled or sensed something. In doing so, the bear presented a perfect broadside shot. I knew at that moment this was a big bear. As I looked at the head I could tell immediately he was a big boar. I settled the crosshairs behind his shoulder and squeezed the trigger of my 300 Ultra Mag. The 230 grain Hybrid Berger hit home and to my surprise the old bruin took off running towards me before disappearing into the pines. Within 20 seconds I heard the unmistakable sound of the old warrior’s death moan. I was overcome with emotion and knelt down at that moment to thank God for this incredible hunt and this beautiful black bear’s sacrifice.
I gave him ten minutes before I began tracking into the pines. As I walked up and knelt down next to him, I knew I had harvested a real, true warrior. This was exactly the type of bear I was hoping for. He was perfect with a beautiful coat, a giant head and many scars all over from fighting with other bears. He even had a gnarly large bite mark on his face that almost took out his right eye from what was surely an earlier larger-than-life battle. Scarface seemed to be the perfect name for this old warrior. As I rolled him over, I noticed a most unique white patch on his chest that made him look like he was wearing a tuxedo! Wow!
I was so excited that I wanted to share my success with someone. I pulled out my Delorme InReach satellite device and sent the message “Big Smokey Down!” to my family and friends. As soon as Zach received my message he left work, jumped in his vehicle, and made it in record time to the trailhead. When he arrived we both celebrated the amazing bear that I was fortunate to harvest.
I am so thankful for this amazing experience and all the help and support I received to make my dreams of harvesting my first bear come true. This was something that I have a hard time explaining in words, but it was an experience I will never forget for the rest of my life.
Have you ever harvested a black bear with a chest blaze?
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