Several years ago I began keeping a detailed journal of my hunting trips for my nephews. This is the account of my 2021 Colorado bear hunt. I hope you enjoy it.
15-17 Oct 2021 Colorado Bear Season
It is cold and I am extremely uncomfortable as I try to get some sleep on the front seat of my truck. Long gone are the days where I could get adequate rest under these conditions and I find myself staring into the dark waiting for the time to get up. As I lie in the darkness, I reflect back to the circumstances that bring me to this place. Back in the early spring I had decided to apply for a limited bear tag on the Bosque de Oso State Wildlife Area in extreme southern Colorado. I had never set foot in that area and knew nothing about it except that the tags are very tightly controlled, and the area has what is considered the highest bear density in the state. And so, I put my 14 bear preference points on the line, applied and was successful in drawing one of the two available tags.
Getting the license was only part of the equation because now I had to learn how to hunt fall bear in an area that I knew nothing about. I have spent decades hunting deer and elk and had been on a guided spring bear hunt in Canada but on this hunt, I would be doing everything myself. I began researching bear hunting information and looked online for videos on field dressing bear, skinning bear, field judging bear, preferred food sources for bear in the Southern Rockies etc.… In early July I traveled from my home in Amarillo, TX to the Bosque de Oso to begin to get the lay of the land. I was surprised to see the amount of cover in the area and the ruggedness of the terrain. I have always done my hunting in Colorado in the northern part of the state and for some reason I expected the southern area to be easier country to hunt. This is not the case. One thing about the Bosque de Oso that is sort of unique if the extensive road system in the area to support the numerous gas wells. These roads exist solely for the gas company vehicles and are pretty much off limits to public drivers, but they do offer access on foot or by horseback and allow a hunter to cover distance easily while assessing the area.
By using the roads, I began to learn the area and spent a lot of time looking for food sources for a fall hunt since the bears would be feeding heavily to prepare for hibernation. I found the Bosque de Oso had a large number of chokecherry bushes and three-leafed sumac which the bear would eat as well as a scattered amount of wild rose hips and some wild raspberries but the key food source I found was acorns off the Gamble Oak bushes which are known locally as scrub oak. The oaks seemed to be just about everywhere but the number of acorns on them varied quite a bit. In the course of learning the land and the food sources I also found a fair amount of bear sign. The problem was in narrowing down where to concentrate on. While I had little in the way of knowledge as to where I should focus, I knew that there were people I could turn to, namely the gas well workers. And so, I ran a fellow named Estephan down and asked him for info. He was extremely helpful and told me where he commonly saw bear and more importantly let me take some photos of the plat maps for the oil wells which showed the road network in great detail. These maps would save me a lot of miles in walking and showed how to get from one place to another going cross county.
But the gas well workers were not my only source of information. I also turned to the game wardens that cover the area, Bob Holder and Dylan Thompson. I compiled a list of about 15 questions about hunting the area and called both of them for answers. Both of these gentlemen were very helpful and their intimate knowledge of the area allowed me to focus on 3 areas, Alamosito Canyon, Torres Canyon and Leon Canyon. For the rest of the summer, I scouted these areas, walking well over 100 miles, and decided that my best bet would be Leon Canyon due to the amount of sign I saw, the heavy acorn crop in the area and the advice of both game wardens and after scouting the area thoroughly I picked 2 spots to sit and glass from using the access roads for the gas wells. On 15 Oct 2021 I drove up from Amarillo and got to the camping area at Gallegos Canyon for the night.
Dawn was still only a dream when I finally decided my 58 year old back simply wasn’t going to take any more and got up. I dressed quickly and got my gear together while drinking a cup of coffee, made the evening before, from my old Coleman thermos. Hello world, it is the 16th of Oct in the year of 2021, and it is opening day of the Colorado bear season! It was 0430 when I parked my truck at the gate and began the walk to my chosen area. My truck was the first one there and I headed out into the darkness, the road faintly illuminated by the light from the moons and the stars. I carried a flashlight in my pocket but used it sparingly because I wanted to get to my area without disturbing it. On my back was a daypack full of gear and my thermos of coffee was lashed to the top of the daypack. The coffee was added weight, but it was a luxury I was willing to indulge in because I knew I would be sitting in the dark for at least a half an hour after I reached my destination, and a hot cup of coffee makes something like that more enjoyable, besides I like my morning coffee.
On my shoulder was slung a Thompson Center Compass chambered in 308 Win and topped with a 4x Nikon Scope. The rifle was a Christmas present to myself, and this was the first time I would hunt with it. The rifle was loaded with handloaded cartridges with a 130 gr Barnes TTSX bullet and Varget Powder. This particular load literally stacked the bullets into a single hole at 100 yards. The rifle was sighted in 3 inches high at 100 yards which put it nearly dead on at 200 yards and about 4 inches low at 300 yards. Around my neck was a pair of Leica binoculars that I have carried for nearly 20 years and on my feet were a pair of old and well broken in Russell boots. Loaded thus I walked on into the darkness.
As is normal when walking at night in the darkness, my senses other than sight began to kick in. I hear the leaves rustle in the slight breeze. I feel the different surfaces under my feet. When I come to small puddles of water in the road, I hear the slight crust of ice give way to my foot. There is a branch of the Purgatoire River that flows through the Bosque de Oso, and I hear it get both louder and fainter and it twists near the road then flows away. At one point I see something moving in the road in front of me and I turn my flashlight with a red lens cover on it and see a set of eyes looking back at me. The eyes are too low to the ground to be a bear but are too high to be something like a rabbit or a raccoon. Although I could not positively identify it, I believe they belonged to either a fox or a bobcat before they disappear into the gloom. After about an hour of slow steady walking I came to my chosen vantage point below a gas well. This spot allows me to look over 3 hillsides covered with oaks as well as a good sized canyon. There is a good sized boulder to sit on and it was at this rock what I dropped my pack and began to lay out my gear.
Out of the pack comes a set of collapsible shooting sticks. This set of sticks has 3 telescoping legs that can be adjusted to any surface to allow a steady shot. I spend a few moments setting them to the right height for me to shoot from in a sitting position. I quietly chamber a round into the 308, engage the safety and lean it against the rock. The binoculars come off my neck and are placed on top of the boulder in a place that is easy to get to. I break out an energy bar and pour a much desired cup of coffee and decide that the breeze blowing on the back of my neck dictated that I sit in front of the boulder rather than on top of it. Coyotes howl in the distance as the sky gradually lightened with the coming dawn. Moments like this are one of the reasons I hunt. Watching the world come alive in the morning is always special. I pity those who have never partaken of that pleasure but instead spend all their time in cities detached from the wonder of the natural world. How truly sad and boring that lifestyle must be.
Trees begin to materialize out of the gloom. Birdsong welcomes the dawn. Somewhere high in the sky I hear sandhill cranes flying overhead. Near a juniper a cottontail rabbit makes its way cautiously toward cover. As the distant hillside directly across from becomes visible with some detail I begin to glass, slowly and intently, peering into the shadows and clearings. This hillside has shown me a lot of bear sign on my scouting trips and the oaks there had the heaviest crop of acorns that I had found. My plan is to spend the entire day here, glassing and looking. I anticipate that patience will be the key to success on this hunt.
Anybody that has spent much time pursuing the sports of hunting and fishing know that things very rarely go according to plans. Nature and her resident animals follow no set timetable. They do not live according to a schedule. They do not read books or contemplate actions. They merely live as their instincts tell them to. However, this particular hunt would end up going exactly was planned for down at the bottom of the hill across from me I see a bear come out of a small patch of timber. Up come the binoculars and I focus on the bear intensely. In Colorado bears must weigh at least 100 pounds and a sow with cubs is protected. So, I look to be sure the bear is large enough and then look over all the brush and cover around it to be sure there are no cubs. This bear looks good, heavy of body, it walks like it owns then entire mountain, and it is alone. I reach over to the rifle and settle in on the shooting sticks. The bear is walking away from me, and I wait for a good shot angle. This will be a downhill shot at about 250 yards. I am set up where the yellow star is, the bear is at the red star. The road is an access road for the gas wells and is not a public road so I can shoot across it. There is nobody around except me and the bear, locked within the circle of the scope.
In a small stand of pines, the bear stops and turns broadside. The crosshair of the Nikon is steady on the bear slightly behind the shoulder. I aim a little high because of the downhill angle. Rifle steady, bear standing still. Time stops. Hunter and prey. The endless cycle of life begins to play out. My finger takes up the pressure on the trigger and the 308 barks, the bullet leaving the barrel at slightly more than 2900 feet per second. Before I can even feel the recoil of the rifle the bullet has completed its flight, and in the scope, I see the bear drop straight down. I cycle the bolt, making sure I catch the spent brass and chamber another round. I cannot see the bear, but I can see the bush it was standing next to. I watch the spot for several moments through the scope and seeing no movement set the rifle down and go back to the binoculars. I watch the bush for 10 minutes and then pour another cup of coffee. I have been hunting for more than 50 years. I have taken many game animals and have learned that patience after the shot is just as important as the patience before the shot. I am willing to sit for a few moments before making my way to the bear and so I sit, watching and drinking my coffee. Finishing the coffee, I pick up the rifle and walk back down the access road running the sequence of events through my mind. Nature continues despite the shot, and I see a really nice mule deer buck directly in front of me in the last shadows of the night.
The stand of trees the bear was in in looms in front of me. I look to the direction the bear was standing when I shot and see that the brush does not allow me to see into it so I decide to climb up the hillside so I can look down on the bush. I approach slowly, rifle at the ready. Bear can be dangerous, and I have little desire to walk up to one that may only be wounded. Only a foolish or inexperienced hunter would do that, and I am neither. Patience is still my best option despite more than 30 minutes passing since the shot was fired. Take a step and watch. Take another step and watch. Looking into the underbrush. And then, there he is, beautiful, lying in his final bed.
The bear, which turns out to be a good boar, is gorgeous. A chocolate brown coat with cinnamon highlights on the sides and black highlights running down the spine. The coat is perfect with no rubbed spots with thick long hair. The blood on the side shows the bullet hit exactly where it was aimed, high on the entrance side and low in the chest on the exit. A clean shot that appears to have been instantly fatal. For this I give thanks for this magnificent animal deserved a clean death. He is as fat as a beer keg, teeth and claws beginning to wear down. An older bear. The king of this mountain. He is perfect and I sit an awe of him in the cool morning air. I decide then and there that he will be the last bear I ever hunt.
Looking to the west where I was sitting, I soak in the glory of nature. This is truly incredible country. God’s handiwork on display for any who is willing to hike in to see it. The newly snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains shining like a beacon to the world. Again, I pity the non-hunters for they have no idea what they are missing. I am a hunter. I come from a long line of hunters. For this I will never apologize, and I will remain a hunter for as long as I can walk and hike but I will hunt bear no more after this day.
I open the bears mouth and place a few acorns from the oak brush into his mouth. I honor every game animal by giving them a last meal and I give thanks to God for the beautiful gift he had given me. Every game animal is precious, and I place a very high value on every animal I take. Rolling the bear onto his back I place him in a reasonable flat spot propping the mouth open with a stick, fill out and detach my tag, and walk back to where I left my gear. I no longer need the rifle, so I have unloaded it and rested it against a stump near the bear, its job done for the hunt. The rifle has made its first kill and it has performed perfectly.
As I gather my gear I look back to where the bear lies and movement up the hill catches my eye. Two more bears are feeding on the hillside above where my bear lies. One of the bears looks to be nearly identical to the one I shot, and one looks a little smaller. Neither has cubs and both would be legal game, but I have taken all the law allows. My scouting has paid off in spades for even if I had not taken the bear I did, I would have had shots at other bears. Some people have said I am a “lucky” hunter, but I have found that the harder I work, the better luck I have, and those two bears proved that to be the case here as well. Leaving them in peace, putting on fat for the winter, I pack my gear to my bear to begin the process of turning it into high quality meat.
Field dressing the bear takes longer than it does for a deer. I want to make sure I make my cuts perfectly because I intend to keep this skin. The bear has a heavy layer of fat and I take care to keep the fat as clean as possible for I plan on rendering it down for lard. Colorado requires evidence of sex to be left on the carcass, so I take care to ensure a testicle remains on both sides as I make the first incision. Upon opening the carcass, I can trace the path of the bullet. It has entered the bear on the left side at the top of the lung, catching the bottom of the spine and exited the right side in the lower part of the lung. The hit on the spine caused the bear to drop immediately and the damage to the lungs caused the death. The shot placement was as close to perfect as any hunter can do. Field dressing completed I take the heart and place it aside for I have found the heart to be one of the best pieces of meat on an animal. I tie a line around the bears head and attach it to a piece of limb and drag the bear down to the access road and then bring my gear down as well. There is one more cup of coffee in my thermos and I sit down to relish it and when done I pick up my rifle and begin the walk to my truck. I have seen no other hunters, have heard no other shots. It is almost as if I have the entire state of Colorado to myself and I bask in the warm sun on my face.
I get to my truck a little after 0930 in the morning. Colorado requires that all bears taken by hunters be checked and verified by a game warden. Bob Holder had told me that he checks all the bears in that area, so I tried to give him a call but had no cell signal. This required me to drive back down to the camping area until I could get a signal and call him. He stated he would be there in an hour or so and I stated that would be good because I still had to retrieve the bear. Successful hunters on the Bosque de Oso are allowed to enter the area after 1000 via the gas well access roads to retrieve game. This is the only time the public can use these roads and that is why I had drug the bear down to the road. As soon as it was 1000, I opened the gate across the road and drove up to the bear. I was not sure exactly how I was going to load a 200+ pound bear into the back of my truck alone but I figured that I would get it done one way or another. Parking the truck, I drug the bear to the open tailgate and spent a few minutes just thinking about the best way to go about the task. Bear do not really have anything you can get ahold of like an antler or a hoof and they sort of roll around in their skin. This was going to take some thought especially since I am 58 years old, and I am alone. I finally decided that brute force was the only option and positioned the bear in a manner that I could get him under the armpits and simply heave the head and front legs onto the tailgate and using that momentum get a back leg and roll it forward. That plan actually worked very well and the bear ended up in the back of the truck on the first attempt. Sometimes a plan just comes together perfectly, and I closed the tailgate and drove back to the gate, stopping at the river to wash the blood off my hands. Once clear of the gate I closed it behind me and drove down to the camping area where the game warden was supposed to meet me.
At the camping area I positioned the bear so I could begin to skin it out and take care of the meat. The day was supposed to get to nearly 70 degrees, and I wanted to get the skin off as soon as possible. I was about halfway done with the skinning when Bob Holder arrived. I had talked to him several times on the phone but had never met him and was immediately impressed with him. He was as nice in person as he was on the phone, and he seemed genuinely happy that I had taken a bear. He was pleased that I had left evidence of sex where it was easy to see and that I had propped the mouth open because part of the checking in process involves removing a tooth and the propped open mouth made that easy for him. This was why I had used the stick in the first place. Bob Holder had me show him where on the map I took the bear so he could document the kill and then he attached a metal seal to the skin that shows the bear had been legally taken and had been properly checked and documented. This seal is required to transport the bear and to get the skin tanned. After attaching the seal Bob Holder gave me a quick lesson on aging the bear by the teeth and he said this bear was between 7 and 8 years old and that it was a very good bear for that area. Bob Holder stayed around for about 30 minutes after getting done with my bear and simply talked to me. I have always enjoyed talking to game wardens and have found them to be a great source of information and Bob Holder was no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him.
After Bob Holder left to check other hunters, I continued skinning the bear and getting the meat into coolers. I found the bear to have a layer of fat nearly 3 inches thick so I spent time trimming a lot of the fat off since it would impede the meat cooling properly. I ended up with 2 coolers full of meat and fat as well as the skin. My intention is to have the skin tanned as a flat skin rather than a rug and to use it was either a bed spread or a couch covering because I already have 2 done as rugs.
It was nearly 1500 when I was done taking care of the bear and getting pretty warm so I headed to the Walmart south of Trinidad, CO to buy another cooler for the skin and as much ice as the coolers would hold. Once this was accomplished, I began the 4 hour drive back to Amarillo. I had planned on spending 4 days hunting bear but now had meat to consider so my plans were altered. I got back to Amarillo, TX a little after 2200, stopping once to check the ice and add a couple more bags after draining off the water that had formed from melting ice. I immediately took a shower and got some very much needed sleep. It had been a very long and tiring day, but I would not have traded that day for anything. It had played out perfectly. It was a hunter’s day. A truly blessed and magical day.
The next morning, 17 Oct 2021, I began the process of butchering down the meat. Because it had been on ice it was well chilled and easy to work with. The very first thing I did in the butchering of the bear was to pull out a tenderloin and get it into a pan full of cold water. This would be supper. I continued the process of removing most of the fat as I pieced the meat down. I normally butcher my animals into roasts because I can always make a roast into steaks later if I wish and that is what I did with the bear. I ended up with about 100 lbs of roasts, backstraps, shanks and grind in addition to about 25-30 lbs of fat to render down and it was all in the freezer shortly after noon and then the skin was delivered to the taxidermist for tanning. When I got home and got everything cleaned up, I took the tenderloin out of the water and began to prepare supper. Roasted tenderloin, beans, coleslaw, and candied jalapenos. I sat down to a hunter’s feast. The timeless act of the hunter and the prey becoming one. Inseparable. Predator and prey. Life is good.
Peace to all. Animosity to none.