By Gary Lewis
If you sit in one place long enough, your chances of seeing bear increase. Seldom do you get a look at Ursus Americanus when you are on the move. The predator is so in tune with its surroundings that it is alerted to any sound and scent that seems out of place.
No one knew that better than Taylor Skinner, a native of Glide, Oregon, who was showing me his favorite black bear haunts in Oregon's Coast Range. We sat for a few minutes when he spotted them across the canyon.
"There are four bears on that grassy slide," he whispered. "A sow and three yearlings."
The sow rolled rocks, looking for grubs while the smaller bears pulled at the fresh green grass and played in the warm spring sun. For an hour, we watched then headed out to another clearcut along a narrow trail.
That was when we saw a lone black bear a hundred yards ahead. It emerged at the left side of the trail then dashed across at a dead run.
Experience has taught me that startled bears don't run for a long time, but instead are prone to stop and check their back trail. As expected, this bear only ran about a hundred yards and then whirled to get a look back.
Our style of spot-and-stalk hunting allows for the hunter to evaluate bears, to watch them at long range as we had done with the sow and cubs. We carry bullets close to hand or in the magazine, locking the bolt down on an empty chamber. If a stalk is planned or a long shot is contemplated, a round is jacked in and the safety engaged.
We do not expect bears to jump out in front of us and offer shots in the forest between clearcuts.
The bear offered a quartering away shot at less than a hundred yards and then he eased up through the trees and looked back again. When I had a chance to look at him, he appeared big enough, with long black hair and an unrubbed spring coat.
My rifle was seated against my shoulder. I dialed the scope from 14X down to 4.5X, centered the crosshair and squeezed. Two-point-five pounds of pressure.
In the history of trigger squeezes on game animals there was never a better break, never a better follow-through. CLICK. I had forgotten to chamber a round.
The bear went from standstill to sooty streak, his body flashed through sun-streaked alder and fir. I chambered a bullet and swung, but held my fire. I had had my chance.
Oregon's bear population is thought to be close to 30,000 animals, spread over approximately 40,000 square miles of habitat. The best bear concentrations are in southwest Oregon and up along the coast and in northeast Oregon.
Spring hunts are designed to keep bear populations at acceptable levels and are controlled by a lottery that limits hunters in each of the open units. Bag limit in the spring is one bear, except that it is unlawful to take cubs less than a year old, or sows with cubs.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife requires a mandatory check for all harvested bears. Biologists will remove a small premolar tooth from the skull and take measurements. Hunters will be notified of the bear's age.
If you want to draw a tag the first year you apply, the best odds are in the Wilson-Trask, Saddle Mountain-Scappoose, Hood Unit, South Central, South Blue Mountains and Starkey hunts. The application deadline for the spring hunt is February 10.
For the Southwest Oregon hunt, 4,000 tags are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
West of the Cascades, the season opens April 1. April 15 is the opener in most of the northeast hunts. Hunt the middle of the season for the best chances of seeing bear; use the early season for scouting trips. Invest the time in places where you find fresh sign and be patient – the bears are there.