Tahoe National Forest, California
By Gary Lewis
Fall colors are striking in the Tahoe National Forest in California's High Sierras. Granite peaks are capped with snow, the vine maple turns red, purple, and orange. Oaks shine yellow and apples glow in the morning sun. Even the black bears come in colors. A chocolate pelt is most common, but cinnamons, blondes and even brindles are available. The most uncommon black bear pelt in these parts is black.
Elevations range between 4400 feet and 8100 feet above sea level. There are canyons that run steep and deep, but there are enough bears in and around ranchlands and gold rush ghost towns that the terrain can be suited to the hunter.
Andrew Gregory of Deadwood Industries,Tel. 530-587-9555, says the bears in the Tahoe National Forest are almost all color-phase animals: brown, cinnamon, blonde or some variation thereof. Very few bears are black. “An average adult bear runs about 250 pounds, but every year we get at least one that weighs 600 pounds or more,” he said.
Mature boars square between 5-feet and 7-feet (measured nose to tail). Pelts in late-October, November and December are well-furnished with long winter growth.
California manages bear hunts by regions and counties. In most cases, the bear season opens with the general deer season (in August or September, depending on the region) and continues through the last Sunday in December or when the California Department of Fish and Game determines that 1,700 bears have been taken.
Deadwood Industries has offered bear hunts for the last five years. In the past, they utilized canvas tents and stayed in the forest. This year they moved camp to more comfortable quarters on the outfitter's property. Camp consists of a fifth wheel trailer that can sleep two or three people. The hunting areas are 20 minutes to an hour's drive away.
Hunters arrive the evening before the hunt. Outfitter Andrew Gregory is a trained chef and there is ample food of high-quality for breakfast and dinner. For lunch, there are snacks in the truck. Hunters have the option of buying a sandwich at a convenience store. Dinner is after dark.
The fifth wheel trailer is spacious, but there is a mildew smell that lingers in the carpet. The trailer has running water, heat and comfortable beds. The restroom facilities are 200 yards away at the main house. Gregory intends to remedy the odor with new carpet prior to next season and plans are made to provide for a restroom.
The day starts early with breakfast at 5:00. Hunts are conducted from four-wheel drive pickups. Gregory may enlist the assistance of one or two friends with packs of hounds. Strike dogs are set on the box and the hunters split up to ‘cut' for tracks. Depending on the experience and skill of the dogs, a track may be started ‘hot' or ‘cold.'
Gregory's hounds are Blue Ticks and Red Ticks. Four are veteran bear dogs and four are in-training. His associates have Walkers, Plotts, Blue Ticks and Red Ticks. Strike dogs scent the bear or its trail and more dogs are turned in to the chase when the race is on.
Gregory's truck is a mid-90s Ford F150 4x4 with room for one hunter. His associates drive diesel 4x4s. Rigs are equipped with radios, winches and emergency gear. Gregory hunts primarily in Sierra and Nevada counties. Access can be limited by snow or heavy rain.
A five-week period from the end of October into December finds the bears moving from food source to food source as temperatures drop. Fall food sources include acorns and manzanita berries. Apples are a favorite staple in some areas.
Hunts are conducted for one or two hunters at a time. A bear may be treed or bayed on the ground. Shots are likely to be taken at close range, 20 to 30 yards is the norm.
The week before we arrived, hunters tagged bears that weighed an estimated 350-, 400-, and 600-pounds. The day before we arrived, hunters bagged a 710-pound bear that was weighed on highway scales. Gregory reports a success rate of 100 percent.
On our first day, we treed a sow with two cubs. The second day, we treed and tagged a two-year-old boar with a light chocolate pelt. The third day brought me a six-foot, 300-pound-plus boar with a black pelt and a white ‘V' on its chest. Gregory said it was the first ‘black' black bear he had seen in six years.
This fall hunt offers the bear hunter a chance to follow the hounds and see the spectacular California gold rush country. There is a chance to be selective and look at a number of tracks and bears before squeezing the trigger. This hunt is a good opportunity for the non-hunting guest to tag along with the chase.