If you are someone who has pondered the question of whether you might want to tackle someday the most dangerous carnivores in North America with a bow and arrow, you need to be fully aware of the magnitude and difficulty of the challenge you’re setting yourself before making that major decision. And you need to realize, as well, that there’s a strong likelihood you’ll have to endure—as I did—multiple manifestations of Murphy’s Law in action.
Without fear of contradiction, I will state that very few modern bowhunters have bagged a grizzly or Alaskan brown bear on their first attempt (sans the aid or interference of a rifle). Hunting Ursus arctos (horribilis) is a very different ballgame compared to hunting black bear with a bow. The former is so much stronger, smarter, faster and more dangerous that comparing the two is a bit like comparing Major League baseball teams with Class-A teams. And that may be flattering to the black bear!
Not that the black bear isn’t strong, fast, and sometimes dangerous, but only after hunting both a lot can one come to understand fully that the two species are in very different leagues. All bears are notorious for their keen hearing and unbelievable sense of smell, but the Alaskan brown bear and the grizzly possess instincts for self-preservation that go far beyond those of the black bear—and far beyond man’s ability to comprehend.
Grizzlies usually want absolutely nothing to do with man, and usually live as far away from him as they can get. The black bear, in contrast, doesn’t mind having a lot to do with man and flirts with human civilization far more than many people wish were the case. He often lives in small pockets of dense vegetation between suburban shopping malls or housing developments. He raids garbage dumps, frequents camp grounds, hauls dog-food bags out of open garages, breaks into storage sheds, and so on. When the grizzly occasionally breaks into some remote wilderness cabin, he first makes certain there is no evidence of human presence anywhere around. Black bears are frequently caught “red-pawed” committing acts of predation or vandalism; grizzlies, almost never. It’s true, of course, that the occasional rogue grizzly will be macho enough to beard man to his face, or charge him without warning or provocation. But that kind of grizzly is the rare exception to the rule, and what Frank Dufresne, in his wonderful book, No Room for Bears, refers to as the “25th bear.”
I’ve never known who Mr. Murphy was, when he lived, or what was so horrendous about the general level of incompetence by which he lived his life that the whole English-speaking world has come to blame him for everything that goes wrong. Such blame, however, must be patently unfair—so much so that I’m convinced today, whenever Murphy’s Law strikes, it’s simply his spirit taking revenge on the rest of the human race.
You’ve probably heard it said that bowhunting is often Murphy’s Law in action. That statement is true in spades when it comes to bowhunting the brown or grizzly bear! It has seemed to me, at least in my experience, that if something can go wrong it usually will—almost without fail. During my hunting lifetime, I have bowhunted the Alaskan brownie seven times and the srizzly seven times. That comes to 14 different guided hunts—comprising 154 days in the field. Every hunt, of course, was a remarkable adventure in its own right, but there came a time, after so much accumulated frustration, when I began to wonder if I weren’t carrying some sort of curse on my back.
Various friends started calling me “unlucky,” or “snake-bit.” One anti-hunter called me a “benighted bastard” who didn’t deserve any luck. A few moralizing, religious types suggested I must have gotten “crosswise” with my Maker. I pray the latter was not the case, but I do know I finally started to feel as if Mr. Murphy had moved me to the very top of his (s)hit-list.
What will follow in the next dozen or so episodes of The BAREBOW! Chronicles will be a “catalogue” of short stories recounting numerous examples of Murphy’s Law in action which I personally experienced in my bowhunting pursuit of Ursus arctos (horribilis). Call them instances of Murphy’s revenge, Murphy’s sadism, or whatever you wish; all I know is that—collectively—they severely tested (over a period of five years) my patience, my will, my bank account, and my sanity (not to mention the emotional stability of my stay-at-home wife and mother, who have both always been terrified of bears—any bears).
I won’t bother to include in this catalogue of Murphy’s tricks anything as mundane as an unseen twig breaking underfoot, or a sudden, squirrelly shift of wind. Those things are just part of hunting, and they happen to everyone. I will, however, try to list my illustrations chronologically, in the order I experienced them, because I fully recognize we often make our own luck (good or bad), or at least contribute to it.
Since we all learn best the hard way, through making mistakes, the chronology of the examples that will follow in the weeks ahead may allow the astute reader to glean some wisdom the easier way, and avoid giving Mr. Murphy any extra help in the future. He certainly doesn’t need any help from us when it comes to bowhunting these dangerous bears! I definitely have to plead guilty to having given him a fair amount of help in thwarting my dreams for so long—until, at long last, I finally succeeded in driving an arrow right through his heart, as well as that of a new Pope and Young world record grizzly.
If you think you’d like to experience (as if you were right by my side) what it’s really like to hunt North America’s most dangerous game with only a bow in hand, then please accept my invitation to tag along as I penetrate a number of our continent’s great wilderness areas, in pursuit of bowhunting’s foremost challenge and ultimate adventure.
Editor’s note: This article is the fifty-fourth of the BAREBOW! Chronicles, a series of shortened stories from accomplished hunter and author Dennis Dunn’s award-winning book, BAREBOW! An Archer’s Fair-Chase Taking of North America’s Big-Game 29. Dunn was the first to harvest each of the 29 traditionally recognized native North American big game species barebow: using only “a bow, a string, an arrow—no trigger, no peep sights, no pins—just fingers, guts, and instinct.” Each of the narratives will cover the (not always successful, but certainly educational and entertaining) pursuit of one of the 29 animals. One new adventure will be published every two weeks—join us on the hunt! You can learn more about the work, and the various editions of BAREBOW! available, by clicking here:http://www.barebows.com/. You can also follow BAREBOW! on Facebook here.
Top illustration by Hayden Lambson