If the previous illustration of Murphy’s Law in action wasn’t enough to stupefy the mind, this next one surely will be. Three nights after the last story took place, we were out in the small boat once more, when suddenly the half-light of 2:30 a.m. revealed another big boar walking the low beach trail in a northerly direction. This one looked to be a good eight-footer. Again, we managed to get well ahead of him without his knowledge, and—after completing the tricky disembarking/boat-anchoring maneuver—we scurried south in his direction until we found a perfect spot to set up for an ambush at less than 10 yards.
I chose a slender boulder standing on its end, around seven feet high, situated just off the “low road” toward the water’s edge. The offshore breeze would not, therefore, be a factor that could give away our presence, and the north side of the big rock rose up almost vertically from the contiguous, three-foot-high boulder I decided to sit on for my ambush. I knew that by the time the traveling bruin came into my view, he would already be totally broadside to me—if not a bit past that.
My guide, Eric Umphenour, wearing a camo headnet and gloves, hunkered down amongst the dark rocks a couple yards closer to the water (so he could watch the approaching bear better). The plan was that when time came for me to draw, he would tap me on the foot with the tip of his rifle barrel. I, too, was completely decked out in dark camo patterns that were a good match for the boulder pile in which we had taken up temporary residence. My parka was a different pattern and slightly different color from the pants I was wearing, but the mismatch was purposeful—as that is an excellent way to eliminate even further any identifiable silhouette or profile.
No sooner had we settled into our ambush setup than Eric whispered to me he could see the grizzly moving our way about 100 yards out. I sneaked a quick peek, assured myself that he was, indeed, still following the path that passed about seven yards in front of me, and then got ready for the imminent drama I knew was in the offing. Soon I heard “50,” then “30,” then ”20.” Finally, there was the tap against my boot. As I drew the three-blade Savora arrowhead which I had used for the previous 27 years with total confidence, I could not prevent myself from thinking that this was—at long last—going to be a “slam dunk!”
After being anchored at full draw for nearly 10 seconds, I was beginning to wonder what in the world could have happened to our quarry, when the peripheral vision of my right eye suddenly picked up a flicker of motion off to my right above me. I twisted my head around as far as I could, and my eyes focused on a pair of ears barely visible over the top of the big rock I was leaning against. Just then came the hoarse whisper, “He’s up above you!”
Don’t ask me why this probable Boone-and-Crockett-class grizzly had chosen this precise moment to stop, turn, and admire the view out over the ocean, but one more time I could feel Murphy’s ghost breathing down the back of my neck. At least I suddenly became aware that the hair on the back of my neck was standing straight up, and it WAS moving! Perhaps the situation was really nothing more than the grizzly’s uncanny sixth sense telling him there was danger close at hand. All I know for sure is what happened next.
At the sound of my guide’s final alert, the big fellow stood straight up on his hind legs and peered down at me over the top of the tall boulder. While he stood there trying to figure things out in the dim light of 3 a.m., he revealed to my astonished eyeballs all of his head, neck, and the top half of his chest—down to about the armpits. In a straight line through the middle of the rock, the small of my back and the bear’s belly button couldn’t have been more than seven or eight feet apart! Since I was at full draw already, I only had to swing my bow-arm over and up, refine my aim for a half-second, and let fly. I wasn’t sure that the entire heart area was exposed to my view, but, because he was facing directly at me, I knew any dead-center shot, left-and-right, was going to be quickly lethal.
The shot was made at about a 45-degree angle upward, with the tip of my drawn arrow approximately 30 inches below, and 30 inches out from, the top edge of the rock I was shooting over. However, believe it or not, when the arrow flew, the sparks also flew, and my shaft sashayed up and to the left—right over the beast’s shoulder without even touching him! Instantly, he was back down “on all fours,” running back the way he had come, then cutting up onto the “high road” and the open tundra.
One blade of my broadhead had just barely clipped the horizontal lip of the rock it needed to clear, and all was for naught! Mr. Murphy had just added yet another notch to his bedpost. Of course, what I had not taken sufficiently into account was that at full draw the nock of my arrow, being anchored under my cheekbone a good two inches below my dominant eye, was going to push the arrow on a slightly different path from the one my vision was tracing to the point of impact at which I was aiming. A slightly lower path! It was a situation somewhat akin to the deer hunter who lays his rifle across the hood of his pickup, takes careful aim at a distant buck through his high-powered scope, and proceeds to blast a hole through the pickup’s rear-view mirror that never showed up in his sight picture.
As things turned out, that late May hunt of 2003 produced no further encounters of the furry kind, but then just how much excitement can a guy’s heart stand in one hunt? I’m sure Eric was asking himself much the same question. Whether you choose to call it the Murphy School, the School of Hard Knocks, the School for the Frustrated or the Insane, or whatever else, I headed home that June more intensely frustrated than I had ever felt at any time in my entire life. Yet I persisted in believing (perhaps simply for my own sanity) that graduation still waited for me somewhere down the road. I also knew I would be back there again the following May, for exactly the same hunt. Little did I know that my fierce determination would eventually net me a new Pope and Young World’s Record Grizzly!
Editor’s note: This article is the fifty-ninth 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.
Banner and featured image by Ken Conger/NPS on the Wikimedia Commons