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The Chess Game

The Chess Game- This article by long time client Jeff Mangold is published in the 2009 July/August issue of bear hunting magazine

The Chess Game
By Jeff Mangold

Shadows advanced through the dense North Maine woodland forest as daylight surrendered its grip on my final day of the bear hunt. Seven long days have passed while pursuing the Maine bruin that visited this hunting site.  It had become a game of chess, an old rivalry between two seasoned players and I was loosing.  Shooting light was fading quickly on day eight and it began to look like I would suffer a checkmate.  With less than 10 minutes of light remaining, I sat motionless, ears and eyes straining to identify anything that could be an approaching black bear.  With my bow at the ready and sitting on the edge of the ladder stand seat, I spotted what looked like movement, silent movement, black shadowy movement off to my left.  Was it one of the resident red squirrels again, hanging at the end of a pine branch casting shadowy movement beneath the canopy – it would not be the first time one of those critters has put my senses on high alert.  As darkness drew near, the endless supply of sagging tree limbs continued to cast their shadowy slideshow playing tricks on my eyes, encouraging my imagination to see things that were not there at all.  I stretched out my neck, turned an ear and glared down through the trees hoping to confirm a bruin’s movement, was fate about to unleash an opportunity to my bow and arrow or would the advancing shadows of last light deceive my senses once again?

This was the way I spent the final minutes of my 2006 bear hunt in Oxbow Maine with Oxbow Lodge Outfitters but before I get to the final moments of this hunt let me walk you through my previous days on stand.

It was the opener for me, this the second week of the black bear season in Maine.  Tom Aasbo, owner of the lodge, himself an exceptional woodsman and accomplished guide had once again placed me in the very capable hands of Master Maine Guide, Donald Whipple.  Donald is no stranger to these woods and is a third generation guide who grew up here in Oxbow. I have hunted four previous years with Donald, enjoyed every moment and learned much.  Donald is a wealth of knowledge about hunting and trapping the great Maine woods and always keeps us laughing on our rides to and from the hunt.  The hunting site, like so many others at Oxbow, is carefully chosen and established, well maintained by the guide, active and ready for its first and only hunter. You see, black bears are very smart animals. It is never an automatic success, as some think, to sit in waiting at a bait site that is being visited by a curious and cautious black bear.  The woods in Maine are very dense and it is nearly impossible to hunt bears without using a bait site unless you hunt with dogs.  This bear hunt, like all at Oxbow, will be at a baited site located within the heavy cover of Maine’s Northern woodlands.  Once a hunter enters the domain of the black bear anything can happen, success is as much a result of the hunter as it is the guides knowledge and hard work leading up to the hunt.  Hunter preparation is critical, scent control, sitting very still and quite an absolute must.  I have come to love the unique challenge of bear hunting and this is my ninth bear hunt with bow. I have enjoyed several successes over the years as well as my fare share of misses and miscues.  While there are always exceptions to these conditions, it is not often a mature bruin will reveal himself during daylight. The last fading minutes of daylight are often a time of great anticipation and opportunity for those who can remain vigilant on stand until the shadows rule the forest floor.  As a hunter exits the woods, it is evident that several minutes of fading daylight remain providing a testament to Maine’s heavily wooded canopy and thick undergrowth, home to the elusive black bear.

The first few days on stand were uneventful as far as daylight bear visitation goes.  However, tossed logs and an empty bait offered evidence of a bear in the area and so the chess match had begun.  A visit from a large salt and pepper colored coyote as well as a Cow moose those first few days made for great excitement on stand.  The woods teamed with wildlife each day as I sat in waiting for a bruin to arrive.  The bait site was set up with logs and branches as barriers to the back side so the bear would be coming into the set up from either the left or right offering a great broadside shot opportunity.  There are no guarantees of a shot opportunity simply because of hunting over bait, a mistaken perception made by many.  This is fair chase, not unlike hunting a food plot, orchard or cornfield for deer or fishing with live bait or lures and a hunter must hunt if success is the goal, assuming otherwise could easily spoil a shot opportunity.  Of course, one should never rule out a bear silently approaching from behind, providing the hunter with a unique and up close encounter, testing both nerves and hunting ability.

Four days have now passed, Tom and Donald offer to relocate me.  I thanked them for the offer but told them I would like to continue to hunt this site.  I figured the bear was a good one because of the large scat and prints left as evidence, plus the heavy logs have been easily tossed yards from the bait site.  This bruin was definitely a wise one who obviously knew something was different ever since I had arrived.  That evening the air was cool and all was quiet when suddenly from the thicket to my left came a loud huff from a bruin.  Twice more came the warning vocalizations from the bear; I knew I had been busted as the chess game continued.  How could he know I was there, I thought in frustration.  Despite my sent control regiment and silently waiting to ambush, this bruin was not going to give me an opportunity; I had to rethink my strategy.  I talked with Donald and Tom as we ate a hot meal back at the lodge that evening.

Day five was a perfect evening for the hunt, very much like the day before.  As if on cue and like clockwork, with less than 30 minutes of daylight remaining, inside the canopy to my left there came two verbal warnings from the bruin.  Again, he knew I was there.  Now the bait had been hit the night before which meant he came in after I had left, the bruin had cleared another piece from my chessboard.  I had not scared this bear off but had educated him to my presents and it was obvious this burin was not leaving the area, nor was I.  It was then I decided I had no choice but to put my plan into action, a chess move I hoped would be successful.  I would leave my outer shirt, head mask and hat in the stand that night, in hopes that he would get used to any scent generated from the garments.  If the bruin was to come into to eat that night he would have to do so knowing that any scent contained on my cloths was still in the area.

The following day I was very eager to get out to the stand to see if the bait site had been hit, remember I had left my cloths on stand all night.  After thoroughly spraying my gear and myself with sent eliminator, I approached slowly and quietly, arriving an hour earlier than normal to throw off any pattern the bruin may have developed on me.  For all I know that bear could be laying out there from early afternoon only to come in after light with his daylight presents nearby being enough to keep any challenging bears at bay and out of his food – that is unless they were bigger than him.  I climbed up the stand and glanced down to the bait site, it had been hit. I watched as Donald re-baited my site and gave me the thumbs up and a silent “good luck” as he slipped out of the area past my stand.  Two nights in a row I thought to myself.  Huh, what could this mean?  Could it be that my plan was going to work, could it be?  It was obvious that the remaining sent had not scared off the bear and perhaps he was now getting used to it.  I quietly put on the shirt, mask and hat and began waiting for an ambush opportunity.  As if now routine, with only minutes of light remaining, the bear sounded off.  This time it was only once and not as loud and aggressive as the two previous nights.  Was it possible the bear did not know I was there but was getting used to my sent and just sounding off a warning for good measure?  Could my plan be working, two nights in a row now the bear had visited the site with my cloths remaining behind.  That night remained a stale mate as I once again left behind my garments and silently slipped out of the area.

Rain and cool temperatures brought and a damp chill to the air on the seventh day of my hunt.  As the afternoon vigil arrived, the rain began to give way to an occasional ray of sunshine.  The approach to my stand that evening was a muddy one revealing evidence of a good size bear in the area as Donald and I analyzed fresh bear tracks crossing our trail in. Excitement and anticipation filled my body; another round of chess was about to begin.  My shirt and mask were mostly dry, I had been hanging them under the platform seat from a branch just incase any rains came.  The hunt passed very slowly and without any bear activity.  The bait had not been visited the night before.  No bear, no vocalizations today, I left the woods disappointed that evening.  My shirt, mask and hat remained.

The eighth day of my hunt had arrived; I had thoughts of extending the hunt but knew it was time to head home.  Work and reality were calling and after today my bear season was over.  Once again, I entered the woods earlier than normal, I pulled the shirt over my head and adjusted the mask hoping my plan would work, anticipating a visit from the elusive bear I cautiously adjusted my hat.  As I sat on stand I couldn’t help but daydream of a big bruin coming into shot range, but would it really happen.  I pondered several seasons of bear hunting, my successes, my failures, and the encounters that offered no bow shot.  I waited hours for my opponent to show his face, not many hours remained on the hunt clock.  The entire hunt had become a chess game between the bear and I, both of us down to our last few pieces and I was loosing.  A chance to claim checkmate felt right this evening.

Sitting just a short time on stand, I noticed movement to the right and quickly into the bait site rambled a cub, then a second cub with the sow in tow.  Could this be what had been challenging me all week long? No, I thought to myself, no way. The bears circled the site several times while the sow held her nose high to the air as if she was sampling the buffet beneath the logs or was she simply scent checking the area for me or other bears.  Without notice, the three exited just as quickly as they came, something wasn’t right.  What was it, I thought.  Did they know I was there?  Did they detect another bear in the area?  My mind raced with images and I could only hope it was the latter.  Hours now passed as I sat on the front edge of the seat with my bow at the ready.  Hands cramping from the long motionless pose, I felt a bit drained both mentally and physically ever since the sow and cubs had left.  I was certain a big boar was in my area but as daylight faded so to did my hopes.  I slid back in the stand, placed my bow across my lap and waited out the last hour thinking of the sow and cubs that visited so briefly.  Recalling the week’s events, I realized I should not risk the last hour being caught flat-footed and that I still had a few chess moves remaining.  Once again, I eased up to the edge of the seat to settle in.  Shadows advanced through the dense North Maine woodland forest as daylight was surrendering its grip on my final day of the bear hunt. Seven long days have passed while pursuing the Maine bruin that visited this hunting site, an old rivalry between two seasoned players.  Shooting light was fading quickly on day eight and it began to look like I would be the one to suffer a checkmate.  With less than 10 minutes of light remaining, I sat motionless, ears and eyes straining to identify anything that could be an approaching black bear.  With my bow at the ready and sitting on the edge of the ladder stand seat, I spotted what looked like movement, silent movement, black shadowy movement off to my left.  Was it one of the resident red squirrels again, hanging at the end of a pine branch casting shadowy movement beneath the canopy – it would not be the first time one of those critters has put my senses on high alert.  As darkness drew near, the endless supply of sagging tree limbs continued to cast their shadowy slideshow playing tricks on my eyes, encouraging my imagination to see things that were not there at all.  I stretched out my neck, turned an ear and glared down through the trees hoping to confirm a bruin’s movement, was fate about to unleash an opportunity to my bow and arrow or would the advancing shadows of last light deceive my senses once again?

Slowly a black mass weaved through the underbrush, I could identify movements of what was definitely a bear coming in.  My heart began to race uncontrollably and my breathing became rapid as I brought my bow to the ready position.  The bear reached the edge of the opening at the side of the bait and abruptly stopped standing only 15 yards from my position.  I was at full draw trying to maintain control of the adrenalin rush while the bruin looked in my direction.  Be still, I silently repeated over and over, don’t move and let him come in.  Even though I have been through face-to-face confrontations several times with black bears over the years, I still experience a thrill and exhilaration difficult to put into words.  After what seemed an eternity at full draw, feeling comfortable the bear stepped into the opening in front of me.  As I have so many times, I immediately made all the mental checks as I settled the pin on the target and released the arrow.  My Montec broadhead was on its way as my eyes remained focused on a spot just behind the bears shoulder and half way up his body - the shot looked perfect as the fletching disappeared into the black mass.  The hit was clean as the bruin exited to the right moving faster than anyone could imagine such a beast was capable of.  I cupped my ear with my hand and listened as the bear crashed through the dense underbrush plowing through everything in its path. The run was short and the forest quickly grew silent as the bear came to a stop.  An eerie death moan filled the now rapidly darkening forest, engulfing my body with a chilling but very satisfying feeling.  I knew the bruin was mine, the hunt was clean and that I had finally succeeded in this game of chess.  As I peered down at the shot sight, I could see the unmistakable gleam of the fluorescent green knock, my broadhead and arrow stuck in a log.  It was a clean pass through - checkmate.

My partners for this hunt Frank Liebel, Gordon Thompson and guide Donald Whipple helped me locate and load the bear out of the woods to the truck on that moonless night.  There was much cause for celebration as we loaded the bear and headed for check-in back at the lodge.  The bear would weigh in at just under 280 lbs and upon returning home, green scored the skull at just over 18”.  My hunt had come to a successful end proving that perseverance and creative tactics worked this time around.
To book a black bear hunt in Northern Maine at Oxbow Lodge you can call Tom or Tracey Aasbo at 207.435.6140 or visit their website at oxbowlodge.com for booking and up to date information.

Authors equipment list for the hunt:
For my deer and bear hunts the past several years I have used with great success the 100 grain Montec broadhead from G5 Outdoors, my bow for this hunt was an E-Force by Elite archery, Carbon Revolution Arrows guided by Blazer Vanes from Bohning, Whisker Biscuit arrow rest, Lore Stabilizer, Winn Archery’s Free Flight release, G5 Meta Peep Hunter ¼ and single pin fluorescent sight by Impact Archery.

  
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