01/08/10 — Bad luck for hunters, but good luck for black bears

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Bad luck for hunters, but good luck for black bears

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on January 8, 2010 1:46 PM

Bob Marwick has taken lion in Africa, red stag in Argentina and hunted elephant and other big game. So, when he learned of a hunting opportunity for dangerous game at close quarters, the 64-year-old Charleston, S.C. resident booked a bear hunt near Washington with Culley Wilson of Wild Wing Adventures.

"It was the opportunity for a different type of bear hunt," said Marwick. "I didn't want to hunt from a stand. It's more fun and exciting to walk around."

Wilson is offering something hunters in western states participate in during the spring, when black bears emerge from their dens. Hunters locate these post-hibernation bears by watching openings with the aid of a binocular. Wilson had brought that method to the North Carolina coast, except he spots bears feeding in grain fields.

"In most parts of the country where bears are hunted by spot-and-stalk methods, they are hunted in spring while eating green grass," said Wilson. "But here they feed in cornfields in fall and winter. We spot them before sunrise, then get ahead of them as they leave the fields to bed in pocosins during the day."

Pocosin is a Native American word meaning "swamp on a hill." The perched water table allows stunted pines, myrtles, bay trees and briars to grow in dense jungles. After leaving the fields, the bears on Wilson's leases head to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Washington and Hyde counties. For hunting success, they must be intercepted before crossing the refuge boundary.

Day one dawned foggy. Wilson said fog makes bears stay in the fields longer, perhaps because it makes it appear as if daylight is longer in coming than normal. Bears become notoriously nocturnal after only a few days hunting pressure. Therefore, any natural occurrence such as fog that tips the odds slightly in favor of the hunter is welcome.

After parking a pickup and walking toward a field, the hunters spotted a sow and cub. Sows and cubs are protected, so the hunters continued along the field edge.

"There he is and it's a big one," whispered Wilson. "Take him."

But a miscommunication with the guide occurred, whereby Wilson was sure his hunter had loaded his magazine and had only to work the bolt of his Weatherby .300 magnum rifle to chamber a round. As Wilson watched the bear disappear into the thick cover, Marwick dug through his pack for ammunition, missing the chance for a 350-pound bear 45 yards away.

Day two dawned foggy as well. A bear materialized like a black ghost from the mist. The bear detected the hunters and moved quickly across a harvested soybean field.

As Marwick jumped a ditch, his sling swivel broke. The rifle muzzle stuck into the mud. Wilson removed the mud with a dog fennel twisted into the muzzle. They closed the distance to 70 yards. But Marwick's shot, fired from a sitting position with the rifle resting on shooting sticks, resulted in a miss.

"I couldn't have missed the bear from that range," he said. "The shot crosshairs were on his shoulder."

At the bear camp's range, Marwick's shots missed a paper target wildly. A bulge in the muzzle was discovered, indicating the barrel still had mud inside when the rifle was fired at the bear.

Marwick carried Wilson's .338 magnum rifle the remainder of the hunt. A bear too small to shoot was spotted that afternoon. Morning three found the hunters hurrying to catch a huge bear making tracks from a cornfield along a waterfowl impoundment dike.

The bear turned 90 degrees at a dike intersection. Running to the intersection, Wilson set up the shooting sticks. Marwick caught up, sat down and rested the rifle.

"Can you see him?" Wilson asked. "I'm going to turn him."

After Marwick said he saw the bear, Wilson "whoofed" a bear's alert call. The bear turned sideways for an instant. Catching human scent, it ran. The rifle never fired.

"I couldn't see well enough to shoot," Marwick said. "He was so close, all I could see was black fur."

Forgoing the shot because he couldn't find a lethal placement was a good idea with a bear that Wilson estimated weighed 500 pounds. But it ended Bob's opportunities for the weeklong hunt.

"A broken sling swivel cost me a bear," Bob said.

But there had been three missed opportunities and it's said bad luck runs in threes, unless you happen to be one of three lucky bears.