Friday, October 17, 2014

Ricky's great idea...

Den of the Beastly Bear

Hi Folks!

This time of year, when the Autumn breezes blow and amber leaves turn cartwheels across my yard, my mind always turns to hunts I've had, and friends I've shared them with!

One of my most boon hunting companions was my friend Ricky Johnson, who long time readers met here, along with his future wife Arlene. She often accompanied us on our misguided adventures as well.

Together we've hunted this State, one end to the other...Upper AND Lower peninsulas. For squirrel, rabbit, pheasant and partridge, deer (both with gun and bow), and bear. One of our FAVORITE destinations was Drummond Island.

Our core group, that went every year to hunt the elusive whitetail deer with our bows. Consisted of Ricky and Arlene, one of the mechanics from work Mark, his lovely wife Gail, and me. Oh sure every year there were satellite friends that tagged along. Sometimes swelling our group to twelve or so, but at the center were the five of us.

Now Ricky is one of those guys that's always looking for "the edge". That one exclusive thing that will get him a bigger, better, more monstrous buck.

One year Ricky had an epiphany!

While buying feed corn to take as bait, he saw a thing called a "Deer Sucker"! Eight inches round, two inches thick and stuck on a stick you could push into the ground. Comprised of oats and grains, a little corn and salt all bound together with molasses and baked hard. The idea being the deer stopped to lick and nibble the sucker, distracting him long enough for a shot.

This got Ricky thinking. He had heard of something called "Sweet Feed" which was oats and barley tossed with molasses and given to horses as a treat....

What if...instead of feed corn, he baited with sweet feed instead?
Surely the deer would go crazy for the stuff! After all,
other perennial favorite baits were apples and sugar beets, sweet would WORK!!!

So instead of feed corn, Ricky bought ten 50 lb. bags of sweet feed figuring he could always buy corn on the island, albeit at a higher price.

We arrived two days before the season was to start, spots were picked out, blinds/treestands set up, and bait piles laid. 

I had never been a fan of bait piles myself, and eschewed Ricky's offer of sweet feed. I thought it was a bad idea...not for the reason it turned out to be, but more because I thought with the dampness of the fall air on our island refuge, the molasses covered grain would congeal together into one large rather solid, lump!

Opening morning came.
I was sharing a cabin with Mark and Gail. As we got our things together to head out I saw Mark slip something into the pocket of his coat.
"What's that?" I asked as I continued to don my own gear.
"Firecrackers and a lighter!" Mark said "In case any bear tries to climb my stand with me, I'll light the firecrackers and toss them at him to scare him away!"

Did I mention that Drummond Island also sports a healthy population of black bears? Though none of us had ever seen one.

That didn't stop Mark from having an absolute phobia of being trapped in a tree by a black bear. I gave Mark a chuckle and shook my head, shared a knowing look with Gail and finished gearing up.

We made our way into the woods in the predawn chill. Frost on the leaves crunching beneath our feet and breath steaming like mini locomotives. Mark and I went left, with Gail following Ricky and Arlene to the right. Mark and I had the more remote hunting spots, with Mark's a half mile farther from the cabins than my own.

Our daily routine was always the same. Stay in your stand until 11am (Unless you'd shot something), then come in for lunch. Maybe a nap, then back to your stand by 3 where you'd stay until it was too dark to see.

Our morning hunt was as uneventful as it was unsuccessful. The girls had seen a couple does with yearlings. Ricky saw nothing though he noted with pride "They tore the hell out of the sweet feed Mongo...told ya!" (Ricky had taken to calling me that after watching a rerun of Blazing Saddles.)
I saw a spike, but he was way to far away for a shot, and Mark saw bupkis!

Lunch was chili in bread bowls, cheese and salami with crackers.

Back out for the evening hunt...with hope in our hearts.

When the sun finally crawled beneath the horizon, and the light washed everything to shades of was time to come in.

I walked out to the nearest road to wait for Mark. After waiting well longer than I should have I decided Mark had probably been successful and headed back in to get help. I turned towards tha cabins and started walking back. As I approached the campground, the lone streetlight for 5 miles showed 3 figures waiting under it.

Ricky, Arlene and Gail were waiting for me, out of their hunting gear.
"Who got lucky?" I asked as I walked up.
"We thought you or Mark did...isn't he with you?" Ricky answered.
"I waited for him...I thought he must have come in already."
"Shit," Rick said rubbing his whiskered face in thought.
"Go dump your shit and we'll drive down to the fire road, we'll walk in and see if we can't find him."
Gail, looking worried said "I'm coming too!"

I offed my gear in short order and we were in the Comanche, driving slow so we didn't miss the fire road. Which was not much more than a 2 track after a couple years of regrowth.

We pulled in and killed the engine. Under the canopy of remaining leaves it was blacker than a tax man's heart. We let our eyes adjust a minute, left the girls in the Jeep and started walking. We wouldn't use our flashlights until we absolutely had to, saving the batteries in case we needed them to track a deer Mark had shot. Mark's stand was about a hundred yards in, around a bend in the road and set back maybe 40 yds.

Ricky and I started pushing our way through the brush when a tenuous voice called out:
" that you?"
"Yeah Mark, it's ok?"
"Oh thank God!!! Thank God you guys came...oh God, oh God" His voice came from some 20 ft. in the air, telling us he was still in his tree stand. From the tone of his voice it sounded like he was barely holding it together.
"Mark, listen to me...we're here. You're going to be OK, are you caught up on something? What's wrong???"
"Bear....there was a bear, I don't know where he went..."
"It's alright Buddy, the sound of our voices will have scared him away...come on down."
"No it won't...I yelled at him, he wouldn't leave..."
"OK, we'll walk in to you...shine our lights as we come, he'll clear off if he's still there." And that's what we did.

Eyes the size of saucers, Mark wouldn't start down until we were at the base of his tree. Between the chill in the air and nerves he had a bit of the shakes, so I took his bow and backpack. When he got to the base of the tree he looked around on the ground for a second before snatching up his lighter and firecrackers. When he saw me looking, he sheepishly admitted "I was shaking so bad I dropped them!"

We got him back to the cabin, a hot meal and warm fireplace made a world of difference...and after a while he offered his tale.

He had just got up in his tree and got settled when he heard footfalls. Thinking I might have forgotten something and was coming to talk to him, he called out. The footsteps stopped for a minute then resumed. The direction he walked in from was the densest part of woods near him and visibility was only about 10 yds. The steps were coming right to his tree.

When he could finally was a mature black bear!
It walked to his tree, sniffed the steps curiously. Then another scent reached him...the scent of molasses!

You see bears are omnivores, they'll eat damn near ANYTHING!
In spring when emerging from hibernation they'll eat tender grass shoots. In the summer, berries and fish and whatever meat they can catch or scavenge, throw in a little wild honey you have a bears diet.

So the bear ambled over to Marks pile of sweet feed, flopped down on his belly and started using both paws to shovel it in!!! When he'd eaten as far as he could reach, he re-positioned and started over!

Not wanting anything to do with this, Mark yelled and waved his arms, whooped at him all to no avail. The bear merely lifted his head, looked at Mark and continued eating. At this point Mark decided to use the firecrackers...but dropped them. 

The bear then curled up and took a nap (full belly and all), leaving Mark stuck up the tree. As the sun started to set the bear woke up, ate some more. Then unceremoniously turned around and took a massive dump right next to the bait pile. To let any and all know who this "candy coated oat goodness" belonged too. Satisfied, he slowly sauntered off, a black bear into the black woods...

With the sun down, and no way of knowing exactly where the bear was, there was NO WAY Mark was coming down until daylight, OR someone showed up to find out what happened to him. The rest we knew...

Mark's adventure proved, come morning each and every bait pile that had sweet feed in it had been visited by a bear, ruining them as deer blinds.

So Ricky's great idea...? Disastrous! We spend the whole rest of the day moving 4 blinds/treestands. On the plus side, Ricky was able to sell his remaining bags of sweet feed to our host (who guided bear hunters) for a profit!!! Lol 

We still did OK, 6 of our 8 hunters scored a deer....freezers filled and lessons learned!

And Mark? He started carrying 2 lighters and 2 packs of firecrackers...just in case!

Be Well Folks, 

Beastly Bear


  1. Dang no wonder he was scared to come down!

    1. That was actually the only time any of us saw a bear in the 7 years we hunted up there!

  2. Oh no! I don't think I would have came down either! I guess he learned not to use that as bait!

    1. Yes Kathy, that was an important lesson learned...however, no bears down state where we live so Ricky did use it again! But never again on Drummond!!! Lol