By John MacCallum
Hunting is a great way to stay in touch with friends. I have been an active duty Navy Seabee for 18 years now and have moved around the country quite a bit. We have made many friends both military and civilian everywhere we go. Staying in touch with friends and finding new hunting spots has always been a challenge. Many times my wife has set up our new home alone, while I was in search of a new “spot to go hunting” or sometimes remained behind for a “final hunt” with old friends. Many times getting to our new home already set up by my wife Seana. God bless the military spouse!
Two of my best friends, Pat and Jim, enjoy hunting all types of game, as do I. Jim is a retired Navy Seabee and Pat is a Biologist. We would constantly phone each other to tell our latest story about the animal we just harvested. Expounding by adding points or pounds, whichever would make the story sound better at the time and cause more jealousy on the others part.
Pat was forced to move north in order to take an environmental job in a small town called Eureka, California. Eureka is just south of the Oregon border. He left behind our favorite duck hunting spot in Southern California right at the beginning of the season. Pat was immediately in search of bigger game and new territory to top our stories. Within two months he would have access to what would be one of the greatest hunting opportunities to come our way.
Pat called Jim and I weekly to tell us about the six hundred pound plus California Black Bears he was seeing in the mountains near where he lived. We did not believe him and wrote it off as, “The boy who cried Bear”. All the bantering back and forth, over time, had taken its toll on any new story’s believability. We were sure that it was a ploy to get us up North during our duck hunting season and throw our battle rhythm off. Then the pictures started to follow. In order to prove he was not fabricating this fictitious tale of deceit, Pat started photographing the bears he was seeing. Now we were silently biting at the bit and wondering if we would get a chance to get up to see him and of course go hunting.
When I received the call from Pat saying he had been granted permission for all of us to go bear hunting, I was extremely excited and accepted the invitation quickly. Not too quickly at first because we didn’t want him to think it was that big of a deal. The opportunity to get into a great spot for California Black Bear does not present itself every day. For us to be out with the caliber of houndsmen we were going to have access to was a once in a life time opportunity. What we did not know at the time was that this would end up being a five star guided Black Bear hunt. Pat had managed to get all the fixings for free to boot.
On this particular hunt we were going to be allowed to hunt on a piece of private property. Pat kept telling us this was going to be a hard hunt and we would be putting many miles on our boots. The terrain was rough and the hills were steep. The area we were going to hunt was an old logging property that was left with fallen timber everywhere. In the few weeks
Pat sent us pictures of trails that were lined with trees destroyed by bears
clawing them. There were pictures of acres of saplings that were dug up by bears. The area around the saplings where the bears were, looked very similar to the rooting of wild pigs in the woods. The earth was turned as though a farmer came through with a disk plow readying the ground for a fresh crop.
Jim and I lived in southern California, about 20 minutes from Malibu. Our weekend adventure was about to begin. First we had to get to Eureka which was a 12 hour drive if we drove straight through. I only had a 96 hour liberty due to an upcoming military deployment in the following weeks. We rented a small economy car and loaded it to the gills with our hunting gear. With both of us following the rule, “It’s better to have it and not need than to need it and not have it!” there was no room left in the car when we got done loading up.
Almost 13 hours later we arrive at Pat’s house and were greeted by his wonderful wife Shannon and daughter Cali. That night we stayed up late telling stories of past hunting trips and laughing until our faces were sore. Pat assured us we would see a bear in the morning. He said that the only thing he was worried about was our shooting ability. We were all excited to get out in the morning and I don’t think any of us got any sleep that night.
Four o’clock came quickly and we began to ready our gear and load up Pat’s truck. After a 30 minute drive we arrived at this metal pole barn in the middle of the woods. There were 3 other trucks waiting for us, these were the houndsmen. In the back of the three pickups were aluminum dog boxes filled with barking hounds ready to be released.
The houndsmen readied their dogs by placing radio collars around their necks with GPS capabilities. I remember them saying, “You guys ready to go hiking? Once the dogs find a bear, it could be miles before you see them again!” Then they opened the doors to the metal pole barn. Inside must have been 20 plus four wheelers. This hunt was getting better and better as the morning passed. The houndsmen pulled out their 4 wheelers first, each equipped with 2 platforms to hold 2 dogs. The dogs jumped up to their platforms as they knew what was about to happen.
All of us were guided to our own ATV and we were again reminded by the houndsmen that, “Just because we have ATVs, don’t think this is going to be easy”. The houndsmen explained how the dogs worked. The dogs had different tiers amongst themselves and they all listened to the “senior” dogs. The houndsmen can tell by the different barks whether the dog is on a
cat trail or a bear trail.
Photograph 1 – One of the hunting dogs used to track the bears on his perch and ready to go hunting.
The dogs were riding on their platforms sniffing the air as we were riding through the logging trails for a few miles.
Suddenly one of the senior dogs “sparked”, as they say, and started barking
from her perch. The houndsmen released this dog and listened to make sure she
was on the trail of a bear. He made the determination to release all 6 dogs
knowing they were on fresh bear scent. The hunt was on and the excitement was building
in all of us.
Within seconds the dogs were out of sight and in less than a minute they were out of
hearing range. Now we knew why the GPS collars were so important. We were in
pursuit of the dogs using the collar receivers to try to locate the dogs. The
dogs were moving over some rough terrain and doing it very quickly. It looked
as though they were going high into the mountains and fast. We were running out of logging trail for our
ATVs and the hiking was about to begin. The end of the trail arrived and we could
hear the dogs again in the distance. They were above us and still
We got off the ATVs at about 10 am and began to hike. About 1 mile into it we saw the dogs again
and they had a bear at bay. As we approached though, the bear broke and the
chase was back on. The houndsmen decided to sit back and watch the dogs work as
not to apply extra pressure on the running bear. We continued moving in the
direction of the dogs, but slowly now. We were able to hear the dogs again and
we knew we were getting closer. Once again it appeared that the bear was at bay and that the dogs had the bear
The danger, like our adrenaline, was climbing at this point.
Bears are capable of jumping several times their body length in one
pounce. When treed, they have been known to jump out of a 20 feet tree and land
at a dead run. A bear can reach speeds in excess of 25 mph. They are also
capable of killing large animals with one sweep of their paw. This, above all
else, was something we were all aware of as we walked up within shooting range
of the bear.
As we got closer we could hear the growl of the bear and the barking of the dogs
mixing. We now had to come up with a game plan to get the dogs out of the equation
and our shooting lanes. As we began to remove the dogs and tie them to the
surrounding trees, the bear began to move toward us on an escape path. We needed
to make a quick but clean and ethical shot.
I was the shooter for this bear so I quickly raised my Remington 700 and chambered a .308
round. I was using copper solids in a 165 grain super boat tail. We spent many
hours at the range and I have taken several animals in the past with this round.
I was very confident in the rifle and the ammunition I was using. The bear was
now 75 yards away. I brought the rifle to my shoulder, made sure I had a good
cheek to stock weld and a clear sight picture. I placed the cross hairs right
under his chin as he raised his head and squeezed the trigger slowly letting
the rifle surprise me and do the work.
When you have shot a lot of ammunition throughout your life, you know the feeling of a great
shot. The world seems to move in slow motion and you can almost feel the
projectile fly into the target through a 6th sense. The round found its intended
target and the bear dropped in his tracks. The black bear did not even take one
step after the crack of the rifle.
Photograph 2 – John MacCallum and his California black bear.
The bear lay expired on the forest floor and the work was about to begin. We were about to carry a
400+ lbs. bear back down the mountain. A bear is not the most firm animal after
being shot and requires a lot of people and muscle power to move. Hours passed
as we dragged the bear back down to our ATVs.
Photograph 3- The bear being carried back to the trucks using an ATV.
Once we got to our ATVs, we were able to load the bear onto the back of one of them and drive
to our trucks. When we reached the trucks, we moved the bear onto one for the
drive out. On the way back, with the animal in the back of the truck, we
already started talking about the hunt and recalling the details in everyone’s
own personal perspective. There were many different interpretations of how the
hunt went down and almost immediately we started calling our other friends.
People who were not able to make the hunt. The story was of course expounded
upon. But in the end I am sure, the final point was the same. Three old friends
had come together in a successful bear hunt in California!
Hunting is such a great part of my life and that of my friends and family. Many of us have
moved in different directions and even live in different countries. It is
hunting however that brings and keeps us all together over time. I know it will
continue to do so for the rest of my life. A few things will always remain the
same: friendships, the thrill of the hunt and the passion that we all feel in
those special, unforgettable moments we share.
Photograph 4 – 2 friends, a bear and a once in a lifetime experience!