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Stand hunting from a tree variation:
Hunter sitting against a tree at ground level
Weapon: Camouflage compound bow
Clothing: Camouflage jacket, pants, boots, gloves, hat & facemask
Target animal: White-tailed doe

I had filled my Pennsylvania buck tag early, so it was time for me to attempt to fill my doe/antlerless deer tag. I discovered a large oak stand where deer had been feeding heavily on fallen acorns. This would be a great spot to set up an ambush on a doe.

It was about 2:00 p.m. on the third day of my hunting trip. I parked my truck just off the road and walked into the forest a few hundred yards. I quickly reached the oak stand and looked for a nearby tree to sit against. I found an old rotting tree lying on the ground next to a large oak. I wedged myself in-between both trees. Most of my lower body was concealed behind the rotting tree which was acting as a natural partial blind. It was a perfect ambush spot.

Since I was only a short walk from my truck, I didn’t bother bringing my backpack. I just had my bow and a few hunting essentials. I nocked an arrow and leaned my bow up against the dead tree. I was hungry so I pulled out and ate a chocolate candy bar. There was a little hole in the dead tree in which I temporarily stored my truck keys and the candy bar wrapper. After my snack, I put on my camouflage facemask and gloves. I was now covered from head to toe in camouflage clothing.

I knew I probably had about two hours to wait until the deer showed up, so I decided to close my eyes and lie back against the tree. I tried taking a power nap, but the damn squirrels were constantly running around making a racket. I would dose off for a minute or two, but then I would wake up every time a squirrel scurried through the leaves. I was in and out of sleep over the next two hours.

It was now around 4:30 p.m. and I knew it was time to keep a look out for deer. All of a sudden, a squirrel in a nearby tree started barking loudly. Then I heard something approaching from the other side of the hill in front of me. At first I thought it was just another squirrel, but then I distinctly heard individual footsteps crunching in the leaves. I readied my bow; I was on high alert.
Something dark appeared over the rise, about 40 yards in front of me. It was black, not brown like a deer. I instantly thought it was probably a turkey. I couldn’t see the entire animal yet. Finally, the animal slowly and completely emerged over the rise. I was stoked!

Hmmm. It wasn’t a turkey. It was a bear: a big black bear! I knew there were black bears in Pennsylvania, but I had never seen one before. I’m not a bear hunter. Even if I was a bear hunter, it wasn’t even bear season yet. All I could do was watch this incredible animal feed through the forest right in front of me.

The bear slowly meandered toward my position. He kept his head down and was eating acorns off the ground. His fur was all dark black except for his tan muzzle. His muzzle and nose sort of reminded me of a friendly golden retriever or a happy yellow lab.

I sat there in amazement. It was pretty awesome to watch this wild black bear in its natural environment. The only time I ever saw a black bear before was at the zoo.

After watching the bear for few minutes, I finally snapped back to reality. After all, I had a large black bear walking directly toward me. He had yet to see or smell me; he had no idea I was there. “What the hell should I do?” I asked myself. I am not an expert on black bears. The bear was now about 25 yards away and closing in on my position. My joy of initially seeing the bear soon turned to sheer nervousness. Even though I was perfectly concealed in camouflage clothing against a tree, I knew he would eventually smell me. The question was, “What is he going to do when this happens?” I had no clue.

The one thing I did remember hearing about black bears was that they are not as ferocious as their brown bear cousins. Though potentially dangerous, black bears rarely attack humans. That made me feel a little better, but my gut was telling me to “act now” before he moved in any closer. I would rather give away my position at 20 yards than to surprise the bear at 5 yards.

I slowly stood up with my bow in hand. I thought for sure the bear would see me stand up, but he didn’t. He just continued toward me with his head down. The camouflage clothing I was wearing was blending in perfectly with the tree I was standing in front of. The bear was still oblivious to my presence. I figured I would just make a sound to get his attention. Hopefully, I could scare him off if I spoke a few words. With my eyes fixed on the bear, I calmly said “Yo, Buddy.” Instantly, the bear made an exploding 180° turn and ran away in the opposite direction. What a relief! As he was running away from me, I was impressed by his swift reaction and his speed.

After running approximately 50 yards, the bear stopped, stood up, and looked back in my direction. He had a very confused look on his face; after all, a tree just spoke to him. I waved my arm to him as a goodbye gesture. The bear instantly pinpointed me and made eye contact. I had a big smile under my camouflage facemask. At any moment, I thought the bear would take off and leave the area.

After staring at me for a few seconds, the bear looked away. Then he simultaneously made a grumbling sound and slapped the ground with his two front paws. I did not expect this. I think I may have pissed him off. He slowly walked over to a nearby beech tree, stood up, and grabbed the trunk with his claws.

”Damn, I wish I had my camera.” I started clicking imaginary photos in my head. The composition of the bear standing tall, holding the tree, and looking straight at me was a sight to see. His jet black fur contrasted beautifully against the light bark of the beech tree. Unfortunately, my 35mm camera and zoom lens were back in the truck.

My smiling face and artistic inspiration quickly disappeared as the bear got back down on all fours and started walking in my direction again. “Uh-oh. Now what the hell should I do?”

The bear was approaching me in a slow, zigzag pattern while shooting me malevolent sideways glances. He seemed truly annoyed. I sensed that turning my back to him was probably a bad idea, so I faced him as I slowly started retreating in the opposite direction. Lucky for me, the bear was pushing me toward the main road and back to my truck. Even though my truck was parked a few hundred yards away, heading toward it made me feel slightly better. Every step the bear moved forward, I moved a step backwards.

I had my bow in hand and a nocked arrow ready to fly. The thing that concerned me the most was how fast I had just witnessed this bear run. If the bear decided to use this same explosive speed toward me, I’d be in serious trouble. He would surely be on top of me in mere seconds. I would barely have enough time to draw my bow, aim and shoot. Even if I managed to arrow him in his vitals, I knew he could still attack me before the arrow did him in. I knew I was outmatched and a heightened sense panic started to course through my body. I would definitely have felt more confident with a rifle or shotgun.

What ended up keeping me relatively calm in this situation was the bear’s very slow, cautious approach. He didn’t seem too sure of me, just as I wasn’t too sure of his intentions. I kept a minimum distance of roughly 25 yards between us as he moved toward me.

After reversing back 25 yards, the bear was now at my initial hunting spot. He stuck his head in the little hole on the side of the dead tree. He must have smelled the candy bar wrapper which I left inside the tree. “Crap!” I just remembered that my truck keys were in that hole too.

The bear’s attitude seemed to change after he investigated my hunting spot. Instead of shooting me threatening glances from time to time, he now had his eyes trained on me, but with less of an attitude. He didn’t appear to be as annoyed by me anymore. Instead of pushing me, he almost seemed to be following me. Our step order seemed to have changed. I took a few steps backwards and he took a few steps forward. I liked this much better.

After slowly walking backwards for about fifteen minutes, I finally reached the main road. I covered the entire distance with the bear in tow. I quickly crossed the road, laid my bow on the ground, and crawled under my truck. I yanked a small magnetic box off of the undercarriage and pulled out my spare key. As I lay there on my back, I could see the bear’s legs emerge from the brush on the other side of the road. The bear continued to watch me as I unlocked my truck and climbed in on the passenger’s side. I was incredibly relieved to be safe inside my truck.

After sitting and watching the bear for a minute, I realized that this was still a great photo opportunity. I stepped out of the cab and hopped up onto the truck bed to open my storage box. I quickly fumbled around and pulled out my camera. I managed to click off about ten shots of the bear. I captured him on film just in the nick of time. He finally started to lose interest in me. I managed to take one last photo of him crossing the road. Then he simply disappeared into the forest.

Below: After following me back to my truck, the curious bear watched me for a few moments.
Below: The bear finally lost interest in me and decided to move along.

Above: The bear quickly darted across the
state road and disappeared into the forest.

Most of the photos came out slightly blurred because of my shaky hands, dim light, and low film speed. However, there were a couple of decent shots in the pack. My favorite photo was that final shot of him crossing the road. I captured him exactly in the middle of the road, with his chubby belly directly on top of the double yellow lines. I had this photo blown up and framed. It always brings a smile to my face whenever I see my grumpy old friend.

After talking to a few local people, I found out that there is a large lakeside development not far from the spot where I encountered the bear. In fact, the bear had been heading in that general direction. I was told that some people in that development feed the bears. After reading up on black bears and talking to a few bear hunters, I think I figured out why the bear acted so strangely that day. I found out that some black bears are actually brown, not black. He may have thought that I was another black bear, with brown fur, when he first encountered me. After all, I was covered from head to toe in brown camouflage clothing. I certainly didn’t look like a typical human. This also explains the bear’s initial bold posturing and why he stood up and grabbed the tree. He was trying to communicate to me (another bear) that he was bigger and stronger. In bear talk, he was telling me to get out of his way. His attitude instantly changed once he smelled that I was a human with food and not a bear. This bear was probably used to being fed by humans. I suppose he expected me to feed him which is probably why he followed me all the way back to my truck.

Since this time, I have encountered other bears while hunting. With the exception of this bear, all the other bears ran away once they detected my presence. My first encounter with a bear was a bit harrowing, but also my most memorable. I realize now that it was a very rare kind of bear encounter. The chances of a black bear approaching me again in the wild are extremely low. I feel fortunate that I had this experience and that I was able to capture part of it on film.


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