Kamchatka Land of 10,000 Bears, Part 11 Bear, big bear

by david on January 24, 2020

About 4:00 PM we started seeing bears. We even chased a few trying to get a better look. Me looking over a bear was out of the question, since during the chases it was all I could do to hold on. These chases were sprints at speeds of up to 50 mph with constant changes in direction. I have racked my brain trying to figure a way to explain this to someone who has never had the pleasure of riding a snowmobile. After some serious scrutiny, I came up with two things. The first is a mechanical bull. If you have ever tried to ride one (and, yes, beer was involved) snowmobiling is similar in the twisting, turning, split-second direction changes, all while bouncing up and down on a mechanical bull. Add in moving at 40-60 mph and you get the picture. The other visual aid I came up with was this:  imagine you are the ball in a pinball machine, getting wacked and bouncing in different directions in the blink of an eye. Neither one quite gets the point across, but you get the idea. The bear we were chasing ended up being a good bear, though not good enough to be a first-day bear. That suited me just fine. I was so tired and ached so badly I was not sure I could get off the snowmobile (by now, I had given it the name, El Diablo, after a rodeo bull), much less hold up a rifle and aim it with any semblance of accuracy. The decision was made to let him be and we took a short break. Igor explained through Julia that there were two ways to camp. One was longer with the ride being smoother and straighter. The short way was over some rough terrain and involved lots of twist and turns. Straight and easy sounded like manna from heaven to me and we struck out in the general direction of camp.

Twenty minutes later, all heck broke loose. Bear, big bear, very big bear. Perhaps the best they have seen all season. Igor signals for the chase and the snowmobiles are going crazy trying to get me close enough for a good look. The hell with looking — I am just trying not to fall off the damn thing. After closing to twenty feet or so, I confirmed it was a huge bear. We stopped for a quick pow-wow and the bear started to amble off. Igor was trying to convey to me in his broken English that this bear was the biggest bear of the season so far and that I really should take it. I was thinking about it and would have instantly said yes, had I not been so doubtful of my ability to take it at that moment. I was physically exhausted, every joint and muscle I had ached, and I was extremely stiff. Topping that off was the fact I was shooting a borrowed rifle. It was a Blazer, a top-shelf weapon, but it was a straight pull action and one I had never tried to use before. My ability to operate it smoothly and efficiently was in serious question. Two more very animated “Big, big bear!”, one from Igor and one from Vasili convinced me to try. I climbed off the snowmobile and promptly sunk crotch deep in the snow. Damn, this was not going to be easy. I climbed on top of the snow, took the rifle from the scabbard and headed towards the bear, who incidentally was now heading straight for me. When he got a good look at me floundering in the snow, he changed directions (I was surprised he did not fall over from laughing) and took off running. Now, I was shooting at a running target with an unfamiliar rifle. Thank goodness he changed directions again and stopped behind a tree top poking out of the snow. No shot. I closed some distance and he started to move towards me again. He closed to about 40 feet and stopped. I was about to take a straight on shot even though I don’t like them. It is impossible to hit the both lungs and the heart from head on. He turned and headed to my strong side and I swung the rifle and fired when it got to his shoulder. I must have stopped my swing as the shot hit a little far back and the bear took off. More shots in rapid succession and the bear slowed to a walk, but I was now holding an empty rifle. There were some extra rounds attached to the stock, and I was trying to reload and walk through the soft snow at the same time. Thank goodness Igor came zooming up beside me and I jumped on side saddle and we headed to the bear. I was able to reload and jumped off when we got within twenty yards. The bear was severely quartering away, leaving me with only one shot. I aimed behind his on side shoulder and hoped to take out his heart. At the crack from the rifle the bear piled up face first into the snow.

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