It was sometime in February after a day of fishing when Zack, Travis, Anthony and I huddled around a computer reviewing pictures and reminiscing the past hunting season.  As always the conversation turned to the coming hunting season and plans began to materialize.  We decided that Travis and I would start hunting the last weekend in April.  Zack and Travis had hunts planned for the first two weeks of May when the hunting would be ideal for spot and stalk hunting with a bow.  The goal was to try to get me my first bear with a rifle to start the season off with a bang.  After juggling school and work we finally made time to get out to the range and get the rifle dialed and ready to go.

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We made quick work on the range as we sighted in and then took a few shots over on the 600 yard range.  It was go time, now we just had to wait a few weeks until our schedules meshed and we could get up in the mountains.  After two long months of waiting the call finally came.  Zack and Travis would have a few days to get out after a win at the Simm’s Shoot Out competition.  They were on the road back to Missoula and it was time to load up the pack.  On Friday afternoon I met up with Zack, Travis, and Brandon to get ready for our hunt.  Before long, the bikes were loaded into the back of the truck and we were off to the trailhead.  After an uphill ride we reached the base of a steep ridge where we stowed the bikes and took off on foot.  The hike was steep but it felt good to be back in the mountains.

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After a couple of miles we rounded a corner and entered what looked like bear heaven, there were clear cuts separated by dark timber and a creek running through the middle of it all.  We soon spotted fresh bear sign and our excitement levels rose.  It was still pretty brown and seeing some sign definitely took a little bit of the edge off us all.  We continued hiking and stopped to glass every time the trees opened up enough for us to get a clear view of the opposing ridge and basin.   As we hiked single file along the ridge I heard the unmistakable voice of Travis saying “Bear!!…………I gotta bear!”  I turned to see Travis looking up the drainage through his Vortex binos.  Zack quickly set up the camera and got some footage as we discussed the game plan.  Everyone agreed that the bear was big and worth a stalk, but he was over a mile away and there was only about an hour and a half of daylight left.  The race was on and we busted ass up the ridge.  Once we reached where we had planned to camp we dropped our packs and continued towards the spot we last saw the bear.  Forty-five minutes after Travis spotted the bear we came to the corner where we had last seen him.  Zack and Travis turned the cameras on, I checked the wind and it was go time.  We crept around the corner as slowly and quietly as possible while keeping our eyes peeled for the bear.  We rounded the corner and the bear was no place to be seen; we decided to keep moving.  We didn’t go another 10 yards and I spotted the bear in a dip below us not 80 yards away.  I quickly dropped to the ground and everyone else followed suit.  We sat there and discussed the next move.  From where we were located I didn’t have a clear shot at the bear and we weren’t sure if the bear was heading towards us or away.  We decided that we needed to get to a high spot 15 yards in front of us if we were going to get the shot on film.  Travis and Brandon stayed back and filmed from their location as Zack followed me forward.   At that instance I felt what every hunter dreads……..the wind at the back of my neck.  I thought for sure the stalk was blown and the bear would be gone.  As we continued forward the wind switched back and was once again blowing in our face, but the bear was nowhere to be seen.  Still we crept forward until we could see the entire dip that the bear was in….still no bear.   My heart sank as I looked around.  At that point I was sure he had winded us and took off.  I turned and shrugged my shoulders to Travis and Brandon and figured the hunt was over for the evening.  When I looked back over my shoulder there he was, standing 90 away with his head down feeding.  I swung my pack off and sat down; quickly I rested the rifle on the pack and waited for him to come up on the road.  Adrenaline was now strongly surging through my veins and moments later he appeared back on the side of the logging road.  I turned to Zack and he gave me the green light.  I settled the cross hairs and squeezed the trigger.  A few seconds later and my first bear was dead not 50 yards from where I shot him.

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Congratulations and high fives were shared between us all as we headed downhill to the bear.  As I approached him I saw his gray face, split ears and large paws; the sure sign of an old bear.

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I was overcome with excitement to have killed such a big mature boar as my first bear and it was a surreal moment kneeling beside an old warrior of a bear who had seen many hunters in his time.

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I punched my tag and we raced to get as many pictures as we could before dark.  Soon we were all working away to get the bear skinned and quartered.

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Before we knew it the Mystery Ranch was loaded down with meat and hide and we were headed to camp.  The 3/4 of a mile back uphill to camp was grueling.  It’s a lot of work in the backcountry and the four of us all teamed up to pump enough water for 4 meals and gather wood for a fire.  The moon was out and it was all laughs around the campfire.

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Needless to say a warm fire and some freeze dried food put us to bed quickly.  The next morning we were up and heading down the hill with our packs heavier than the trip up.  Though the weight of the bear was a burden on my shoulders I couldn’t help but smile knowing I had killed my first bear with good friends in the backcountry.

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Finally we rolled around the last Forest Service gate and quickly dumped our packs and took a well deserved rest.  We unloaded the meat and threw it in the YETI.  The end of an amazing hunt was here and it had only been one day!

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I can’t thank Zack, Travis and Brandon enough! I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.  The next week will be spent finishing school and then we will be back in the mountains searching for a bear in hopes of sneaking close enough to let an arrow loose.

-Stan Spoharski

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