Chicken Hill: by Greg Lease

Storm clouds were forming, and the threat of rain was very real. “What do I care,” I thought, “I’m not made of sugar.” I broke the speed limit as I drove to my hunting area for the start of Minnesota’s bear season. I couldn’t wait to get up in the tree and thought nothing could dilute my excitement.

Forty-five minutes later, while in the stand, I realized the one thing that could steal my excitement was rain, hard rain. In fact, it looked and sounded like Armageddon as thunder, lightning and wind nearly shook me from my tree. The horizontal rain quickly soaked me to the bone and turned my bait-pit into a small pond. I was determined to stay on stand until dark, hoping the rain would stop. As it turned out, the rain slowed from what seemed like a tidal wave to a mere monsoon. I sloshed away from my stand that night a little disappointed, but knowing I had tomorrow to try my luck again.

One month earlier while scouting the edge of a ten-year old clear-cut, my buddy, Mark, and I found what looked to be a very good spot for a bear bait. An ash swale intersected the edge of the clear-cut forming a natural bear travel route. While searching for the exact bait location, we jumped a large covey of immature grouse causing Mark to nearly mess his pants. As Mark picked himself up off the ground, I managed to stop laughing long enough to congratulate him on his courage while assuming his fighting stance just prior to tripping and falling over. As could be expected, Mark didn’t see the humor quite like I did and he let me know it by throwing some unmentionable expletives my way. Regardless, the grouse had been flushed from a knoll which formed a natural rise on the edge of the cut. This high ground would help disperse the sweet aroma of a bear bait. Because Mark and I always name our pits, I coined this spot Chicken Hill. We left the woods that day with Mark thinking I named my pit after those grouse.

Day two brought clear skies and renewed hope as I again approached Chicken Hill. My pit had been getting hit regularly but I was shocked to find this time it had been blown up sometime during the night. The logs were spread around as if someone had dropped a grenade. Some logs were ten feet from the hole. The pit was licked clean. After dumping my bait and resetting the logs I made the twenty foot climb to my stand in three steps. I quickly settled down for the evening, daydreaming of what was to come.

One hour before dark I thought I saw a shadow move about sixty yards directly in front of me. I blinked several times and after refocusing realized that, sure enough, there was a bear, and a good one at that. The dark colored ghost slowly floated in my direction. I watched with my binoculars as the bruin took one or two small steps and then would stop for minutes at a time. It was obvious the bear was nervous. My stomach tied itself into knots as it seemed the bear would spook at any moment. After what seemed an eternity, the bear momentarily stood up on its hind legs, sniffed the air, and then slowly sauntered off, never to return before dark.

Day three was bitter sweet. Yes, I was blessed to be hunting and my pit was cleaned out again but that darn bear had made me gun shy. My worst fear was that it had winded me the previous day and had turned into a “night bear.” I was also pretty sure it was the only bear hitting Chicken Hill which added to my stress. I could move to another pit but what fun would that be? I had to try my luck again.

Just as the day before, the bear appeared sixty yards in front of me, an hour before dark. The routine was repeated and again it cautiously moved off into the brush. Thinking it was all over but the crying, I resigned myself to the fact I may have to give up on this one and move to greener pastures. I soon realized though it was not all over when I saw that familiar shadow moving toward the bait only twelve yards in front of me. The underbrush barely moved as the bear silently and cautiously snuck toward the pit. After ten minutes, the bear had only moved five yards and was now almost nose to nose with an unfortunate little marshmallow which lay at the edge of my pit. The bad news was the bear had strategically used every scrap of cover to get to that point, and I simply had no shot. Just then, and in one fell swoop, the bear sucked up the marshmallow, wheeled around, and headed for the hills. I couldn’t believe it. I had finally gotten to within twelve yards of a shooter bear and had been out-foxed. As I sat there I was teased with an occasional snapping twig as the bear meandered about at a safe distance until dark. But I had a plan…

I arrived on day four with a glimmer in my eye. It was obvious this bear was a bear of habit, which was a weakness I intended on cashing in on. Before re-baiting, I took a closer look at the little point of underbrush the bear had used to outsmart me. I was elated to find all of the twigs and grass very matted down. I knew it was the bear’s driveway to this fast food joint, and he ate out often. With clippers in hand, I nipped away a small hole in the underbrush just big enough to shoot through if given the chance again.

As predicted, the familiar bear arrived on the trail directly in front of me an hour before dark. After turning into the woods at the same point it had each time before, I stood and readied myself for what was to come. The bear soon appeared at the base of the little point and ever so slowly, crept toward the bait. As it neared the edge of cover, the bear stopped to munch on a small pile of grease-soaked dog food and meat scraps I had strategically placed. The bear laid down to eat, and I was pumped to see its lungs perfectly framed by the hole I had clipped in the foliage. As its right front leg reached out toward the food, I drew, let out half my breath, settled my twenty yard pin, and released. The shot was perfect as my arrow drove through both sides of the bear’s rib cage. With a startled growl, the bear took off through the woods, and soon my ears were rewarded with the sweet sounds of three death bawls.

After a short blood trail, I found the large sow on her entry trail. She sported a prime cape which later made for a beautiful shoulder mount on my cabin wall. She was obviously a mature and smart bear who helped create one of my most memorable hunts. I feel honored to have played the proverbial chess match with her on Chicken Hill.

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