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We thought we had prepared for everything. We had spent countless hours fine tuning every element of Easton's 45 lb compound bow. We had discussed every shot angle, vital placement and tried to play out every possible scenario to help prepare a twelve year old for his first big game hunt.
Even with all of the forethought that had gone into Easton's hunt from his entire family, nothing can ever prepare a new hunter for that moment when the decision is made to take a shot at an animal. The elevated heart rate the rapid breathing, it is the moment that we are looking for yet it is that point in time that we must learn to control our emotions to cleanly and clearly take an animal's life.
As a dad I had tried to cover it all, so when I saw his arrow through the camera lens hit the bear high and forward at twelve yards I knew this was not going to be a text book recovery. I I also knew I had a teary eyed twelve year old sitting below me who felt as though he had just let down the entire world. I have been in Easton's shoes and I truly don't believe there is a sicker feeling than knowing you have wounded an animal.
I explained to my son that we would not leave until we have exhausted all possibilities. So even though things looked bleak at this point nothing was over until we knew for sure the outcome of the bear.
We radio our guide and when he arrives we replay the footage and then the three of us took off to look for a blood trail. To our surprise not only did we have a blood trail but it is a more than adequate trail. As quickly as hopes raise however, the blood trail soon evaporates. Then the guide motioned Easton and I over to a tree. He has just seen a bear go up the tree.
As we look into the tree, I could see a small black cub, not the 3 or 4 year old cinnamon colored bear Easton had shot. Then Easton says. "That's him I can see the blood on him". Then I realize Easton is looking farther up the tree. There are two bears in the tree and one is Easton's bear. The guide asked if we wanted him to shoot the bear with his shotgun or let Easton try again. I ask if he felt he could get an arrow through the grapefruit sized hole where we can see the bears vitals.
Easton never hesitates, he answers as he is nocking his arrow, “I can make this shot dad” and in an instant the arrow is launched and this time Easton has delivered a perfect shot. Both the guide and myself watch the arrow disappear behind the shoulder and within a few seconds the beautiful bear comes crashing to the ground and Easton has found a silver lining in a not so perfect situation.
It is not until the bear hits the ground that I realize I had not even brought the camera on the recovery. I felt that I needed to be a dad, help trail and keep a watchful eye on my young son. The only disappointment I felt about not getting the second shot on film, was the fact that Easton had made such a good shot.
Easton's mishap from the previous year is why we were back in a tree in Canada once again, the goal this time was not to kill a giant bear, but for Easton to execute a perfect shot, the first time.
This year was a brand new game with Easton having more experience plus, his confidence was higher since his shooting was stronger than the previous year. I had him work on shooting baseball size groups at 25 yards or less and if a bear ventured into Easton's range we were all confident the result would be better.
I can honestly say I was hoping the 1st bear wouldn't be the bear we were looking for but a few small bears just to get the nerves out, sort of like a batter taking a pitch or two just to get a good feel.
Father and son, in position waiting for that right moment.
Just an hour into our sit on the 1st day a gorgeous chocolate bear decided to make an appearance. I knew when I saw the bear that it looked like a good one but the guide had showed us some trail cam photos of a sow the same color and very similar in size. As agonizing as it was for both Easton and I, I elected to hold him off on that first bear just to make sure it wasn't the colored sow from the photos, we had just taken our first pitch.
As bears often do that bear hung around for a few minutes and then ventured back into the bush. The rest of the day would put six more bears in front of us and one of those was a visit from a colored sow with her cubs, which solidified I had us pass on a shooter bear, we had taken a perfect strike. When we returned to the lodge and looked at the footage it confirmed what I had thought, we had just passed possibly one of the nicest bears any of us has ever had a chance to take and of course Easton picks up on the 30 second segment on the video where the bear stood broadside at 18 yards. All I could do is say “sorry” and pray the bear would make a return visit on one of the next 4 nights.
Day 2 rolls around and we are back in the same tree. Immediately some of the same bears begin to show back up and since we are as deep in the bush as the ATV's will take us the bears really don't seem to mind that we are there. The evening slows quickly as we end up with only a couple different bears showing up. Between a little blonde bear and a young black one, they have gone in and out enough times to keep us both on pins and needles most of the evening.
For whatever reason that big chocolate bear had showed up bright and early, but this evening he has yet to show, then like bears do in the bush, he materializes in the trees behind us.
As the big bear approaches, the young blonde bear is doing his best to act as big as he can but it still goes into a full blown playground fight directly under us. This was the bear from the evening before and we are both hoping to get Easton a shot. The bear bumps the ladder of our stand and then turns broadside at 6 yards, I am trying to film and coach all at the same time. “Shoot him right there” I tell him, "I can't he is too close." We are back and forth, he is at full draw, then lets down I am on the bear and trying to watch Easton while the other bear is going up and down trees. Complete chaos.
The fight over, the spoils go to the victor and Easton draws.
The big bear had gotten past the young one and was now standing broadside at twenty yards, Easton draws his bow. I can almost see through his peep sight as he comes to full draw. it's all happening quickly as suddenly the arrow is gone and everything changes from utter chaos to where everything was moving in slow motion. The arrow zips through the bear and in the fading light, looking through the camera I am unsure of what I just saw. Was it a good hit? I watch and film as Easton's bear makes it 30 yards behind us, staggers and goes down, I had been there to witness my youngest son come through in a clutch. He realized what had taken place and with his voice still crackling and his legs still shaking he says “Thanks dad for giving me the confidence”.
All smiles at a well-placed shot, young Easton poses with his redemption black bear.
Just as a victor gets the rewards so does Easton. Easton is greeted in camp by his family and friends with handshakes and back slaps and hugs over his victory with the bear. He had returned to wipe clean the mistakes of last year and had come through like an all-star.
When I look back I can't believe how similar life is to the games we play and the hunts that our family goes on every year. We are always faced with full counts and tough decisions to make. We are left living with the outcomes, such as the year that had haunted Easton after making a less than perfect shot.
I was proud of him through all of the chaos and all the distraction he had stayed focused and had held his composure and delivered. I was very proud to be there but what I will remember the most is that smile, the one that even in low light, brightened my viewfinder and the quivering voice that said “I got him”. That is the feeling that drives hunters and sportsman everywhere. Years of training just for that moment and Easton had worked hard for that moment and certainly had earned the high fives and the pats on the back, I am just thankful that I was the guy that captured that moment on film. Thanks Easton for a memory of a lifetime.
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