Chuck Long is no stranger to black bears, but an encounter with one last week during a Wyoming elk hunt was still spooky, he said.
“When I heard the ‘huff’, I knew right away what it was. But in that dark timber, it took a little while to figure out where he was,” long told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
Long was helping his friend, Kevin Keen – both from Arkansas – recover a bull elk that Keen had just killed in the Big Horn Mountains.
“Earlier in the day we had seen some bear tracks, and I told him (Kevin) then, the we just needed to be aware, to pay attention,” he said.
It took some “hollering” and, ultimately, a rifle shot to convince the 150- to 200-pound black bear to leave after what started out as a stare-down, Long said.
Won’t Hunt In Grizzly Country, Cites Wrestler Mauling
Long recently retired from a 30-year career with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. He’s hunted in Wyoming before and has bagged antelope and mule deer here.
But he and Keen had yet to kill any elk, so they were excited to draw for bull tags in the Big Horns.
They selected the Big Horns partly because grizzlies aren’t known to be there, Long said.
He prefers to not hunt in Wyoming’s grizzly country. He cited the recent mauling of two Northwest College wrestlers last weekend out on a hike near Cody as exactly the sort of reason why.
“I try to avoid contact with grizzly bears,” he said. “I just don’t want to have that in the back of my mind while I’m hunting.”
In the case of the wrestlers, Long said “it sounded like they were totally caught by surprise” and hadn’t done anything to prompt the attack.
“In our deal (with the black bear), it was just a matter of us and the bear both being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
Long added that he and Keen probably should have been more cautious going into the dark timber where the elk had died.
“We were excited. It was the first elk that he (Keen) had ever shot,” he said. “And I had never shot an elk either.”
It was getting late in the day and they were hunting separately when Keen shot the five-by-five bull elk, Long said. Once it was hit, the bull ran into some dark timber and Keen herd it “crash” down into its dying throes about 100 yards away.
It took Long about 30 minutes to get to where Keen was.
“By then, the elk had plenty of time to expire, and we had a pretty good idea of where he was,” he said.
After they reached the carcass and started processing it, Long heard the warning “huffs” of a black bear, a sound he was familiar with from his career as a wildlife agent.
He first spotted the bear standing with its paws against a tree about 50 yards away.
Doing What Bears Do
Long said he began to move toward his rifle while “hollering” at the bear. The bear dropped down on all fours and, as Long reached his rifle and picked it up, they had a “standoff” going.
Finally, Long decided to fire a shot off to the side of the bear, which was apparently enough to convince the bruin to slowly turn away and amble off. It didn’t bother the men again as they finished quartering the elk carcass and preparing it for the 3-mile pack back to their camp.
“I ended up doing that (firing the shot) because it was late and we were in kind of a hurry,” Long said. “It was getting dark and we had a dead animal on the ground and bear nearby.”
“It didn’t seem to be aggressive. I think it was a young male and it just wasn’t sure of what we were at first. It was doing what bears do and trying to get a meal.”
Hard Work, But Worth It
After so many years of hunting, processing and packing out deer, Long said the sheer size of the elk’s carcass they bagged in Wyoming was “intimidating” at first.
He and Keen put some of the choicest cuts of meat into their packs, but had to leave much of the elk’s quarters hanging in trees overnight. They hoped they’d hung them high enough and that the bear wouldn’t come back and gorge itself after they’d left.
When they returned the next morning, the quarters were still where they’d left them,and showed “only a little sign” of the bear possibly trying to eat their kill.
That’s when the real work began.
“For an Arkansas boy, packing that thing out at 9,000 feet in elevation, it didn’t work out so good,” he said. “It did wind me out a couple of times.”
Nevertheless, they made it back to camp with the meat.
“We’re out to feed our families as much as anything else, so that meat was important to us,” Long said.
‘He Did The Right Thing’
When he heard of Long’s story Wednesday, experienced Wyoming outdoorsman Karl Brauneis of Lander said the experienced Arkansas hunter “did the right thing” when confronted with the black bear and noted that people can easily overlook how dangerous black bears can be.
“Often a shot like that wakes the animal up to the authority of man,” Brauneis, who had a long career as a forester and wildland firefighter, told Cowboy State Daily.
“With a firearm, you never have to shoot to kill, but you can if necessary,” he said. “With a firearm you have options.”
“Black bears can be particularly dangerous,” he added. “In Alaska (with the smokejumpers) a friend was dragged out of his ‘hooch’ – we turned our deployed main parachutes into tents. When the bear got him out, he shot and killed it with his .357.”
Still Enthralled With Wyoming
Long said he has no plans to stop hunting in Wyoming. And even though he didn’t kill an elk this year, he was happy to have helped Keen get his – and to have kept the bear from eating it.
And his family appreciates anything he can bring home from Wyoming.
“My wife’s new favorite steak is antelope meat,” he said. “We’ve got two daughters, and they both really like mule deer. We don’t have mule deer in Arkansas.”
As for his encounter with the black bear, Long said it just drives home the point he always made to hunters as a game agent in his home state about being aware of any hazards they might encounter.
“It’s one of those hunting things that happens,” he said. “Here in Arkansas, it’s more likely to be a copperhead or some other kind of snake than a bear. The way I look at it, it’s just one of those things you need to be prepared for.”