Standing in thick timber locked in a stare-down with a huge, irritated black bear perched above him in a tree, Preston Stryker was having the longest five minutes of his life.
“For me, it felt like an eternity,” said Stryker, of Evanston.
“I’m on the ground, he’s about 30 feet up in a tree,” Stryker told Cowboy State Daily. “I’m thinking, ‘If he pounces, I’m done.’”
Started As An Elk Hunt
Stryker was hunting with family and friends in elk hunt area 104 near Cokeville on Oct. 18. He also had a black bear hunting tag but wasn’t really expecting to get an opportunity at a bear – much less one huge enough for the record books.
They’d tracked elk to a rugged spot with patches of thick, dark timber and rife with tangled deadfall. They’d seen elk go into some of the timber. Stryker knew it would be rough going in there, but he figured it was worth a try.
He’d pushed maybe 75 yards into a timber patch when things got interesting.
‘I Could Feel It In My Chest’
“About 20-30 yards ahead of me all hell starts breaking loose, and I’m thinking it’s elk,” he said.
Then the noises started.
“I heard a growl, and a sound that maybe like a dog bark, but it was more deep and raspy,” Stryker said. “My buddy was asking me what I had found back there in that mess, and I said, ‘I don’t know, but I think I’m about to find out.’”
He kept pushing forward.
“I got about 10 yards further back in,” Stryker said. “The noise was getting louder. I could feel it in my chest.”
He finally spotted a bear’s rear paw, up in a tree, and then moved to where he could see the entire bear.
It was huge.
Stryker was amazed he’d even been presented an opportunity to fill his bear tag, much less with a monster like this one.
But he couldn’t shoot yet.
‘Mortality Limit Hotline’
Black bear hunting in Wyoming is allowed according to a mortality limit in each hunt area. That means only so many bears can be killed in that area before the hunt is shut down, regardless of how many hunters are left holding tags.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has a Black Bear Mortality Limit Hotline – a 1-800 number. It provides hunters with up-to-date information about the kill quotas in their areas.
So, Stryker wasn’t about to shoot until he knew for absolute certain that killing that bear wouldn’t exceed the quota.
He shouted back to his father to call the hotline.
Then he waited, locking eyeballs with the bear.
Word finally came back from his father – he was in the clear to shoot.
‘We Had To Stop Every 10 Steps Or So’
Stryker made a couple of good hits with his rifle, but the limp bear remained in the tree. Members of his hunting party stated to gather around, trying to figure out what to do next.
And at last, the bear came crashing down.
“When he fell, he took half of the tree with him. It was something else watching all of that come down,” Stryker said. “I kind of had to sit there for a moment, just to calm down.”
They gutted the bear and tied it to a pole to pack it out. It was about 450 yards, but even with several strong men shouldering the pole, it took a long while, Stryker said.
“We had to stop every 10 steps or so to catch our breath and switch new guys in,” he said.
One For The Record Books
Stryker took the bear’s skull to Timberline Taxidermy & Antler Décor in Afton. There, the skull got an unofficial “green” score of 20 ¾ inches, according to the Boone and Crocket (B&C) measuring system.
A “green” score means that an animal’s skull, antlers or horns hasn’t had time to dry completely. The measurements might shrink once the trophy is dry.
B&C scores for black bears are calculated according to the length and width of the skull. A measurement of 20 inches qualifies a black bear for entry into the B&C record book “awards” category, according to the organization’s website. Anything 21 inches and up qualifies for the “all time” record book category.
“Once I get it back from the taxidermist, I want to get an official dry score on it,” Stryker said.
Game and Fish agents estimated the bear to have been about 15-20 years old, 7 feet tall on its hind legs and 300 to 400 pounds, he said.