It had rained that morning, but the rain subsided as Emma and I were slowly hiking down the bottom of a narrow, rocky draw in hopes of locating a late morning black bear.
The only sounds we could hear were those of the trees dripping and an occasional bird; otherwise things were silent. Emma’s eyes opened wide when we came upon a well-used dirt bear bed with piles of bear scat next to it.
The wind was in our favor as we continued slowly moving down the draw, peeking around the rocky bluffs amongst a mix of oak, fir and pine trees. Minutes later, I stopped. I saw what looked like a black ball of fur up ahead as I peeked around a rock bluff. I whispered back to Emma, “I think I see a bear.”
I have jumped bears out of their bed before, but never had I witnessed one sleeping. We crept closer — to within 35 yards — where I could get Emma set up for a shot.
The dilemma was how to get a good, ethical shot on a bear curled up in the fetal position. The shot just wasn’t there.
This was 12-year-old Emma’s very first day on her very first big game hunt.
I have been hunting, trapping and fishing for 35 years.
When I was Emma’s age I didn’t have a father who hunted, so I learned how to become a successful hunter on my own with the help of motivation, research and, most importantly, adult mentors. The life skills I learned were invaluable at that age.
A few years ago, I became an Oregon Hunter Education Instructor. I love to share my passion for the outdoors with kids and adults that have the desire to learn about hunting. There is a satisfaction in continuing our heritage by passing on skills and educating kids to be safe, ethical, and moral hunters.
But this year I gained an even more satisfying joy from mentoring a kid and sharing my skills as a hunter in the field.
In July, I had signed Emma up with Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife’s Mentored Youth Hunter Program. This program allows kids, ages 9-15, to hunt without first passing an approved hunter education program, provided the youth hunts while accompanied by a supervising hunter.
We had some work to do before she was ready to carry a rifle, so I figured the experience of a hunt with her by my side would be a good starting point.
In August, she experienced my own bear hunt, helping spot, track, harvest and pack the bear out.
She was ready to learn how to shoot and do her own hunt now.
By September, Emma had completed her Oregon Hunter’s Education certificate and gotten her own bear tag.
It took tremendous patience and encouragement to get her to pull the trigger when sighting in her rifle. The sound, the kick, and the power of a large-caliber rifle scared her. But when she found the courage to shoot, she got every shot on target. It was time to hunt!
Back to the sleeping bear: As I got Emma set up with her bipod for a clear shot, she got tearful and anxious. She whispered, “I can’t do it.” I said, “Can’t do what?” “I can’t shoot the gun, it’s loud,” she explained. It was a blessing the bear was unaware we were there.
We had time, so I encouraged her, had her take some deep breaths with me and told her, “you can do this.”
To get her a clean shot required me to do something. Would the bear run off if I made noise?
I decided to make some rabbit distress noises with my mouth and the bear picked up his head, looked our way then put it back down. After several attempts, I decided to be more aggressive with my noise-making, and the bear finally got up, giving Emma a chest shot.
She pulled the trigger and the bear went down!
For me, her emotional response was priceless: Overwhelming disbelief, shock, tears of joy, maybe even some fear. I couldn’t have been more proud of her.
Hunters are the heart and soul of the North American Wildlife Conservation Model. State sponsored conservation, enhancement, management and wildlife law enforcement systems are almost entirely funded and guided by sportsmen and the money they spend on hunting. But recent surveys show hunter numbers are down in the U.S.
Recently, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said, “Hunters and anglers are at the backbone of American conservation, so the more sportsmen and sportswomen we have, the better off our wildlife will be.”
So, help keep our hunting heritage alive, and take a kid hunting!
About the Author: Scott Napoli is an avid hunter, angler and trapper from Tygh Valley, south of The Dalles. He is an Oregon Hunter Education Instructor, Cabela’s Pro Staff, and writer.