9 February 2007

Back Country Black Bears

by Joseph Berg - Webmaster

Back Country Black Bears

Back Country Black Bears


Oswold's Pack Camp

Hello and thank you for stopping by. We just returned from a wonderful seven day back country bear hunting trip that I would love to share with you. I will be updating this story over the next few days as I organize the pictures and events. I hope you will come back as the story unfolds, and I hope you find some measure of enjoyment from our journey and exposure to Idaho Black Bears!

It was a fantastic experience for me and I am excited to share it with you!

This hunt started for me one year ago while I was at the Idaho State Bowhunters Jamboree. I was speaking with Larry Velvick (President of Idaho Bowhunters) as he told me about his many years of hunting bears with Ralph Oswold. I was so caught up in idea of going into the back country on horses that I told Larry to put me on the list for next years group of bowhunters.

Then the waiting and preparation began.

Day 1 Saturday - driving up

We arrived at Larry's house at 8:00 am where I met all the other hunters who would be joining us on our trip. I first met Benton Christensen from Preston Idaho, Benton has some very nice trophies on the Trophy wall from last year if you would like to take look click here. I was then introduced to Mike Moore and his two sons Josh and Bryce. We then piled into two trucks and started our journey into back country bears.

For the better part of six hours we made our way into Northern Idaho finally reaching Oswold's Pack Camp where we met our host Ralph and Doris Oswold. We spent the our first night at the base camp.

Day 2 Sunday - riding in - first hunt

This morning we ate breakfast and loaded the horses, then we spent the next four and half hours in the saddles packing into our hunting camp. After getting into camp and getting settled in it was time to head out to our different stands. After just getting my land legs back under me I found myself back in the saddle behind Larry Whitlock and Benton. This little ride became rather exciting when my bow hit some brush and the arrows popped out of the quiver and rattled, spooking the horse (Joy was her name). Joy lunged forward smashing into the back of Benton's' horse. After this happened twice I'd had enough excitement on a horse. I ended up using a different horse the rest of the week and discovered that things went a whole lot more smoothly if I took the bottom limb off my recurve before getting on the horse.

Once I made it to my bait site I began looking for the tree stand, and would have never seen it had it not been for the yellow tie rope hanging in a tree. My eyes began to rise up the tree looking for the stand and my gaze kept rising higher and higher and higher until finally with my mouth hanging open I spotted my perch at the top of the sky. Ok perhaps that is an exaggeration but I have spent many long hours in tree stands and this was certainly higher than I had ever wanted to be perched in a tree. My first reaction was "You've got to be kidding", but once I made my way into the stand I found it to be a good setup that would keep my cent well above the bears. (See the picture below in the gallery that shows Larry standing out in front of his tree - Larry is about 6' tall).

After settling into the stand and preparing my gear I settled into the wait. At 7:40 I heard my first bear approaching from behind my stand. At it turned out there were two bears coming in. As the bear reached a spot directly beneath me it scared the other bear off before I could get a look at it. The bear was brown and not having much experience at judging bears I decided not to shoot this bear since it was the first night and there seemed to be at least two bears hitting the bait. I took out my digital camera and shot him with that instead (see Gallery below).

As this bear was visiting I must have made a small noise that must have got his attention. Shortly after taking this picture the bear became nervous and seemed to have looked right at me before he slowly moved off.

Once darkness settled over the country I climbed out of my tree and had just reached the trail that would take me back to camp when I heard something large coming up the trail. Needless to say my adrenaline climbed up the chart until I realized I was hearing a horse approach. As it turned out it was Ralph, Larry Whitlock and Mike on their way up to Benton who had shot the first bear of the trip. Benton had seen three different bears for sure and five sightings in all on his first night and had taken his first bear (see gallery below).

Day 3 Monday

We woke up early this morning and took some more pictures of Benton's bear, and watched Ralph and Larry prep the hide. Its obvious that these guys have had plenty of experience at this task. We made our way into our stands around 4:00pm today. I got to ride a different horse (daisy) and didn't have any problems with my bow like last night. The wind on the stand was quite a ride. It felt like being on an amusement ride. Nothing happened until 8:30pm when I saw a jet black bear down below my stand. I lost sight of it and then just a few minutes later it was right below my stand. From the first moment I saw this bear I new I wanted him. He was jet black and the hide was full and shiny. As the bear approached the bait I prepared for the shot. The bear presented me with a slightly quartering away shot. I drew my bow, aimed and released.

The arrow appeared to have gone right over the shoulder of the bear turning him into a jet black rocket that departed like the wind. After about fifteen minutes I heard a strange sound and as I listened I realized the bear was still down the hill about 60 yards. The sound I was hearing was a woof sort of warning sound I believe. Like the bear was trying to figure out what had just stung him and was trying to decide if he should come back up. I climbed out of the tree still kicking myself for such a poor shot and knowing that I had just educated that bear and more than likely would never see him again.

The other guys all saw bears from their stands, but no shots were taken. Bryce had a bear coming in but it spotted him in his stand and moved away. Mike saw a nice bear near where he was sharing a stand with his youngest son Josh but the bear decided not to come into the bait. Benton had one walk down the trail near his stand and stopped for a smell near where his first bear had expired, and then the bear just continued down the trail. Larry had a small bear come in and he chose to video the bear and not shoot him.

 We were hunting in Unit 12 in the mid panhandle of Idaho during this trip. This was a two bear unit so we all could have taken two bears during this hunt.


Day 4 - Tuesday

Day 4 of our hunt was fairly uneventful. I spent much of the day trying to get my head out of yesterdays poor shot. I spent quite a bit of time practicing with my bow. While on stand I didn't see any bears. I thought I heard something at one point, but could not be sure what it was. Before leaving the stand I shot a couple practice arrows to help me get the feel of the height of the tree. The shots were good making me feel much better and ready for another bear. On my way back down the trail to camp I hear a dog barking and figured one of the guys had shot a bear. As it turned out Josh had shot a bear. The bear had spotted Josh as he drew his bow and started to back away. Josh's arrow appeared to be right on target to Josh and his first words to his Dad (Mike) who was with him was that it was a perfect hit. Mike could see that the arrow had penetrated up to the feathers but he could not tell about the angel from his position in the tree. They looked hard for the bear but could not find anything other than the fletch end of the arrow that had broken off. Bryce, Benton and I didn't see any bears tonight.

The Food - Outstanding

I have to take a little time here to say something about how well we were taken care of on our trip. Here you can see Margaret our camp cook and Tara who helped her all week. It was always amazing to me that here we were ten miles from the nearest source of civilization and I was eating like never before. Breakfast, lunch and dinners were absolutely delirious. I have always thought food tasted better when out in the wood which generally is due to the fact that you are exerting so much energy and effort into just being in the outdoors. Well we weren't exerting much effort on this hunt, but rather had these two lovely ladies preparing things like sausage, pancakes and eggs for breakfast, pasta and soups for lunch, chicken, potatoes and steak that was out of this world for dinner. You know you are being taken care of when in the middle of Gods country you hare being served strawberry shortcake one night, and other nights three different kinds of pie. They say that the way to a mans heart is through his stomach, well if that is the case then these ladies have a special place in the hearts of six very grateful bowhunters. Thanks Margaret and Tara - it was great!

Day 5 - Wednesday

Ralph and Mike went out again this morning to look for Josh's bear, but were unable to follow the trail much more than a hundred yards. Its been a mystery with this bear and spirits are a little low, but hopefully today will be better for us. Larry and Bryce have headed out early today to see if the bears that have been hitting their baits have been coming in the mornings. When they returned at about noon they had not seen anything. Mike, Bryce and Josh went out early with Ralph to go up higher on the ridge from Benton and I.

Bryce and his Bear!

The bear first appears and Bryce starts the process that all bowhunters go through as they begin to prepare for that oh so rare shot. Bryce has taken many game animals with his bow but this would be his first bear with a bow. The bear presented the shot and as he begins to draw his bow the unexpected happens - an awful noise erupts from his bow sending his bear into the safety of the timber in a flash. As Bryce examined his bow he found that at some point while getting his bow into the tree he had gotten some sap from the tree on his cable guard. Later than night he pulled his bow and as his cable slider hit that sap it was like sounding a fog horn.... what else could go wrong? Well Bryce missed his chance with this bear but we were still able to put Bryce in the photo gallery with his unusual but special trophy take a look below

Larry Connects

Larry has seen several bears off his stand most of which have been small and not what he was after, but tonight he had watched enough bears and decided to take the one that came in this time. Larry had his video camera in his tree with him and had turned it on for this shot. It was fun to watch the footage that night to share some of the excitement Larry had enjoyed. This bear was no giant by any means but any big game animal harvested with a bow is a trophy non the less. Larry took a lot of ribbing over this bear and he was a good sport about it and told him I would be nice on the website also, but I just have to mention that if you would like to know about some photo tips when taking pictures of of your trophy then drop me or Mike Moore a note and we will be happy to tell you about Larry's bear pictures. Sorry Larry had to through that in (see Larry's bear in the gallery below).

Day 6 - Thursday

Today we spent the morning taking pictures of Larry bear trying to make it look bigger and talking as Ralph and Larry skin and prep the hide. Here Ralph and Larry Whitlock work on the hide while Larry Velvick the proud hunter works on the skull.

Well tonight was pretty uneventful for everyone. Josh saw a bear briefly but it didn't come in. At about five minutes before nine I hear a bear sniffing the wind almost directly below my stand. I got pretty excited but the light was fading fast. That bear must have got wind of something he didn't like. I never saw him so I figured he just snuck away. We have one more night, so hopefully it will be a good one.

Day 7 - Friday (Last Night)

Benton and I spent some of our morning chasing down ground grizzlies (squirrels). Tonight is our last night, and hopes are high that we can put it all together and tag a few more bears.

Bryce and his Dad (Mike) went back up above Benton tonight with high hopes but as luck would have it they didn't see any bears, and neither did most of the rest of us. At one point during the evening I heard that warning woof sound as a bear circled around my stand, but I never saw the bear. Larry had a bit of excitement tonight when he saw a large brown head of a bear come into view. A large bear was moving in on the bait and then from right behind the bear came a little cub. Larry turned on his video camera and got some great footage of this little guy playing around his mother. What a way to end a hunt and have it recorded to be watched any time. Even those of us not able to see this first hand got to enjoy it from the small view finder of Larry's camera and then again on Larry's TV once we reached home.

Sure there was disappointment in the camp that night for some of us who would not be taking home that bear we had hoped for during all those months of anticipation, but we were going home with treasured memories as trophies none the less!

Day 8 Saturday - Memories and Good Friends

The spring bear season is over and we begin our trek homeward. As I think back on the week I realize just how many wonderful memories I am taking home with me. I have experienced many new and exciting things on this adventure, but more importantly I have found new friends and shared some great memories with each of them.
Here is a picture of Larry Whitlock loading up one of the mules as we prepare to leave. Here is a man who has so much to share. One morning I woke up early listening to Ralph and Mike laughing in the cook tent. It sounded like they were enjoying themselves so I got out of bed, dressed and went in to join them. Larry was telling a few stories about some of his experiences while helping Ralph. Larry was an amazing story teller with his Texas accent and good old humor he had all of laughing and having such a wonderful time. I thank my lucky stars for getting up that morning and enjoy his tells. I wish I could have recorded a story or two for each of you to hear and enjoy, I would never even attempt to re-tell those stories because I could not do them justice after hearing them come from Larry. Thank you Larry for sharing some of yourself with us!

Ralph and Doris where wonderful hosts during our stay with them on this hunt and I would recommend their service. If you are interested in learning more about Oswold's Pack Camp contact Ralph or Doris at the following number (208) 935-0068 or if you have questions about our trip feel free to contact me (Joe) at

I hope you enjoyed our adventure. I would your thoughts on this story, if you liked it would like to see more things like this on the website, or if you have other ideas. Our goal is make the site as interesting and enjoyable as we can for everyone!

Thanks and Come Back often

Joe Berg
Idaho Archery~Webmaster


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