Listen to the guide, not the rocks in your head
I just witnessed one of the cooliest things ever while bear hunting in Baraga County, Michigan, in the unsurpassed beauty that is the Upper Peninsula. Really, I suppose, that last statement can go unwritten. Everybody that lives there knows it. And everybody that visits there knows it too.
Anyway, my two-day only bear hunt was winding down Oct. 6 when I saw a giant black creature walking in the middle of the river I was hunting above.
At first I thought it just might be the biggest black bear ever seen on the planet when I noticed white antlers jutting off its head.
Then it struck me -- I was in the land where the moose runs loose -- as he started the groaning and grunting of a lovesick rutting bull. I crazily grabbed for the sometimes-working video camera but he had already moved through my view without me getting a single track of footage.
Still I reported on the film how it kept the hunt from being a total bust.
Later, the gigantic one would come back near dark. Beforehand, I thought there was someone running through the woods with an airhorn. Then I realized it was him again.
In the same vein as the "Messing with Sasquatch" commericial, I started calling back to him.
I had him revved to the highest decibels. Then he started thrashing about in the swampy muck and grass below.
Then it struck me, the hell with the bears, if he comes after me I'm toast. The bears I can shoot, but Mr. Moose is heavily protected and I wouldn't even attempt to try and win a defense case with a DNR officer. Plus the locals would want me to hang for downing a crazed moose no matter what the circumstances were.
Thankfully it didn't come down to anything so dramatic. He moved down the river, and I hopped on my quad and headed for the truck.
Speaking of bears, or the lack thereof, that was what I had came for all the way up from St. Clair County in the wee hours of the night, sleeping in rest areas, and groggily heading out for a spontaneous two-day hunt.
It became one of those things where the hammer in the head was greater than the experience of the guide, if you know what I'm getting at.
Yes, after trying the guide's way on previous hunts over the past two years, I thought I would see how my baiting and setup would come off. Great move, right?
It wasn't originally going to be this way but when I swung by his rustic motel along Route 28, there was no one home. And me thinking he's already headed out, maybe I can catch him up on the hill, away I went into planning how I could employ my baiting techniques. I had brought along a connoction of generic Lucky Charms, a slab of smoked salmon (not all of it, mind you, save some for the baiter) and sardines in case of such an occasion.
After tooling around in the vicinity that looked familiar from last year's hunt, I realized the trails on a quad in bear country can begin to look the same for the unexperienced or somewhat unexperienced. I suppose I will qualify myself a little since I've been at it three years now.
I thought the spot I chose was a good gig. I was up on a hill overlooking the edge of a cedar swamp, where I positioned the bait in a hastily dug pit covered by three large logs.
But after darkness fell, I was left without witnessing a curious black ghost.
It would only get better the next day.
I caught up with Dan of the Paw Paw Inn and he agreed to set me up on one of his sites.
Here's where the hammer in the head gets completed. We would try to find bait site I had started the night before and see if it got hit.
I had marked it on the sometimes-working GPS, and after packing up the quad with the necessary gear -- treestand, muzzleloader, more bait -- we headed down the rocky roads in search of what I felt would be a direct hit.
Couldn't find it even with it marked.
We were both getting discouraged. Especially Mr. Guide who has mucho years in this business and a high success rate compared to my zero success rate.
He handed down subtle hints -- ones I didn't pick up until later when I was driving home -- such as "I have a bait site right here" and when we checked it, it "hadn't been hit since last night." Meaning the bear knows where it is and tonight could be the night he comes in for dinner. Deaf ears were with this hunter.
For some reason I was just determined to find the site I set up despite causing a ruckus near this formerly hit bait pile.
"I have to help get these other guys set up," Dan told me with a disgusted look on his face.
I apologized and told him to head on out, and he motored away on his white bucket-laden four-wheeler.
Eventually I did find the site and of course it was not hit. At this point -- it was getting on to the 2 o'clock hour -- I figured since I made so much noise off-roading on the quad trying to follow the GPS course, that I better go up the tree I was in the previous night despite the wind being a tad poor.
I endured rain and wind without seeing a living creature until the moose commotion an hour before dark.
It was a double-edged sword. Had I not sat in the stand where I was I never would have taken in the moose scene, however, I might have gotten a shot on a bear at the guide's spot.
According to Mr. Murphy's laws, I imagine if I called Dan he'd say, "That bait got hit the night you were there."
But I won't call because I don't want to know.