Sometimes things never seem to go right but perseverance usually pays off, and that was the case for our 2009 spring bear hunt.
Jim Signorino booked a spring bear hunt with us way back in 07 after seeing us featured on the Babe Winkelmann Outdoors show. He and his brother John and nephew John were to hunt last spring but Murphy’s Law had intervened sending us a late snowy spring. I was forced to cancel their hunts as we could not get enough bear baits active before our season would close.
Things were not looking so great this year either as I started baiting with snowmobiles in what looked like the dead of winter. Our season was April 15th to May 15th (next year it will be extended to May 31st). We scheduled our hunters to arrive May 9th and to hunt the last 5 days of the season. The Signorino’s would be joined with brothers Rich and John Hlaudy for this hunt.
So, as Murphy would have it, I struggled against weather the entire first 3 weeks of baiting. First in the snow and then the monsoons hit and it rained and rained, sometimes adding snow at higher elevations. I struggled in the rain, snow, and mud running my baits by horseback in the rugged but beautiful mountains. Once a bear hits bait it requires continuous effort to keep the baits active and keep the bears coming.
Then when seemingly nothing could get more difficult, my ailing father passed on to the big sky. This meant my wife and camp cook and I would have to fly to Wisconsin for the funeral and would not be able to get back in time for the beginning of the hunt! Thank God for great help as guide Paul Planer drove in from Colorado to cover for me and help out. Rich MacGyver from nearby also was lined up to help. Another great friend, Stacy Barcus offered to help and cook when the hunters arrived. We had also informed the hunters of our untimely dilemma, and they were all understanding and willing to tow a little extra rope.
Without a hitch, the hunters soon were at the trailhead with the guides and a string of riding and pack horses. After loading up food, gear, guns, and hunters they were off to the Historic Gilmore Ranch that would serve as base camp.
Unknowingly, to the hunters, before the sun would set that first day, blood would be on the ground. By the will of good men Murphy’s string of setbacks was about to be knocked out of his saddle.
That day after arriving in camp and unpacking gear, guns, and grub Paul and Rich rushed the hunters off to different bait sites. Soon hunters hunkered down in blinds, up in tree stands, or behind logs and began their wait to see what destiny had in store for them.
The first to arrive was an ancient old sow that had eluded hunters for approximately a quarter of a century. Now with most of her teeth wore out or gone her time had come and the surprised Jim Signorino was willing to oblige her. He dropped her stone cold dead with a perfectly placed shot. Her long thick winter coat of hair was adorable as it gleamed, shinny and black as coal in the evening light.
Meanwhile, a canyon away Jim’s Brother John was about to be equally as surprised by a beautiful cinnamon boar. As the boar quietly prowled towards the bait, he too provided “the coup de grace” in a skillful and clean fashion. By the time Paul and Rich rounded up hunters and bears it was a thrilling dark and early morning ride back to camp as it was 12:30 AM when they finally all got back.
Later that day Terri and I rode into camp and were excited to hear that the two brothers already had scored on bears and not only that, but Jim whom is an expert Turkey hunter had also scored on a Rio Grande Turkey that mourning. That evening I rode out to bait that Rich Hlaudy was hunting to pick him up. He was waiting with more good news! He had passed up a smaller black bear and watched a wolf earlier that evening, but as darkness descended a big bear had come into the bait. He thought he had made a good shot, so we decided to go take a look. After a short search and finding no sign we decided to wait until mourning to look farther. We didn’t want to risk pushing him into the bottom of the canyon if he was still alive.
Later that night (around mid-night) Paul rode in with John Jr, each of them wearing broad smiles. John had taken yet another large bruin with a jet black cape in perfect condition. This tagged the Signorino group out on day 2 with the latest bear being the biggest by a narrow margin.
The next morning after a photo shoot with the Signorino’s and their bears, I loaded them on horses to take to town and have them put on ice. On the way out we detoured over to Rich’s bait area to look for his bear. It turns out the bruin had piled up only feet from where we quit searching the night before, and what a bear he was! This bear was a monster in his prime, covered in a dark chocolate thick coat of hair. A true trophy by any gauge of measurement. Rich beamed with pride as he announced he was going to do a life sized mount on this booner! After just 2 nights of hunting 4 out of 5 hunters had their bears, and all good bears too.
Jim Signorino whom is a turkey hunting fanatic and guide himself was determined to tag his brother and nephew out on toms. His determination paid off as he called in another Rio for big John and a Merriam for little John during a snow flurry.
For some guy’s getting a bear as to be like pulling teeth, which was only fitting for John Hlaudy, as that is what the Doc does for a living. For him it took until day 4 to drop the hammer on his bruin. He too passed up a smaller bear on that night before mister right showed up. When he did, John dropped him like a bad habit on that clear sunny afternoon.
As the sun rose on the last day of bear season we were catching up horses and preparing to travel to the trailhead as the camp was tagged out! A season of waiting and a string of obstacles had paided off in spades, as all is well that ends well. Judging from all the healthy looking deer and elk we saw around camp this spring, the fall looks to be equally as promising. Stay tuned for more to come!
Frank Schmitz hunting the Historic Gilmore Ranch