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Bear Kelly Got in the Middle of a Bear Fight

provided by John E. Phillips

In 1996, the late Dick Kirby, creator of Quaker Boy Calls and longtime Mossy Oak enthusiast, started mentoring Bear Kelly as a trapper. Bear primarily bowhunts, but he also hunts with a gun, a muzzleloader and a crossbow. He’s hunted in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as Alabama, Tennessee and Canada.

Bear Kelly bear

My best black bear weighed 420 pounds, but the size of the bear wasn’t nearly as big a deal, as and I was with Jack Coad. We went to Quebec, Canada, for a do-it-yourself bear hunt. The outfitter had put out stands and given each of us a map as to the stand location. We would drive to the location of the stand and then walk into the stand to hunt. 

Jack and I would get up early in the morning each day and hunt until about 11 a.m., drive back to camp, eat lunch, take a nap and return in the afternoon. Daylight lasts longer in Canada than it does in the States, so we’d hunt until black dark. Many times, we didn’t hunt from the stand that the outfitter had put up because we were bowhunting and saw very quickly that the stands were set up for rifle hunters. We might take our Summit tree stands, go up the tree where the outfitter put his stand and then place our tree stands 6-10-feet above the outfitter’s stand. We’d learned over the years that when a bear came in he’d often look at the outfitter stand to see if a person was there, but by our being in a higher, second stand, he wouldn’t see us. When you hunt with a bow you want to be much closer to where the bear is coming in than a gun bear hunter would want to be.

We wanted to set up within 15-18 yards of where the bear should be. Jack and I had planned this hunt to try and find out how effective Mossy Oak camo was. So, before the hunt, we decided that I would sit on the ground in-between several bear trails and a ground blind. Jack planned to be up in a tree with a walkie talkie and a rangefinder to tell me when a bear was coming in and give me the range that the bear was from me as it kept moving toward me. I had a small earbud in my ear with the volume turned down, so I could hear Jack but not loud enough to spook the bear. Jack would say, “Bear 50 yards, 40 yards, 30 yards,” so when the bear was close enough, I’d know the distance the bear was from me. On this hunt, I had decided to use a Parker crossbow with a scope on it and had a Wasp broadhead on my bolt (arrow). 

We had planned our hunt for the worst-case scenario, which would be a female bear with cubs, because those bears would most likely attack anything that they believe posed a danger to the cubs. So, I brought a .416 Rigby rifle in the blind with me. I was planning to shoot the .416 in the air to scare the momma bear and cubs off before they got close to me. This hunt was the biggest thrill I’d ever had hunting, and I got hit with the biggest charge of adrenaline that I’d ever felt. I was sitting in a Summit trophy chair and even though I was sitting on the ground, that Summit chair gave me a back rest that allowed me to sit comfortably longer. 

Once we were all set up, after a while Jack said, “Bear,” and I heard him in my earbud. When I saw the bear, it was looking toward Jack. While looking at the bear watching Jack, I heard another bear popping his jaws behind that bear. I hadn’t prepared for two bears so near my ground blind. I assumed that the bear popping his jaws was bigger than the bear in front of me, and I hadn’t planned for anything like that to happen. So, I quickly assumed that the bear in front of me was not the biggest bear. I picked up my crossbow and decided my best option was to shoot the bear in front of me at five yards. I got the crossbow to my shoulder and looked through my scope. But I could see nothing but black. The black reticles in the crossbow vanished when I was looking at the black bear in front of me at 5 yards, and I couldn’t see where to aim, although I kept looking for some type of telltale sign on the bear that would give me a reference point to shoot. But I couldn’t find one. Then my head started playing a game of mental gymnastics. I thought, “I’ve got this bear five yards in front of me that I can’t see where to shoot, and I’ve got a bigger bear upset and popping his jaw coming toward me.” 

Bear KellyOnce I saw the bear that was popping his jaws, he was about 20-25 yards from me, and I could tell he was a really big bear. He was off to my left and was coming straight for the bear in front of me - grunting as well as popping his teeth. I knew for certain there was about to be a big bear fight, and I was at the center of the ring. So, I told myself, “You can’t see a spot to shoot the bear in front of you, so my best option is to shoot the bear that is bigger that’s popping his teeth and mad.”

When the big bear turned broadside to me, I saw his front shoulder and shot just behind it. When the broadhead hit the bear, he turned 180 degrees and ran. Immediately, I looked back to the bear that was five yards from me more concerned about what that bear was going to do to than the bear I’d just shot. All I could see was the bear in front of me coming straight at me. I knew that bear didn’t have any idea that I was sitting where I was, but he turned so quick and ran straight by me, bumped my shoulder, knocked me off my seat and rolled me out of my stand. When I stopped rolling, I could see that bear 15 yards in front of me swinging his head left and right, and he still didn’t know what happened. Looking at that bear looking at me and swinging his head, I was a bundle of nerves. I didn’t know if that bear was going to come have me for lunch or hopefully leave the area. Luckily, Jack started yelling at the bear, and finally he ran off. That was the most exciting and scariest hunt I’d ever had in my life. 

I didn’t really know how big the bear I shot with the crossbow really was because I was sitting on the ground, and he was standing on all fours, 20 yards in front of me. He looked to be the size of an elephant. Usually, you can judge a bear size by his ears. If they are standing out from his head at about the 10:00 or 2:00 level, you know he’s a good-sized bear. If you can see the hair hanging down from beneath the bear’s belly, you know he’s a big bear. But I had so many things going on around me that I didn’t look at the bear’s ears or hair. My major concern was that the bear was upset, and I knew I was going to make him more upset when I released my arrow. There was a bear five yards in front of me. 
Once Jack and I went over to the big bear I’d just shot, we knew I had more bear than we could possibly carry out, so we called a bunch of friends of ours back at camp, and they came to help us. One of the men who came was a paramedic, and he happened to have a stretcher. So, we rolled the bear onto the stretcher, and six of us carried him out. Since we were hunting on an island, we had to carry him to a boat, get him on the boat and then take him back to camp. For me, the hunt itself was a much bigger trophy than the bear I harvested.

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