Sep 9, 2017

The Journal of a Boy and His Father   

By Chase Larson  

I woke up this morning to a cold, but calm fall day… one that every hunter dreams about. Frost surrounded me and blanketed the leaves that had fallen to the forest floor, leaving an unwanted and irritating crunch with every step that I took as I headed slowly to my stand. I knew from experience that once the sun rises the frost would melt and all would be quiet once again to all those who also used the forest to travel.  

As I walked along, I thought back to when I was 12 years old holding a bow and walking to a different stand all those years ago. I remembered the nervous emotions of feeling both excited and afraid as I made my way to my stand alone for the first time and in my head I heard the familiar voice of my father and his words that I had heard a million times before;   

“Chase, it's time." 

"Chase, slow down." 

"Chase, pick up your feet. Walk heel to toe!” and, 

“Chase, be patient!”  

These are all lessons a child learns, but always seems to forget when they are in the woods walking with their father. I would like to think that everyone has a best friend, father figure or someone they look to for advice. Fortunately, for me, that is my father, and as a young boy every hunting adventure and story started out with “Dad and I.”  All moments in time that have brought the two of us closer together.    

I was born in Kansas and Dad spent many years there hunting as often as he could, walking the fields and hiking the plains with me on his back or by his side as soon as I was able. He tells me often of the many times he took me on a pheasant or duck hunt and the fun times we had and places we went. Dad was originally from northern Wisconsin and he knew that at some point he would raise both my twin sister, and later on my little brother, and myself in a place that meant so much to him.  Before too long the move was made to go “back home” to Wisconsin and as I grew up we shared more hunts and adventures than I can remember.   

As much as we hunt and fish, our real passion is archery and bowhunting. I have always loved going out in the woods, and I can remember when I was little growing up counting down the days until I would become 12 years old. For me, that number was the golden ticket so I could finally attend hunter’s safety class and get my hunting license. Little did I know that after finally reaching that early milestone, my first real hunt would be the hunt of lifetime.  

The first hunt I ever had was a northern Wisconsin black bear hunt. To this day it is safe to say that it was a hunt of a lifetime. There’s a special nostalgia that comes with hunting black bears in the Northwoods, and at the age of 12 I was lost in trying to figure out the process of the hunt. I was, however, captivated by the ways in which bear were hunted, which is either with dogs or over bait. The idea of possibly having a black bear in my hands by the end of the two day hunt was something I wasn't expecting, but something I was willing to work hard for.  

The first day started with the early morning wake up call, an all too familiar routine at the Larson house. With the car packed the night before and the alarm set for 3 a.m., we ate a signature breakfast of cereal, donuts and milk. A short 20 minute drive found us anxiously waiting in the car for the party we were hunting with. After a quick introduction, we were off to visit each bait site that we hoped a big bear had been working on. Once there, we had a lesson on how to determine the size of bear and a refresher on how to properly bait a site. The morning passed by quickly with all that we were taking in, and now it was up to us to find the bear that I had been anxiously awaiting. The second half of the day found my dad along with the game warden sitting over a bait pile as the sun went down. No luck yet, but there was still another day to look forward too. I slept hard that night dreaming of bears and the sound of dogs hot on their trail.   

The next morning came with both an anxiousness and a sadness upon the realization that the fun was coming to an end. The day started with the usual routine of checking the bait stations at the different sites. The goal was to run the dogs if a large, fresh print was found and then, “Let the hunt begin!" 

Our team had no luck at any of the sites until our final visit revealed promising bear activity. Knowing that the final hours of the hunt were upon us, we were anxious to set the dogs loose and hoped they would get on a hot trail. Little did we know that this bear was going to give us a story that we would never forget.   

It was now “game on” as many people would call it. We were driving at what felt like 100 miles an hour in trucks down dirt roads trying to triangulate and find where these dogs were located. As time passed, we located the point as to where we thought the bear was. A quick game plan was devised and a 45 minute walk into the thickest swamp you can imagine lay before us. What we came up on was nothing that could be labeled a textbook hunt. What we found were two dogs in front of a blowdown tree with a huge black bear holding its ground on the other side. At this point, we were behind the dogs about 15 yards away. The plan was to break up our 4 man team with Dad and the game warden in that same spot we arrived in facing the bear behind the dogs, and the guide and I would be positioned to the left of the dogs and to the right side of the bear to get a clean shot. Once in our spots, the guide told us that he would shoot a warning shot in the air to spook the bear so it would run up the nearest tree giving us an opportunity for a safe and easy shot.   

At this time the bear and dogs were really getting after it. I remember the loud barking and the bear popping its jaws and swiping its huge paws at the dogs. The guide and I were just 10 yards away from the chaos when he said that he will fire a warning shot in to the air and when the bear turns then I am to shoot it.  A loud BANG rang out. And before you could even snap a finger, the bear lunged right at us popping its jaws just 5 yards away. Again, as quickly as you can snap your fingers, the bear was back on the dogs holding its ground and making this hunt go from something fairly simple to really dangerous and difficult. This is where plan “B” came in to play.   

All three adults knew that this hunting situation was one that you wouldn't want any hunter, or for that matter, a 12-year-old on his first hunt ever to be in on. In an instant, the guide turned to me with a calm and clear voice and said, “Chase, its time,” the all too familiar line I've heard over and over again from my father.   

The guide then told me, “Chase, I will shoot this warning shot in the air again. Once the bear lunges- that is when you shoot.” He took a deep breath and said, “Do not miss, it could be a bad thing for everyone.”   

I told him that I understood and grasped the reality of the situation I was in. I was ready. At that moment, I have to say that I was not nervous, anxious, or scared. I was calm, collected and ready to place an ethical kill shot on a very dangerous and yet beautiful animal. The second BANG filled the air and again the bear lunged at us. This time closer than before.  

A yell from the guide telling me to “SHOOT!” meant it was up to me to take the shot and take control of the situation. The loud shot of my Remington youth model 20 gauge filled the air and the slug found its mark. Five yards away lay the gift that we had all worked so hard for. Four hours later and with the help of a dozen men pulling a twenty foot nylon drag, the bear finally made it to the tailgate of the truck. I remember sitting there with my dad and trophy and he looked at me, shaking his head and laughing. He asked… “So, Chase… What have you learned?”  

I don't remember what I said, but I hope it was along the lines of, “Not to shoot a bear that far back in a thick swamp!”  

I would like to think that there have been many proud moments over the years that my father has had with me, his son. I can only imagine the feeling that he must have had with his boy’s first successful hunt. I am certain it is one that a father will never forget. What’s even better is the fact that my father had a video camera that day and filmed it all for me. I can go back anytime and watch the action of that day and hear how truly proud my father was of me. Now, through the different stages of my life and as I continue to achieve certain goals, I can still hear that tone in his voice that I heard that day of my bear hunt. Without the experiences I have had with my father hunting and especially bowhunting, and learning all around Wisconsin, I would not be the man I am today. Even with having the many bow hunts out in the field, I must say that I am still learning something each and every time dad and I bow hunt together. I have come to cherish each opportunity even more every time we enter the field. So Dad, with bow season here… “To Another Adventure!” I cannot wait for the many stories and lessons to be learned.