"Honey, I just saw a bear," Dick said calling his wife on the cellphone. "I saw one too," Audrey replied, "and I shot it."
That's how the evening of Friday, October 28 started for Dick and Audrey Zimmerman, Wally Ciukaj and me. The tracking job in New York's Chautauqua County began at about 8 p.m. with Wally taking the lead. Sometimes we saw lots of blood, other times we struggled to find drops the size of a pinhead.
The night was pitch black. As if on cue, coyotes added an eerie ambiance with their yipping and howling on the hillside. After about 400 yards we found Audrey's arrow, but the trail continued for another 200 yards until it entered a tangle of felled treetops.
Everywhere we shined a light, we saw a shadow. The bear could be hiding in any one of them. Trying to keep his eye on the blood, Wally struggled to climb over the web of twisted limbs. He stood up, shined his flashlight under a log and whispered. "There he is." The bear had hidden himself, but had turned to watch his backtrail.
Dick shined his light at the spot, and the bear blinked. It was alive. Suddenly, Wally realized he was seven feet from a wounded bear.
Slowly Wally backed away. We had no choice but to mark the spot and return in the morning. A few minutes later we heard a loud moan. Bear hunters recognize it as the "death moan." We felt confident it was over, but we could barely see anything in the jumble. In the darkness it was impossible to retrieve him, so we made plans to return in the morning.
When the Everyday Hunter isn't hunting, he's thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell him exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com. This column and others can be accessed online at www.EverydayHunter.com.
After a few hours of fitful sleep, we awakened to fresh snow. It's a good thing we had completed the tracking job because the fresh snow obliterated the trail. We met at 7:30 a.m., hiked to the spot we left the previous night and found Audrey's bear, as we expected, dead.
Now we faced the challenge of getting him out of that mess and up the hill. With four of us there, we completed the task in about an hour.
Audrey Zimmerman is the complete outdoorswoman. Dick says, "If you sent her and any of the female 'celebrity' hunters into the woods with bows in their hands and treestands on her backs, my money would be on Audrey to return first with a deer." I'd say that's a safe bet. Most male hunters would take a back seat to her.
Audrey is an expert archer who has won many 3D archery tournaments. Currently, she is the Archery Shooters Association Shooter of the Year and the International Bowhunting Organization National Champion, Amateur Women's Division. She has also won a state championship and several other titles.
Besides all the championships, Audrey is an outstanding hunter with lots of bucks, some turkeys, a couple of coyotes and now a bear under all those championship belts.
This New York black bear is the third animal she has taken already this season. Next up, a really big buck? I wouldn't bet against it.