I truly felt the change from seventy degrees to forty as I uncased and assembled my over and under, shivering just a bit as I zipped my hunting coat all the way up to the top of it’s high collar. A cloudy morning, with no expectation for even a glimpse of the sunshine I had enjoyed for the past week, and I was anxious for the climb ahead to warm me. I dropped a pair of 7 1/2’s in the tubes and closed the action as I headed up the old skidder road.
The flock of turkeys that crossed the road in front of me half a mile before I reached the pull off had my spirits high, secure in the knowledge that the cold morning had game on the move. The skidder road worked across the slope, climbing gently for the first hundred yards, then turned aggressively upslope. I kept to a grouse hunter’s pace, walking a few steps then stopping, hopeful that any nearby biddie might get nervous and fly.
I worked to the top of the ridge and ogled the terrain on its back side. It was much the same as my route up, mixed older trees and a lot of younger growth, but not the kind that screams birds. Deciding to head back down and try another old road or two, I walked down a bit north of the skidder trail, still thinking there might be a bird in the neighborhood. The wind had not yet risen, so the woods were quiet, my own footfalls dampened by the wet leaves. I scarcely heard him before I saw him, right in front of me thirty yards downhill; a couple hundred pounds of black bear!
I stopped in my tracks and tightened my grip on the double, while he ambled past quartering downhill, seemingly as interested in putting some distance between us as I was. I could not be certain whether he stopped or kept going downhill in silence, so I kept glancing to the north as I worked my way southerly and down to the road.
My plan had been to hunt high, recalling my friend John’s tale of multiple flushes recently way up the mountain near his Catskill cabin. I was fifty miles away from there on State Forest land, but had figured that the grouse might have found a preferred food source closer to the peaks. My chance encounter had me rethinking that plan in earnest.
I ended up in a cover several miles away and several hundred feet lower in elevation, where I’d flushed some birds the previous season, but it wasn’t in the cards this day.
I was wearing the new Garmin Forerunner watch I’d received yesterday for the first time this morning, and I checked out it’s display of my heart rate when I got home. The display features a nice little graph that showed the rate going up as I’d climbed the ridge, then beginning to drop gently as I walked around on the level top and began to descend. The high peak for the morning, 150 beats per minute, jumped right up there after the graph showed that initial decline, right on time for that visit with my unexpected companion. That peak was very isolated on that little graph, just a moment in time.