I set down my scalpel and turned on the sink to rinse the greasy blood that was then drying off of my hands.
I felt a tap on the shoulder and turned around to the man who had just harvested his first black bear, and to my surprise, he stuck a bright yellow tag that was faded by blood stains into my hand and asked if I could rinse it off for him.
I was slightly surprised by what he had just asked me to do, yet I ran it under the water. I couldn’t help but watch all of the dry blood rinse off of it and down the drain to be gone forever. For some reason, this instance has seemed to be engraved in my mind as I have contemplated his reasoning for rinsing it off.
To me it is a sentimental thing. When I look at my bear tags that are far from the squeaky clean condition that he wanted his in, I seem to remember everything better. I can’t help but think back to my first bear and seeing those huge bear tracks in the snow, just wishing I would have the chance to lay my hands on that bear.
Watching a giant buck walk all around me while I waited on the rest of the guys to get set up, and even though I was in a tree stand with a heater, every window stayed open so I had no chance of missing out on a bear. I remember how shocked I was when I saw her running over the hill.
I can still see that eye contact we made, but my 300 WSM then ended the eye contact and sent her running farther, me dangling out a window, and somehow placing another shot before watching her pile up in the snow.
I remember unloading my gun and having to watch that big bear who’s tracks had gotten me so excited stand right in an opening and look all around before we drug my bear out and gutted it. Some PennDOT workers pulled up and congratulated me and offered some towels to dry my hands off with.
Then came the drive down the road to make a game plan and get back on the bear tracks. Only to go 10 yards into the brush and realize he sat there the whole time and listened to us and then to hear the shots ring out a few seconds later as he too had satisfied someone’s quest for a PA black bear.
Then was the trip to the check station, some Red Express chicken, and a late night spent in the garage skinning before going to bed.
It reminds me of the following year when the first day was washed out with rain, yet we went and got wet. Then came that big blue blob on the forecast that was hanging right over our spot on the map.
The headlights from a truck entered our driveway, and the conversation that lasted until one in the morning, even though our alarms seemed to come pretty soon after. I can’t help but remember walking down the stairs, balancing three coffee mugs while seeming to fight the butterflies in my stomach.
I recall talking with all the guys in the garage and soon arriving at the first spot and getting on tracks that ended up leading us into a valley that had a black spot on the other side at a couple hundred yards. We shot until guns were empty and the resting bears were sent scrambling.
I can remember the blood trail in the diminishing snow and how soon we yet again caught up with them and this time were successful. I can still hear the hoot I let out through my ringing ears and remember the fist bump and hug from my dad as we had shot a double on bears.
It reminds me of Doug grabbing the 235-pound bear and dragging her by himself for a couple hundred yards.
It makes me think of when we were standing at the trucks celebrating our harvests with some bear bologna from the year before, only to drive to the next spot and listen to gun shots down the valley as we had pushed another four bears out, then taking that trip to the check station for a second year in a row.
It reminds me of the whole week in school when everyone kept saying I was going to shoot a bear on the opening day and yet I was doubtful.
Snow came and the night before bear season began, and I found myself walking, putting hard miles on my feet, just hoping to find tracks to lead us to success in the morning. And yet my walk was ended, not by bear tracks, but rather darkness and a dirt road.
I remember the disappointment as I sat in the garage hoping that we could find bear in the morning and then hearing the rumble of a truck enter the driveway as “bear camp” was about to kick off in my basement.
I can still hear that ride to a restaurant when Doug told us all about what it was like to be in the super bowl.
It is hard for me not to remember all of the other conversations that followed before we were going to bed at two and getting back up at five, only to find tracks over and over again and save them for a little while later after the first drive.
I can still see the coyote in my scope a couple hundred yards away, and I remember saying to Mike how I wouldn’t shoot so I didn’t screw up his chance at a first bear.
It brings back the sight of those turkeys pitching out of the trees nearby and the deer that came running right at us, followed by a tap on the shoulder and a ball of black fur exiting the thicket.
But with the bear came something I was not expecting. “Shoot it” rolled off my lips and refusal followed until the third time, when I knew someone had to shoot it and, asked again if he was going to.
“No” was soon interrupted with the 7th crack out the barrel of that 300 Short Mag in a three-year span, all at bears, and a possible first bear was taken away from the man who didn’t understand the once in a lifetime status of this quarry for many hunters.
I can hear my mom on the phone, not too happy to hear how another bear was soon going to enter her house. Then a few days later when I made the same phone call, but this time for my dad.
All of these little minute details have been brought back to my memory by these blood stains on the tags, the blood stains that I watched wash down the drain.