Bear hunting memories

Ron Patch

For as long as I can remember Vermont bear season has always started September 1st. It was about 1960 that my father, Arnold, began to take bear hunting seriously. Of course I tagged along. Below are four of my hunting memories.

In the earliest years my father and I visited old-timers in the Shrewsbury-Mount Holly areas to learn where the best bear hunting might be. If you drive up Route 103 north of Ludlow where Harry’s Restaurant used to be, there is a left hand turn that goes by Crowley cheese factory. Turn left here. Continue past the cheese factory on the blacktop to where the road takes a sharp curve to the right. At this curve is a dirt road to the left. Take this dirt road. Out this road is the Yale Forest.

In early September we would drive out this dirt road a mile or so, park the Scout and hike the remaining mile to where we hunted.

We would arrive by 2 p.m. and sit at our stand until dusk. Our stand was located near an old cellar hole. Here were several apple trees and lots of hardhack and berries growing maybe four feet tall. We had scouted this site in advance and seen lots of bear sign. Scat and vomit was everywhere, as were broken limbs on apple trees where the bear had reached up and pulled the branches down. A bear will eat apples until it vomits and then eat more.

One early September evening my father and I were sitting with our backs to a large tree. It was about 30 minutes before dusk when we heard some commotion. I was 12 years old at the time. My father motioned to me to look in his direction.

You could see the tops of the hardhack moving and hear bears grunting. This was the closest I had ever been to a bear. There were three or more within a hundred feet of us. I was a little scared but at the same time excited. We were completely silent and waited as it began to get dark.

The grunts were so close that the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Because the hardhack was taller than a bear on all fours we had to wait for the bear to stand up on its hind legs. A bear never stood up that evening. I remember as we hiked out in the dark, every little noise made me nervously look over my shoulder.

Another hair-raising event for me was when we were hunting in Burdett Swamp in North Shrewsbury, or “Northam,” as my father called it. We were quietly pussyfooting along with my father leading me by a few steps. All of a sudden he stopped and raised his hand for me to stop. He pointed to a sign on a tree that read, “Danger Bear Trap.”

Now, this sign scared the living daylights out of me. Where is it? I wondered. I didn’t dare move. In those days it was legal to trap bear but all sets had to have signs posted to warn you of the trap.

My father knew about bear trapping and looked around until he noticed the large cubby-set. A cubby-set is made by selecting a large tree and piling brush and limbs out from the tree on both sides about five feet high. As the set was built it was angled out so the entrance was about five feet wide. The bait was placed close to the tree with the bear trap directly in front of the bait. As the bear enters the cubby-set to get the bait he steps in the trap.

Another time Don Farrar on Crow Hill had butchered some beef cows. My father and I went up to Don’s to get the innards and heads. We filled three washtubs with the innards and drove to Burdett Swamp in North Shrewsbury. We dumped the bait where we could watch it from a distance. We sat over that bait for many nights but never saw a bear.

In deer season 1964, we were hunting in Shrewsbury. My father and I had split up but I knew about where he was. I heard a shot and knew it was my father based on location and his signature “single shot.”

I started walking in his direction and met him walking toward me empty handed. “Did you get him, Dad?” I asked. “Yes,” was his reply. “How big is he?” I asked. “Well over 200 pounds,” was his reply. Now I’m thinking he had shot a monster buck.  “How many points?” I asked. “You’ll see,” he replied.

He needed help dragging it out of the woods so we returned to the kill site. You can imagine my surprise when I saw the bear you see pictured with this article. It weighed over 250 pounds dressed.

Ron Patch
Arnold’s bear Nov 1964. Photo provided.

Fifty years ago Vermont was a lot less wooded than today. There were dozens of farms in every town with thousands of acres of fields and pastures. This open land was not good habitat for bear so few people ever saw a bear. That is why we hunted the wilds of Shrewsbury and Mount Holly.

Today the farms are gone and the fields returned to forest, creating excellent bear habitat. For those not old enough to remember those earlier days or those who have come to Vermont since, it is important for you to know that what we have today is not the way it was. In those early days a man could spend his entire life hunting and never see a bear. Today bear are seen everywhere and have lost their fear of man.

Tuesday, Sept. 5, is Dealer Day at Stone House Antiques in Chester. Dealer Day is an open house where you can meet the dealers and talk to them. Additionally, a fine array of food is available. I will see you there at 10 a.m.

This week’s old saying is from Lee Decatur as told by his Uncle John. “How to catch a bear.  First you put a nail through the end of a stick, then you sneak up on the bear. Next you hit him a good one with the stick, this makes him mad and he will turn and growl at you. At this point you reach down his throat and grab him by the tail and pull him inside out. That’s all there is to catching a bear.”


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