Larry’s Blog: Learning from a Mistake

A few years ago, during one of my first trips to the Choctaw Hunting Lodge to hunt wild hogs, I saw three black bears. Bear had just started moving into that part of Southeastern Oklahoma including the hills and valleys of the Choctaw Nation’s prime wildlife habitat. That sighting piqued my interest in someday hunting black bear on what I consider some of the finest and best wildlife habitat in North America, particularly for white-tailed deer, Eastern wild turkeys and then obviously black bear as well. I made myself a promise, someday I would return to the Choctaw to hunt black bear.

My opportunity finally came a few months back while visiting with Dusty Vickrey, hunt manager for the Choctaw Hunting Lodge.  “We’re planning to do two bear hunts this fall during the archery/crossbow season.  It opens the first of October. That too is going to be the best time to hunt them based on what we saw last year.  When acorns start falling the bear disperse.”

Before Dusty could say more, I told him I wanted one of the two bear hunts, even though I no longer hunt with a bow and arrow, and I did not own a crossbow.  Told him I had shot a crossbow, but never at an animal, and always during the brightest part of the day.  I also told him I had shot my last whitetail with a bow, back in 1984.  I love hunting with rifles, muzzleloaders, shotgun and handguns and the sweet aroma of freshly burnt gunpowder shot at a game animal. I further explained I am someone who very seldom takes a shot at an animal at long ranges. Hunting to me means getting as close as possible before taking a shot, regardless of what I am hunting with.  Yes, I like shooting at steel and paper at extremely long range, but not at animals.  I do so to be proficient at close range.

When I told him I did not own a crossbow he quickly responded, “Nicolh has a new crossbow, and you are more than welcome to borrow and use it. We’ll have it sighted in for 30-yards which will be the distance from our blinds to where we’ll bait.”  Sounded great to me.  I knew I would only hunt with a crossbow for the bear, so saw no reason to purchase one.

I kept in contact with Dusty throughout the summer.  They saw some nice bears scattered throughout most of the 22,000 acres the Choctaw Hunting Lodge hunts commercially.  They have additional 22,000 acres which is leased to several hunting groups, albeit administered under a strict and stringent wildlife management program and plan.

“Buy your Oklahoma black bear license long before you come!” suggested Dusty. I did, a couple of months prior to my hunt.

As summer drifted toward October, I called Dusty. According to him, bears were becoming a bit scarce, but trail cameras showed a remaining few, including two Dusty thought were mature boars, my primary goal.

Late September I headed to Belize with Jeff Rice to meet with Randy Douglas who oversees what will be a prime hunting and fishing destination for such iconic rainforest species as tropical whitetails, brocket deer and Ocellated turkeys, as well as outsized tarpon, snook and bonefish in the lagoons and who knows what in some of their inland lakes.  More about that operation in the future.  I will tell you, I cannot wait until they get the lodge built on Dale Coastal Rainforest Ranch (, owned by Richard Dale, Jr. Soon as they do, I am headed back to Belize!

I got back from Belize in time to celebrate my wife’s birthday with her, then headed to Oklahoma.  The drive to near Blanco, Oklahoma from my Texas home took seven hours.  I arrived late afternoon, just in time for a short drive to look at some of the property’s extremely good whitetail herd.  Impressive!  Choctaw Hunting Lodge takes very few bucks each fall to insure they produce healthy, extremely large-antlered whitetails.  They also offer hunts for such exotics as fallow deer, red stag, scimitar-horned oryx and American bison, as well as a very limited number of deer hunts for native whitetail deer on their large “estate property”.

That night over one of Nicolh, Dusty’s wife we formulated a plan for the morrow.  I would sit all day on a bait at the extreme eastern edge of the property, where had been previously seen a big bear based on trail camera photos.  “He’s a big boar!  Hopefully he’ll reappear.” Followed by, “I’ll pick you up here at the lodge at 5:00 am, get you to the blind early.  Nicolh will have a lunch and snacks packed for you.  I really suggest spending all day in the blind because that big bear has been showing up at different hours during the day. There’s no set pattern to his coming to the bait.”  Before shutting down for the evening, Dusty showed me how to operate the crossbow I would be using.

It did not take long to spend the night at the Choctaw, never does!

Long before a hint of the dawning day I was secreted in my blind where I spent the day, from 5:45am to 6:45pm, 13 vigilant hours.  My all day sit was rewarded with seeing one squirrel and five crows. Still I was hunting black bear, something I dearly love doing.

Over supper Dusty suggested I try another blind in the morning, and again sit all day long.  According to trail camera photos, three bears had shown up there the day before, including a “nice” boar.

Next morning at 5:30 am I was seated in a comfortable blind watching darkness!  I was still sitting there, having seen not even so much as a crow or squirrel at 6:15pm when lo and behold a huge black bear appeared.  I have taken a fair number of black bear in the past and this one looked like he would weigh 250-pounds and likely square 6-feet 3-inches, a right fine sized black bear.  I will freely admit I was excited!  I raised the crossbow to my shooting sticks and looked through the scope, obviously NOT a Trijicon!  I immediately wished I had my Trijicon AccuPoint scope or at least my Trijicon SRO red-dot sight on the crossbow. The thin-lined black circles that served as a reticle were impossible to see against the black bear!  Several times I raised the crossbow so the I could see the “so-called” reticle above the bear, then brought it down to try to place the proper range- circle on his vitals.  Ten tries later, I finally thought I had the proper reticle on target. I slowly started squeezing the trigger, then realized the safety was still on. I flipped the safety to fire and started pulling on the trigger. The trigger must have been set at 10 pounds. Finally, the trigger broke, and the bolt sped toward the bear. I heard it hit the bear. He instantly reached back behind his shoulder to bite where the bolt had struck him, behind. A bear’s vital are situated a bit past its shoulders.  After the shot I listened intently to hear any sounds the bear might make… I heard him cough once as he ran away.

Moments later I walked to where the bear had stood when I shot. There I found a bit of black hair and a speck of blood, then small flecks of sprayed blood just beyond where he stood, but very little. I called Dusty and Drake Stowe, Dusty’s able assistant who I found to be a truly skilled tracker, one whose abilities would rival the finest trackers in Africa.

When they arrived, we looked for more blood but found hardly any. We decided to wait until the morrow to try to find the bear. Based on what we found, it was the prudent and proper thing to do.

All night long I “relived” my shot.  I knew where the scope’s vertical series of small circles reticle seemed to be when I shot but was a bit unsure about where the horizontal “crosshair” was when I pulled the trigger, although I felt like I had held properly.

I spent but very few minutes sleeping that night, anxious to start looking at first light.

Back at the blind early next morning, we were met by the Choctaw Nation’s Wildlife Director Matt Gamble and the Choctaw Nation’s game warden, Jay Hardy. They planned on helping us look for my bear.

Matt and I go back many years when he was a youngster.  He sent me a letter when he was in grade school, telling me he wanted to someday be a wildlife biologist like I was. We carried on a letter-writing friendship for several months.  Today Matt is not only a wildlife biologist, he heads the Choctaw Nation’s wildlife programs. Truly proud of him!

We found very little blood where the bear had stood when I shot and followed mere flecks over 200 yards, until it played out.  Based on what blood we found, which was muscle blood, it appeared I had hit the bear high in the thoracic cavity above the lungs and below the major blood vessels near the spine.  I was sick about wounding a bear, but after following him for a very long way, it became clear he would survive and be just fine. To verify, we enlisted the Choctaw Nation’s crew that flies thermal drones.  Doing so throughout the area I hunted there was no doubt my bear was fine and would quickly recover.

The title of this is “learning from a mistake.”  The mistake I made was not becoming initially truly familiar with the crossbow’s optics and using a scope that did not have a lighted reticle such as my Trijicon AccuPoint scopes or SRO red-dot sights.

Black, thin circle reticles set for various ranges, do not show up again a black bear’s hide during poor light conditions.  That is a mistake I will not again make. I feel horrible about wounding a bear, even if it will heal up just fine.  Unfortunately, “things” do sometimes go awry….and when they do, it is what we learn from the mistakes made that becomes important.

Before leaving I booked another Choctaw Hunting Lodge ( black bear hunt for 2024.  Frankly, I would much rather use one of my Mossberg Patriot rifles, topped with a lit-reticle Trijicon scope or red dot sight and shooting Hornady bullets, than the world’s fanciest crossbow.  Unfortunately, that will not be possible.  However, one thing for certain; whatever crossbow I use next October it will be topped with a Trijicon red-dot sight set to hit dean-on at 30-yards. Lesson learned and not soon forgotten.

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