Big Bore Bear Hunting — With A .45-70 Specialty Pistol
From the time I could shoot, I was turned loose on the family’s 300 acres and chased everything from squirrels to varmints, to whitetail deer with a long gun in hand. I grew up, got into law enforcement and was fortunate enough to receive tactical training in bolt gun weapon systems, which honed my skills and grew my love for firearms. Hunting remained a huge part of my life and I found myself dabbling with archery in an attempt to increase the “challenge” of hunting. Archery was fun, but I quickly realized that I was a gun nut through and through and I missed the smell of burnt powder, the report of the rifle, and the excitement of pulling the trigger. I seemed to need a bow that went boom. I still had the hots for guns but wanted something sexier than what I was doing. That’s when I stumbled into the world of Specialty Pistols. They were short, stout, and a bit cocky just like me, and I immediately became addicted.
A Specialty Pistol is a rifle caliber firearm with a pistol length barrel and handgun receiver. Many are built off of the old Remington XP-100 actions and can be as customized as any modern day rifle. Due to exposure with the .308 Winchester as a police officer, my first few Specialty Pistols were built in that caliber. For years I had taken game with my Remington 700 in .308 and it just made sense to stay with what I knew. My entire life I’d hunted with only two calibers; .308 and .45-70 Govt. and growing up in brush country, I’d actually taken more game with the .45-70.
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I’d always fantasized about an XP-100 in .45-70 but figured it unattainable. During a conversation with my good friend and gunsmith Mike Abel from Rogue Precision Gunworks, I let him in on my pipe dreams of owning a bolt action Specialty Pistol in .45-70. Mike thought I was only half-crazy for wanting a Specialty Pistol in that caliber and was confident that he could build one if I gave him some time to work out the details. I mean, .45-70 Govt. is God’s favorite caliber, so who was I to argue with Divinity? That was all it took to begin the project that turned into “Doris”, the one and only Remington XP-100 in .45-70 Govt. That project deserves an article all its own, so let’s just fast forward to the story at hand where Doris is alive and well and already putting down hogs and deer in Texas like nobody’s business.
I had been to Oregon in 2016 and hunted four hard days for a black bear with another Specialty Pistol in .308 Winchester. I’d underestimated the terrain and falsely assumed that some treadmill work along with a few extra days in the weight room would have me Oregon ready. That hunt showed me what real hiking and hunting was, so when the opportunity arose again this year, I began a ruck-hike regimen and focused on alternative and field type shooting positions with Doris. I’d consistently shoot between 100 and 325 yards from a variety of positions and rests that I thought I might find in the field while in Oregon. This practice and training time was what I felt best to let me finally bag an Oregon black bear and keep the Oregon trails from knocking my ass in the dirt like it did in 2016.
I was filled with both excitement and anxiety as I was leaving Texas heading north. Multiple wildfires were burning close to our hunting spot in Oregon and the smoke they produced definitely threatened our success. Luckily Mike, the one that hand-built Doris, had been hunting the area for the past 30 years. He scouted out a handful of clear-cuts and felt certain we’d be timing the hunt right with the blackberries beginning to ripen. I was pumped, felt as sturdy & conditioned as a mountain goat, and ready to get a shooter bear in my crosshairs. I wasn’t about to let some fire stand in the way of that. The only smoke I was visualizing was the smoke puffing from my cigar once the fat lady (Doris) had sung!
My flight landed early on a Thursday, which gave us enough time to head to the range to check zero on Doris. She seemed to have a pleasant flight as she spits out two 300-grain missiles that the bulls-eye at 100 yards —game time.
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The first evening was smoky, to say the least. It looked like a fog in the sky and the smell of burnt wood filled my nose and stung my eyes and I could only hope it didn’t have the same effect on the bears. We sat on a clear-cut until dark but didn’t see an animal. The next morning was much of the same just with thicker smoke. We hiked into a small valley that had been cut approximately 5 years earlier. A tiny spring provided water to a bathtub-sized hole near the tree line and because of the high temps we had even higher hopes of seeing a bear come into the water. Nothing showed. We hiked back out before we baked under the rising mid-morning temperatures. At that point, I would’ve been happy seeing a deer, raccoon or anything with a heartbeat and fur, but nada.
Before we left the house for the evening hunt, Mike disclosed that his wife Christine was his “good luck charm” and he’d seen a bear almost every time she accompanied him to the woods. This was need-to-know information. I mean if she was a bear magnet, then why the heck wasn’t she with us from the beginning?!? At this point, I’m game for any edge I could get, especially after not seeing as much as a mangy squirrel or half grown rabbit.
We traveled back north on the highway and the smoke became thicker by the mile. By the time we turned to head up the mountain, it looked as if we were in the middle of a Texas BBQ cook-off, only I didn’t have a brisket sandwich or beer in hand. I had a pit all right, but it was in my stomach as the three of us questioned the spot and whether we should proceed or go elsewhere. We decided to stick with the original plan and see how it played out.
As we hiked into the same valley and down about 500 yards on an old logging trail, which put us 120 yards above the same waterhole. We focused our attention on the water as well as the tree line. Doris was ready to handle anything out to 300 yards and there were plenty of bear sighting opportunities within that distance in all directions. Minutes turned to hours without the slightest hint of wildlife. The smoke grew thicker before things suddenly changed. The wind began blowing from the north, the smoke cleared and clear blue skies appeared. I then heard Mike say, “ There’s a bear!” He was looking high up the cut and I attempted to glass in that direction but saw nothing. Mike said he’d seen a bear appear on the far end of the cut but it quickly stepped back into the tree line. I glassed the area he was referring to and couldn’t see anything. A zap of my rangefinder showed we were a good 600 yards away which meant if Doris was going to have any chance at all we needed to help her by making up some ground fast!
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We hiked back up the logging road and climbed to the top of a knoll. I had the legs and lungs of an in-heat Big Horn Sheep as I made a b-line for the top of the hill. A dead tree on its side 200 yards from the brush line equaled the right combo of a shooting rest plus concealment. I pulled Doris out of her scabbard, whispered “Make daddy proud!” and sat her up on the tree. Mike made a few wounded rabbit calls with the electronic caller but still, no bear appeared. I was becoming a tad frustrated I had not even had the opportunity to see the bear or any other bear for that matter. The three of us sat behind the tree for over an hour glassing and hoping for the best. With each passing minute it seemed more likely that the bear was gone, but luckily we stayed put a little longer because finally, Christine exclaimed, “BEAR!” (Still, have no idea what Christine’s bear attraction technique is, but Mike says she’s available for an inflated fee, of course, to anyone hunting in SW Oregon!)
Is That A Bear?
I gazed up the hill and saw a small black animal the size of a skunk coming down from the trees into the cut. This Texas boy is used to hunting around short oaks and cedars and not massively tall pine trees so my size perception was drastically skewed. I got behind Doris and peered through the scope and immediately could tell I was indeed finally staring at an Oregon black bear. The bear began a dead sprint towards us and I have to admit that increased my pucker factor a few levels! As if on a mission, the bear halted to a stop, spun around to where its rear was facing us and began digging in the ground at an incredible rate. Dirt was flying yards into the air, and I watched through my scope just hoping that I’d be presented with a side facing shot. That didn’t happen and the bear continued digging. Soon the bear was being attacked by hundreds of bees, which quickly covered its body. I realized it had found an underground bee’s nest and was having a painful dinner at the bee’s expense. The bear was literally getting hammered by the bees but continued its digging and dining.
During his dinner, the bear never turned and all I had was a “Texas Heart Shot” (rear-end), which I was not willing to take. I knew the Lehigh Defense 300 grain Match Solid was unstoppable, even through the length of the bear, but I was not about to take anything but a solid shoulder shot on my first, and maybe only, opportunity at a black bear. I had previously taken 3 boars and 2 deer with the same bullet out of Doris and all had been almost instant kills. The .45 caliber Lehigh solid has wreaked havoc on the bone and organs of everything I’d taken with it, but I still wanted to wait for that perfect shot. Minutes seemed like an eternity as the bear played with my emotions by never turning sideways.
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Finally, the bear turned to the right and instantly began to roll on the ground. I watched as it somersaulted downhill. Not only did I have a bear unwilling to provide me with a clean shot, I had one that had obviously escaped from the circus. The bear was doing what it could to rid itself of the stinging bees and all the time doing nothing to give me a quality shot. Finally, the bear stopped rolling and took a step to the right. My trigger finger moved from the stock to inside the trigger guard and I began to feel what was about to happen. Mike ranged the bear at 155 yards and I quickly made the elevation adjustment and settled in for the shot. The bear took another step and then stopped. My trigger finger knew exactly what to do. The bear’s paw stopped moving and I squeezed Doris in the right spot causing the trigger to break and sent a 300- grain solid soaring through the air. The bullet hit hard and the bear rocked as it tried to run from the scene. It was obvious that success was upon us as the bear seemed to run in slow motion back to the brush line. I felt like a marathon runner headed to the finish line as I made my way to the tree that I saw the bear disappear behind. I crested the hill and saw two big paws and a large black blob of fur lying on the ground near the tree. The bear had gone less than 40 yards and was lights-out at the tree line. Reality struck that I had just successfully taken an Oregon black bear without the use of bait or dogs, and had done so with good friends and God by my side. I also had done this with the only Remington XP-100 in .45-70 Government on the planet and I knew that Doris had again performed flawlessly.
The hike out with the bear was exhausting, but my adrenaline rush helped us out. I had just completed the hunt of a lifetime and I was grinning from ear to ear. Doris got me a bear and again made me proud. There’s nothing better than having a successful hunt. Hunting is all about memories that will last forever and bucket list items being checked off.
Doris is back safe and sound at home in Texas. She is preparing for some West Texas muleys and whitetail bucks come this December and no telling what else the future may hold. She keeps telling me that she wants a shot at a grizzly, but we shall see. One day at a time with my sweet gal!
Follow Cody’s adventures on Instagram @wildworldofweiser