A hunt for black bear in cedars with a rifle that belonged to Chub Eastman.
By Gary Lewis
His name was Charles Eastman. Most folks called him Chub, others called him Grizz. After a career that included Winchester, Leupold & Stevens and Nosler, he was one of the country’s foremost authorities on rifles.
When I heard he was gone, I picked up the rifle again and turned it over in my hands.
It was a Mauser 9.3×62 stocked in figured wood, hand-checkered. It wore a slim 6X Leupold. Its bolt was polished and textured where the hand would contact it. At the grip, there was a hint of swell in the palm. The gun was lively, a bit balanced toward the muzzle.
The 9.3×62 cartridge was developed by German gunmaker, Otto Bock in 1905. Bock started with the robust military 98 Mauser and designed a cartridge that would feed through the standard-length action. The case was nearly identical with the .30-06; the bullet was 9.3mm (.366 inches) in diameter, which with a soft nose, was deadly on kudu and eland and with a solid, it “had enough sectional density to penetrate and do in the big boys,” as Eastman put it.
Eastman compared the 9.3×62 to the .35 Whelen and the .338-06. “Even though the 9.3×62 is a slight bit shorter in length (1mm), its straighter case walls and shorter neck give it the advantage,” Eastman wrote.
Together we planned to hunt feral hogs in California. Then in February of that year, Eastman said he couldn’t go. He wasn’t well enough to travel. We met for lunch and talked rifles and the conversation drifted around to the old Mauser. “Keep that 9.3 for awhile,” he said, “and use it for hogs or bears.”
When Chub passed, I remembered his stories about hunting black bear on rainy evenings in the spring and fall in Montana. He learned to shoot a rifle early and shot many, many bears to keep them away from the guests in the cabins his parents owned at a resort on a lake.
It was there he learned the way of silence that served him later in the Marines and later still, in hunts around the world. With a Winchester across his lap and the wind in his face, he’d wait under a tree, in perfect stillness. The bear became his totem.
I would take his rifle on a bear hunt and take someone who had known Chub too. My friend Matthew McFarland and his boys, Chisel (13) and Finney (10), knew Chub from local Safari Club functions. Chub started hunting bears when he was their age. He would be proud to see the hunt passed down. They would soak in the stillness and learn the way of silence.
North to the Rain Forest
According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, there are approximately 30,000 black bears in Washington. There is no place in the state with more bears than on the Olympic Peninsula. If there is one place on the Peninsula where the bears are thickest, it might be the Quinault Indian Reservation.
John “Tater” Bryson grew up in those big woods and on that river. He is Quinault and Quileute, a fisheries technician, a fishing guide and the owner of Quinault Bear Commanders.
We first met in the big city where we both are out of place. When we met again, it was on a riverbank at the Quinault River Inn, on the Quinault Reservation, where the winds off the Pacific blow in the tops of the cedars.
Sam Pyke made the trip north with me and Matthew McFarland, with his boys, Chisel and Finney, arrived the next afternoon.
Bryson maintains 25 bait sites he sets up a few weeks before his first spring clients arrive. For my first afternoon hunt he had one place in mind, a spot not far from the river, in use by several bears, he said. He showed us their tooth marks on the bait barrel and claw marks on the trees.
We freshened the bait site with Northwoods’ Gold Mist, which smells like butterscotch, then Bryson bid us good luck and drove away. We parked the truck a long way out, then walked back. Pyke and I climbed into our blind.
I bolted a cartridge into the chamber of the Belgian Mauser that had belonged to my friend. I tipped Chub’s rifle up and waited. The bait was 70 yards away.
A Stellar’s jay lit on a high branch, then worked its way down to snatch a bit of bread. Two orioles followed, then chipmunks moved in.
Overhead, the clouds marched, shadows leant one way and then another. Somewhere nearby, Chisel and Finney were in their blinds. I pictured what they must be watching, tried to imagine the forest through their eyes.
There was fascination in the play of shadows, in the rainwater that ran down branches, in the speckle-bellied geese that flew ragged Vs against the clouds.
After eight hours, a blackness appeared at the edge of the clearing. It moved left to right at the edge of the trees. When it stopped out in the open, I saw the bear well.
It was on a log three feet off of the ground, its black hair shown like silk. It looked toward our blind. The gun was already up and I found the bear in the crosshair, let the reticle drift to a spot right behind its shoulder. When the bear was still, broadside, I touched the trigger.
In the scope, I saw the bear react to the hit, then twist its body the opposite direction. I waited five minutes and reviewed the shot in my mind, then began the walk toward the end of the clearing, another bullet in the chamber, thumb on the safety.
There was no blood trail, but there were flat spots in the moss where its paws had touched down. Then I spotted its black hair. It had not run more than 50 yards before it piled up on a bed of moss beneath ancient cedars.
The way of the black bear is the way of silence. It was a way Chub knew when he was a kid, watching the bears for hours at a time, all alone with a rifle.
We hunted two days more – one day with Chisel and one day with Finney – then it was time for Pyke and I to leave.
Bryson called Guy Capoeman, another bear guide, 46-years-old, a tribal councilman and historian we wanted to meet. Capoeman met us at the mouth of the Quinault River in the small Quinault Nation town of Taholah. We sat at the base of the seawall near the river mouth and he explained how the black bear numbers exploded after the tribes began to harvest the cedars.
“We needed to do something about them, there were too many,” he said. “It was a hard thing, to let non-tribal members on to the reservation to hunt, but it has proved to be a good thing.”
Capoeman and his son James, 23, brought drums, decorated with the images of their clan. When we were finished talking, they uncased the drums. There was a song they could sing, Capoeman suggested, a song reserved for their family, passed down from generation to generation. Great-great-grandfathers had sung this ancient song – their spear song – even before the coming of the bow and arrow.
When it was finished, Capoeman looked out at the river and said, “That song was enough.” He nodded toward the boys and Matthew. “They’ll get a bear tonight.”
There were tracks in the clearing around the bait site, prints that measured five inches across the pads.
That evening, as darkness fell on cedars. Finney, who had steeped in the way of silence, shot his bear.
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