Tau Phi Delta Bear Drives
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Brs. Kevin "Krusty" Walter's (136# male), Hartzell's, and Fitterling's bears. Fitterling's bears.
An anxious group of Tau Phi Delta Bear Hunters returned to the home camp on East Fairmount Avenue for yet another season spent in earnest pursuit of the wily black bear. The Nittany Lions did their best in welcoming back the alumni, defeating the Hoosiers of Indiana 28-14 in Beaver Stadium Saturday afternoon.
At the traditional pre-hunt meeting held in the Chapter Room Sunday evening, it was determined that Br. Pat Weiss and Br. Kevin Walter would head up the gang of hunters, consisting of both veteran bruin busters and newcomers to the Tau Phi camp. A noted presence was that of Br. Robert Fitterling who, after several years of pursuing bruin in the Northwoods surrounding his home in Clinton County (with little luck), returned to hunt with the Tau Phi gang, bottle of Leroux, the traditional bear hunters’ libation, in hand.
Plans for the next day’s hunt were laid out, driving arrangements were made, and, as always, safety precautions were stressed. While Brs. Weiss and Walter did their best to keep order over the meeting, Brs. Michael “Bundy” Thomas and Ed Balsavage resorted to their usual tomfoolery, providing comic relief and boosting already high spirits into outbreaks of laughter.
The final tally listed 17 hunters on the roster, considerably lower than past seasons. Several hunters had split from the group since last season, forming their own gangs in other parts of the state. One group, the so-called “Golden Bears” of Br. Earl Hower and Br. Gene O’dato era, were spending the season in pursuit of bruin in the northern tier counties like they had in seasons past. Another group formed a northwestern contingency, basing their efforts out of Br. Jason “Whitey” Anderson’s camp in Marienville. And yet another small gang hoped to harvest a bear from Camp Clermont, Br. Marc DelRosso’s home camp, outside Ligonier.
After the meeting some hunters opted for an early turn-in, while others, led by Brs. Weiss and Adam “Higgins” Heggenstaller, spent hours constructing specialized bear season artwork to celebrate the quarry and, it was hoped, to bring luck to the gang. Remembering how the technique had led to many successes in the past spring gobbler season, these usually unsuperstitious sportsmen decided to apply it to bruin, stowing the masterpieces in their daypacks.
Gear finally prepared, the Tau Phi bear hunters repaired to various sleeping quarters throughout the fraternity house to grab a few hours of rest before the morning’s hunt.
Monday, November 19
Arising early to the smell of a buffet-style breakfast prepared by the Little Sisters, the hunters fueled up for a long day of driving clearcuts in Centre and Huntingdon counties. The first drive of the opening day would be conducted on the ridge ascending above the Penn State Horticulture Farms. Upon combing this ridge a few weeks before in pursuit of a turkey, Br. Weiss had noted an abundance of bear sign and had planned a drive in this area, flagging the drivers’ and posters’ lines with surveying tape.
As daylight broke the bear hunters found themselves positioned along these lines, posters gripping their firearms with anticipation and drivers ready to emit hearty yells of chase. A thin fog hung over the forest, but at approximately 6:50 the morning silence was broken as the drivers began to make their way along the Ridge.
Not five minutes into the drive, Br. Gregg Horvat, fighting his way through a hellish entanglement of overgrown barberry and white pine saplings spotted a bruin 80 yards ahead. “Bear in the drive!” hollered Br. Horvat as the bear turned around and looked at him. Shouldering a Marlin .45/70 Guide Gun loaned to him by Br. Joel Bachert, Br. Horvat took the first blast of the season at the now fleeing bear. Showing no reaction to the shot, the bruin disappeared into the thick undergrowth.
Approaching the spot where the bruin had stood but finding no blood, Br. Horvat nonetheless decided to mark the area for future reference. Having no material with which to denote the spot, Br. Horvat called upon Scott Bradbury, brother-in-law of Br. Steve Torok, for assistance. As Bradbury made his way toward Br. Horvat with flagging, another shot echoed across the ridge, above the two hunters.
Soon after Br. Horvat had shot, Br. Heggenstaller, who was flanking the top of the drive, spied the bruin making its way up the ridge. “Bear in the drive!” yelled Br. Heggenstaller as the bruin continued on its escape route.
WHOOM! WHOOM! Two more blasts boomed from Br. Heggenstaller’s .308. Still unaffected, the bear remained on a course headed straight up the ridge towards the shooter. At 30 yards from Br. Heggenstaller, the bear disappeared into a thicket of mountain laurel, but soon emerged not 20 yards from the hunter. Taking careful aim, Br. Heggenstaller fired his last shot at the barreling hulk of black. Unbelievably, the bruin still showed no reaction to any of the blasts.
Frantically, Br. Heggenstaller dropped the spent magazine from his Winchester Model 88 lever action and attempted to load a fresh one. After several tries, the magazine popped into place but the excitement created from being in such close proximity to a bruin prevented the near-panicked hunter from jacking a cartridge into the chamber. Now the bear was 20 yards above Br. Heggenstaller, hellbent on escaping the drive.
Forgoing the magazine, Br. Heggenstaller reached into his pocket for a single shell, hoping to get one last shot before the bruin disappeared. The attempt would prove to be unnecessary, for just as the round was slammed home in the chamber, the bruin back-flipped down the ridge, rolling to its deathbed 10 yards from the now shaking hunter. With a low growl, the bruin expired.
“Bear down!” hollered Br. Heggenstaller, and the woods below erupted with absolute revelry. The time was 7:05, and not 10 minutes into the season the Tau Phi bear hunters had tallied a kill.
While Br. Heggenstaller stayed with his trophy, the remaining hunters completed the drive. Soon after, the gang was greeted by a smiling hunter and a dead bear. Upon close inspection, only one hole was found in the bruin, a well-placed shot behind the front shoulder that destroyed both the animal’s lungs before exiting. Br. Horvat couldn’t believe the bear had made it so far after “his” lethal shot, but neither could the rest of the gang, and the kill was contributed to Br. Heggenstaller’s .308. After many congratulations, handshakes, photos and shouts of even more revelry, the bear was hauled down the mountain on a sapling cut by Br. Fitterling.
In Br. Sean Sweeney’s all-purpose Ford Ranger, Br. Heggenstaller took the bruin back to the House for storage in the beer cooler, as temperatures were approaching 60 degrees, while the rest of the gang headed over the mountain to the third clearcut on Kepler Road.
The clearcut proved to be devoid of bear, but still excited from the early events of the morning, the gang pushed out the Soybean Field, which had grown up considerably and was full of prime bear habitat. Unfortunately, the bruins were not home, and the gang broke for lunch.
After consuming a large quantity of ready-made subs prepared by the Little Sisters, the Tau Phi bear hunters made their way up PA Furnace Road to drive a cut coined as “Last Chance” after Br. Kevin “Krusty” Walter harvested a bruin on the last drive of the last day of the 2000 season. Last Chance was full of bear sign, but the bruins had apparently taken refuge in other parts of the forest, for none of the black beasts were sighted.
After Last Chance, the gang executed a new drive, the clearcut behind the Bear Drives, which was also loaded with bruin markings. While no bear were pushed from the drive, numerous deer were rousted from their beds. Br. Weiss lost count after 36, but he estimated he saw close to 50. Bradbury also spied a nice 10-point buck stirred from its hiding place by the group of raucous drivers.
Night approaching, the victorious Tau Phi bear hunters made their way back to the home camp, hungry for nourishing food and thirsting for strong drink.
Br. Heggenstaller, Bradbury and Br. Chris “Coach” Myers took the dead bear to the check station, where they learned the female weighed 143 pounds, dressed, or 169 pounds, live. Game Commission officials estimated her age at 2 or 3 years. Br. Heggenstaller’s bear was the 68th checked in at the station located at the base of Seven Mountains.
Many of the Tau Phi hunters couldn’t help but engaging in celebration, and the bottle of Leroux was nearly drained that night. Wild Turkey, along with numerous pitchers of beer, was also consumed. Several especially celebratorious members of the gang allowed themselves only a few hours of sleep that night, entertained into the early morning by Br. George “Burns” Kuhns and his girlfriend.
Tuesday, November 20
Hangovers notwithstanding, 15 Tau Phi bear hunters arose early for the second day of the season and, spurred by the good luck of the previous day, headed out for the ridge above the Hort. Farms once again. Two drives were arranged, the first a carbon copy of Monday’s push, and the second drive directly to the east of the first.
Although the drivers did their best to imitate the style of Monday’s drive, the bear did not cooperate on either of the pushes. However, fresh sign, including footprints in the mud by the ponds above the farms, was spotted. Also, just as Br. Weiss was positioning himself to post on the second drive, he heard brush crashing on the posted land behind him. Turning to investigate the ruckus, he spied a patch of black that quickly disappeared. Br. Weiss was convinced this was a bruin that managed to escape the Tau Phi hunters.
After regrouping, the gang again headed over the mountain to Kepler Road. This time the second clearcut was targeted. About three-quarters of the way into the drive, Br. Weiss told Brs. Heggenstaller and Anthony Morris that something was stirring about in front of him. A few seconds later a bruin tore out of a patch of laurel not 10 yards in front of Br. Weiss, “like a rabbit.” With no time for hesitation, Br. Weiss leveled his pump-action Remington Model 760 .30/06 and cut loose with a single blast, striking the bear in the hindquarters as it barreled through the brush away from him.
The wounded bruin headed for the top of the ridge, out of the clearcut, directly towards Br. Walter.
WHOOM! WHOOM! Br. Walter’s Ought-6 bellowed. The bear crested the ridge and started to head down the mountain, in the direction of the Hort. Farms. Seeing the bruin was about to escape, Br. Walter touched off one more shot, anchoring the bear with a blast behind the head.
“Bear down!” again echoed throughout the forest. Shouts of exuberance and elation spread through the drivers. Two bruins in one-and-a-half days for the Tau Phi bear hunters.
More congratulations and handshakes were exchanged, and the bruin was positioned on a rock outcropping for what proved to be outstanding photos. Not believing his luck, Br. Walter cell-phoned his father from the ridge to tell him he had downed two bears in two years.
The bruin was soon hauled out of the cut using a new two-stick technique developed by Br. Weiss. The front paws of the bear were attached to a short stick, and the back paws were attached to another. The “draggers” then shouldered the mass, Chinaman-carrying-water-bucket style, two on each side of the bruin (one on the front stick and one on the back). This method proved to be easier than the ‘ol one sapling technique, especially for a bruin that can be handled by only four guys. This method also allowed the carcass to be easily maneuvered around the deadfalls and entanglements so common to clearcuts.
Br. Kris “Geese” Gisi volunteered his pickup to haul the bruin, and after lunch the hunters were off to Leading Ridge. Although some sign was found in this cut, no bruins showed themselves, and the hunters quickly regrouped to try Last Chance again. Unfortunately this drive did not produce either, and with celebration again in mind, the group of happy hunters made their way out of Harry’s Valley, over Tussey Mountain, and into the Old Oak Tavern in the small village of Pine Grove Mills. Success was toasted, and the bartender entertained the hunters with a novel gadget called the “Fart Machine.”
Br. Walter headed to the check station, where he was informed the male bruin, sporting a nice white V-shaped blaze on its chest, tipped the scales at 134 pounds, dressed, and 143 pounds, live.
Celebration once again ripped through the gang of hunters, but another early wake-up call was scheduled as a good number of hunters had signed the roster for the last day of the season.
Wednesday, November 21
A chill was in the air as the Tau Phi bear hunters prepared to drive the laurel-choked creek bottom and north-facing slope just south of Harry’s Valley Road. The gang included 18 hunters, the largest third-day roster in years. Although spirits were high and shouts were boisterous, the drive failed to produce any bruin.
Heading out Harry’s Valley Road to the Bear Drives cut, Brs. Fitterling and Morris, in the lead, spotted a bobcat streaking across the road in front of them. When the two hunters told of the sighting, Br. Horvat was quick to re-nickname Br. Bob Fitterling as Br. “Bobcat” Fitterling.
The hunters then pushed the rough terrain of the Bear Drives, some in t-shirts as the temperature was quickly rising, but the cut failed to live up to its name. No bear were sighted, but some sign was discovered in the entanglements.
At a leisurely lunch, Br. Walter suggested that next year arrangements be made for a third-day lunchtime tailgate, complete with gas grill. All hunters agreed this would be a good idea, and plans will be in the making.
After lunch, the gang headed back to Kepler Road, to push the cut on the north slope, south of the road. While the hunters were setting up, another successful nimrod stopped on the road to talk with Br. Walter’s pal Randy. Randy reported this hunter had a bruin in the back of his truck, taken along Kepler Road shortly before. After this drive failed to produce, the Tau Phi hunters decided to stay on Kepler and push the first and second cuts as one drive.
Br. Fitterling was sent up the gap between the two cuts to head off any bruin that may try to break out of the drive. The posters set up at the west end of the second cut, and the drivers made ready to tear through the push, starting at the east end of the first cut.
The push through the first cut was executed quickly, as this area is almost devoid of thick underbrush. However, the saplings are still quite thick, and some bear sign was found. On his post at the end of the first cut, Br. Fitterling saw several deer, including one nice buck that slipped through the gap in the ridge and headed down the mountain towards the Hort. Farms.
After a very short pause, the drivers made their way into the second cut, and almost immediately a tremendous commotion broke out in the thick brush ahead of them. For about a hundred yards something large could be heard tearing about in the cut’s entanglements, but no one was able to identify the noise’s maker.
Soon after, a shot rang out. Not one, but two, bruins had broke out of the cut and started to head over the ridge. Br. Matt Petrof blasted once at one of the fleeing bears, but upon later inspection the shot was deemed a mere graze.
After driving the rest of the cut and rousting many deer, including several bucks, from the thick growth, the approaching darkness did not allow enough time to give chase to the wily bruins that had managed to escape the group.
Br. Weiss said the two bruins probably tore around in the cut for some time, planning their escape route. When they chose to make a break for it, they exited at the very corner of cut. Next year, we will have to plan to cover this area thoroughly. If two or three more guys would have been posting, we may have ended the season with two more bruin. It’s something to keep in mind for next season, when we will get the bears that managed to elude us.
In all, the season was deemed a great success. Although we had a somewhat limited roster, excellent planning, communication and cooperation allowed us to harvest two magnificent bears. New drives were scouted and tried, leading to the demise of one of the bruins. New approaches, such as the hop-scotching between the Hort. Farms and Kepler Road, no doubt contributed to our success as well. We will all have to keep this information in mind for next year, when we anticipate more success in the bear woods.
Respectfully submitted with four blasts,
Br. Adam “Higgins” Heggenstaller