Stephen Gloades prepared himself for his first-ever bear hunt, and I could sense his nervousness mixed with a fiery excitement. He couldn’t help but smile between the 200 questions he asked. My brother, Dave, was along on the hunt, and the arrow-flinging duo would sit the evening with our good friend Joe Winter. We had planned the hunt on short notice as an excuse to catch up and spend some time in the field together.
“Three In The Tree” was the nickname for the transmission in my first truck, and with plenty of bodies to hide from the keen senses of a bear, I was the odd man out. The three hunters headed down a line and disappeared into the dense Canadian forest.
I had just set up a target and was getting ready to fire a few crossbow bolts when my cellphone started buzzing. It was Joe, and I was sure they had forgotten something and needed a gofer. To my surprise, Joe cheerfully informed me Steve already had a bear down.
Woot! I headed in with the machine to help with the retrieval. The boys were still organizing gear and informed me that a second bear had also made a visit. It was an exciting experience for a first-time bear hunter, and being successful in the first 15 minutes was rare.
As they explained to me, they had barely settled into their stands when Joe elbowed Steve and told him a bear was coming up the trail. Joe, a seasoned bear hunter, started explaining that they had the option to wait and see if a bigger boar might show up. Steve’s response was, “Can I shoot this one?”
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Of course, Joe’s answer was a whisper-quiet, “Yes.” When the bear turned broadside at 20 yards, Steve came to full draw and released his arrow. The arrow flew perfectly and zipped through the bear so fast they could hardly see it. The bear jumped and scrambled for heavy cover, and the glow from the lighted nock buried in the bruin’s side told the crew it was a perfect hit.
The blood trail was heavy, and the bear didn’t make it 40 yards before piling up. Steve was as happy as a kid at Christmas, and you couldn’t have wiped the smile off his face if you tried.
The only reason Steve had agreed to bear hunt was because I promised to butcher the meat and help him make sausage. Like many hunters, Steve had never tried bear, but given the opportunity, and having several people make it sound appealing, he was sold on the idea. Over the next couple of days, we made bear hams, fresh bratwurst and Italian sausage. As we fried some test links up, Steve’s eyes grew big. I’ll never forget the phone call he made home to his dad, raving about how good everything tasted. Steve bubbled with life and exuberance.
Unfortunately, that excitement and exuberance had been a long time coming. Steve’s service in the United States Marine Corps and time as an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD.
When Dave went to pick him up for the hunt, Steve almost backed out. Some days Steve struggles just to get out of bed, let alone leave the house and follow a schedule.
Several months after the hunt, I spoke with Steve about how the event was a turning point in his life.
“At the age of 20, I joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). We are a paramilitary organization with history and traditions as old as our country. For my American friends and family, I can best sum it up by saying that we do what the CIA, FBI, state police and local police forces do, all under one organization — the RCMP. Prior to becoming a member of the RCMP, I joined the United States Marine Corps out of Boston, Massachusetts. However, I was hurt in basic training and had to return home. During that recovery time, I was recruited into the RCMP. My career has been great and I would not change my experiences. However, my service to my country and Canadians has come at a cost, now identified and diagnosed as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), injury, severe anxiety and depression. Over the years, I mastered the art of hiding it from the world and those around me, but I couldn’t hide it from those closest to me — my lovely wife and four children. They see the worst of it, and anyone out there reading this who suffers from similar situations understands.
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“In August 2014, I ran out of tricks for dealing with things and found myself in the darkest place of my entire life. I faced two choices: death or help. Fortunately, I reached out for help, first to my family doctor then to a recommended psychologist. In spring 2015, what I tried to hide became public knowledge at work, and it was no longer my dirty little secret. I have continued this battle, and I am getting stronger and better. What I am hoping to convey is how my love for hunting, the outdoors and good times with those who share in similar activities has helped my healing journey and will allow others to see there is hope and that people do care.
“When I thought things were bad in spring 2015, two major events took place that grounded me and made me feel alive again. The Fenson brothers, Dave and Brad, are two men who I am honored to call friends. During that spring, both of these men wanted to help me, and they both knew I had a love affair with hunting wild turkeys. Brad organized an opportunity for Dave and I to tag along on a South Dakota wild turkey hunt. Needless to say, I was in.
“Medicine comes in many forms. This hunt was by far the best prescription I could take. When I was hunting, I was at peace. During that particular turkey hunt, I can only describe my feelings as if I were peering through a window, watching myself, remembering the innocent person I once was. As we drove home, I could feel myself changing and the darkness of my challenges was starting to overcome me once again.
“During late May 2015, the Fenson brothers were at it again. The brothers decided I needed to get back into the woods, and Brad was going to make sure I experienced something new. This time he wanted me to hunt bear with my bow. I told him I had no interest because I do not eat the meat, but he was persistent, promising he could show me how to prepare bear meat and nothing would go to waste. Despite a lot of encouragement from the Fenson brothers and Brad’s wife, Stef, I was still hesitant. Knowing how healthy the medicine of the outdoors was for me, my own wife, Bonnie, encouraged me to go. So, with great hesitation and reluctance, I went. Upon my arrival, Brad and Stef took me into their house and made me feel like family.
Over the course of the next several days, Brad and his good friend, Joe, put me on a bait, and I harvested my first bear with my Bowtech Insanity. True to his word, we used and processed every piece of meat the bear offered, and the hide was sent in for tanning. We even made videos on sausage making. I think I wore a permanent smile for days.
“It has been a while since those amazing hunts, and, as we all know, there are no friends like your hunting friends. There is a special bond that develops. It’s hard to describe, but if you know it, you understand it. This last year has been tough. I have had many ups and downs. But I am feeling stronger and no matter how dark my days or nights become, I know it will pass. That being said, the Fenson brothers have never given up on me, and Brad has invited us to join him for another bear hunt.
“Then came the surprise. Dave picked me up, and, when I got in the vehicle, he had his brother on the phone. That’s when I received some shocking news. Brad had been working with the good people from Bowtech and TruGlo. To keep my spirit alive, encourage my recovery and nurture my love for bowhunting, I was presented with my new Bowtech BT-X along with TruGlo accessories to fully outfit the bow. Needless to say, I was shocked … honored.
“I would try to express my love for the outdoors and my belief that it is good medicine. The kindness of Bowtech and TruGlo will not be lost on me. I promise to pass it on.”
Men and women across North America make sacrifices so our society can enjoy the freedoms we do. We often forget there is a price, and it is paid by the Stephen Gloades of the world. Never be afraid to reach out when you have a friend or family member in need. It is therapeutic for everyone involved. And hunting is always good medicine.