Bear Bows, Black Bears and Blacktails


By: Johnny Costellor
By: Johnny Costello

Bowhunter Johnny Costello contends with nuisance bears to finally have the opportunity to launch an arrow at a trophy Blacktail buck.

In the backcountry of the Pacific Northwest, the bowhunter is faced with so much adversity that at times it seems overwhelming. In order for us to establish closeness with a trophy Blacktail, we must contend with extremely diverse elements and natural forces with a strong conviction that is fueled only by the wisdom of the wild..One adversity is most certainly the Black Bear.

I believe these dark ghosts go hand in hand with the travels of the Blacktail herds. I realize this sounds exciting but unfortunately their curious nocturnal havoc is only a nemesis to me and the areas that I hunt.

Claiming residence in 2011.
Claiming residence in 2011.

I’ve fallen victim to their consumption of our treestand cushions, quad seats, damage to my 12 volt external trailcam battery cases, cameras and of our mineral and food stations. Bears are nightly residents at many of my stands that the deer refuse to challenge.

2012 proved no different.
2012 proved no different.

Bears have the ability to tilt the habits of Blacktails to the point of negating all of the knowledge a skilled hunter may acquire from months of scouting, sending you back to square one. Their travel patterns are impossible to read unless there is an abundance of mud or snow to help expose their paths of destruction. Well, we had plenty of mud, snow and trail cameras throughout the 700+ acres we were hunting to help us evaluate movements this year. These advantages allowed me to change my strategies repeatedly to conform to the patterns and habits of the wildlife I shadowed.

This camera was licked and then crushed right after this photo was taken.
This camera was licked and then crushed right after this photo was taken.

Long-term camping and treestand/blind hunting is extremely taxing on the body, mind and spirit. To use the short days wisely is crucial for success. Studying camera photos religiously during off-hours to see where, when and what is a valuable benefit. This knowledge helps keep us focused.

My partners, Tim Thomas (Nevada Fish and Game’s Archery Dept.), Doug (Nevada Fish and Game biologist) and my soulmate Lisa and I camped on that mountain for almost two weeks after Blacktail deer. All during driving rain, mud, freezing temperatures and pesky Black Bear. There isn’t anybody I would rather share my strategies with than these amazing hunters.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of taking every advantage that one can think of in order to increase your chances of success. Setting up the proper camp to provide comfort and rest is mandatory. I have learned so much from Tim Thomas in this arena. He is a guru of hunting in extreme weather because of his experience being an Alaska resident/hunter most of his career, as well as across the U.S.

Preparation must also include scent prevention. Spraying down, including boots and gloves, is mandatory when visiting a stand, checking cameras, etc. It is wise to maintain a supply of fresh clean clothing when possible. Proper body and hair washing is important. I use the new line of scent products from Dead Down Wind that requires no water, so scent prevention can even be achieved in the backcountry. Clothing and boots that you choose must be warm and comfortable enough for you to keep motionless and quiet when it counts most. If you plan to hunt the Pacific Northwest in late season, you’d better always carry quality raingear in your pack as well. Also, you will never catch me in the hunt without my HECS Stealthscreen suit on… period. I’ve learned from consistent success what an ingenious innovation this suit truly is. My close encounters have doubled ever since I started wearing HECS. I look at my HECS like the cartoon character, Linus, did with his blanket. It is an absolute must.


I’m also addicted to exercising mock scrapes, scent wicks and scent drags. My desire to find the best scents in the world led me to Conquest Scents, thanks to Mr. Tom Nelson. I’ve enjoyed 100% success on Trophy Blacktails for 7 years running by using their “VS1”, Rutting Buck, and Evercalm Scents. These products have helped my clients get consistent shot opportunities and astonishes me how well it triggers even the wisest of Blacktails during the pre-rut and rut. These products have truly been my greatest weapon, other than my bow.

While reviewing one of my SD cards, I came across a night photo of the buck I was praying for, so now all of my energies funneled onto this one stand which had not been inhabited by bears recently. The following morning at 4:00 a.m., my wicks were in place. I was high up in a Douglas Fir anxiously waiting for daybreak.

As dawn came, so did the squirrels, blue jays and finches, but no deer. I sat all day to no avail but the wildlife that was around me eventually accepted me as a harmless part of the scape. I am certain it had everything to do with my HECS suit. This harmony is a tremendous plus for the hunter.

The next morning was a repeat except this time some does passed by at 8:30 a.m. followed by a respectable forked horn. He was nosing around frantically while sniffing up all of the pheromones from my VS1 wicks. He related the odor to the does ahead of him and the dogging began. The young buck pushed them down the trail and it was over in a blink. It was nice to see some rutting activity for a change. Seeing this buck is what I call fuel for patience.

On morning 3 the same small group of does arrived at 7:10, but this time the buck I had been waiting for was bringing up the rear in place of the young forky! His eyes were bulging like a mad bull. His ears were pinned back and his upper lip was curled and glistening with froth. He was looking for love in all the wrong places without a care in the world. What he didn’t realize was he was about to get involved in a “Toxic” relationship.

I slowly drew back my Bear Motive as a Gold Tip Pro Hunter slid quietly along my rest. When the Flying Arrow ‘Toxic’ broadhead reached the crook of the rest I slowly settled in. On target I touched off the release and the arrow zipped through the aorta of my newfound trophy. When the arrow hit its mark you could instantly see blood spraying from both sides of his cavity as the buck quickly disappeared over a nearby crest.

I knew the shot was lethal but quietly waited for the traditional hour. As I sat there looking at the crimson shaft in the ground I just kept praying that I actually was seeing what I thought I saw. It looked so gruesomely good that it looked fake. As I approached the impact spot I was stunned to see the burst of a blood trail like I had never seen before. Within ten feet of impact the trail reddened to 4 ft. wide as the blood was pumped 3 to 4 ft. up the shrubs and limbs on both sides of the trail! It was like Mother Nature rolled out a red carpet for me to follow only 40 yards over the hill to my expired Trophy.

The entrance and exit holes were enormous as I stared in disbelief that he actually bled out that way. He looked like he got shot by a black powder gun. I believe that his life ended instantly upon impact and what ensued was merely an instinctive death run.

The author with his well-earned trophy.
The author with his well-earned trophy.

A genius by the name of Chris Rager is the man who designed and manufactures the Toxic Broadhead. Chris was also the innovator of Trophy Ridge Sights and Rocket Broadheads companies he later sold. When he explained to me that this broadhead would be changing the way we look at blood trails forever, I had no idea of the magnitude of what he was talking about until now. After my experience all I can say is “WOW”!

If you go to Flying Arrow Archery’s website and watch Chris perform the jug test comparing 4 quality broadheads you will witness exactly what I did at my stand that morning. Check it out and see for yourself. You’ll get the point, my trophy blacktail did.


Bear Archery Motive bow Trophy Ridge React sights, Revolution rest, quiver and stabilizer TruFire Hardcore release Badlands Packs bino and rangefinder cases and Biothermic apparel Conquest Scents VS1, Rutting Buck, and Evercalm Oakley RX glasses Leica Optics Binoculars Gold Tip Arrows Pro-Hunters shafts Flying Arrow Archery Toxic broadheads Dead Down Wind Scent Prevention Goat Tuff Products Opti Vanes, glues and GT Fletcher HECS Stealthscreen

For more please go to: Johnny Costello