Richard Kendall got on the ground.
It was a cold November morning, but the 56-year-old Craig resident didn’t pay much attention to the frozen earth and snow under his body.
What consumed his thoughts was the monstrosity resting in the cave ahead of him.
Heart pounding and adrenaline pumping, he stuck his head inside the cave and made eye contact with the object of his hunt — a 703-pound black bear, one bigger than he’d ever seen or tracked before.
At that moment, the world around him stopped — it was only he and the bear, do or die.
“If you have a 700-pound bear coming out of that hole, you ain’t going to make it,” he said. “All he has to do is hit you once with a swat. His forearms are 20 inches in diameter. The pad alone is eight inches wide. Claws are three inches long.
“You tell me what that thing can do to you.”
Taking aim from about six feet away, Kendall saw his opportunity as the bear looked away and pinned his ears back.
“I went back over that scenario a bunch of times and that bear just looked like he was peaceful and just about as peaceful as he could get,” he said. “But, peaceful was about over, I could tell.
“Once he laid his ears back, I thought, ‘It’s either now or never, or this ain’t going to happen.’”
There was only one thing going through Kendall’s head at that point, he said, in the face of a bear ready to defend home and self.
“Yeah, my adrenaline was pumping,” he said with a laugh. “I was pumped to the max when I went into the mouth of that cave. How much higher adrenaline can you get knowing that there is something in there that is twice as big as you and can eat your lunch in a heartbeat?”
Kendall’s shot was true.
It was Nov. 20, and after hunting bears and other game his whole life, the hunter knew he finally had his trophy.
The 703-pound male black bear Kendall shot on that day in the Wilson Creek area of Moffat County could be a state record, he said.
According to the Boone and Crockett Club, the Colorado state record for black bear has a skull measuring 22 and 9/16 inches and was killed in Mesa County in 2007.
Kendall contends his could edge the state record at 22 and 5/8 inches, if the skull doesn’t shrink before the official measurement is taken.
The world record black bear’s skull measured 23 and 10/16 inches, according to the hunting club.
It all started about a week before Nov. 20, Kendall recalled.
He and a friend from Arizona were scouting the area for mountain lion tracks when they stumbled upon the bear’s tracks.
“I’d seen it that summer and knew that he was a big bear then, but I didn’t really know how big he was until I saw his track in the snow,” he said. “You get a good look at it and his track was as big as my ball cap in the snow.”
Later, the two went back to the area and found a fresh bear track leading down a draw into the bear’s cave.
That afternoon, the men drove to Meeker, purchased a bear tag and spent the night hoping the bear would still be in its cave when they planned to arrive in the morning.
All night, Kendall tossed and turned, thinking about the bear, killing it and how to do it safely.
Taking his friend and two other men with him, Kendall arrived at the cave and shot the bear twice for safe measure.
It took the four men about 45 minutes to pull the bear from the cave and a half hour to drag it 100 yards to get it onto the back of a truck, in the midst of celebration from Kendall and the other men.
“We were running on an adrenaline high for two or three days,” he said. “I’m still on a high.”
More than just the size of the kill, there was something special about the bear, Kendall said. He feels as if the trophy was handed to him, considering he was able to track it with his glasses on for 200 yards to find its cave.
“It is just like the Lord said, ‘Here is your really big bear,’” he said. “It was too easy. It was something that was really special.”
Since that November day, news of Kendall’s kill and actions entering the bear’s cave have spread through Northwest Colorado like “wildfire,” he said.
Kendall said residents he has never met from around Craig have been stopping to congratulate him on the kill.
Numerous times, Kendall has had a stranger show him a picture of the bear on their cellular phone not knowing it is his kill.
“They have the picture of the bear and they don’t know who took it and they say, ‘Can you believe this bear, look at the size … you think it’s real?’” Kendall said. “And I go, ‘Yeah, I shot it.’”
But, Kendall’s reputation as a hunter hasn’t been the only thing growing since he took the bear.
The hunter’s respect for the animal has also swelled, he said.
“You can’t even believe how much I respect that bear,” he said.
Looking into the bear’s eyes moments before killing it bonded the two forever, Kendall said.
“There is something about bears,” he said. “They have a special spirit, special aura, a special something that I can’t even tell you what is there.”
Kendall said he also admires the bear for its raw power.
“You have respect for that bear for the fact that he can kill you,” he said.
“I know that anybody who has never hunted won’t have a clue how us as hunters have respect for the animals we’re after,” he said.
Kendall has several trophy animals lining his wall at home. But, there is one in particular he admires.
It is a large buck killed by his father that he has been trying to best during more than 45 years of hunting.
“I can’t beat it, but I’ve come close and now I have a trophy bear that my son and nobody else is going to beat, either,” he said. “Or, maybe they will. Maybe it will give them some incentive to drive to try to beat it.”
Kendall said he has been hunting big bears his whole life and had “never come close” to getting one.
“Until now,” he said with a smile. “That’s why I said it feels like the Lord just handed it to me. It was here, ‘This is your trophy, this is what you get and that is pretty much going to be it.’”
Kendall doubts he’ll ever top his recent kill. But, if the chance arises, he’ll try again.
“Why not?” he said. “I would be very satisfied with what I’ve got and I have no intention of getting a bigger one, but if it happens and I get a shot at another monster bear, I would probably do it all over again.
“Or next time (I’ll) take my son and try to get him one.”
After all, despite a bad back, Kendall is still at an age where he can hunt with the best of them.
Much like the bear was before the two met in the cave, Kendall is still in his prime.
And there is something calling him back to the hills beyond Craig. It’s a sign he saw evidence of in his trophy kill — scars cut deep into its hide.
“He has been fighting like hell, so I know that there is a bear up there as big as he is or close,” Kendall said.