Big Bruin

After last year's bear hunt, where it took me the whole trip to tag my bear, see Persistence Pays Off, I wasn't sure I was ready to get another case of waffle butt to get this year's bear (waffle butt - the malidy one gets from sitting too long in a ladder stand without a pad between your posterior and the seat grating) .  Little did I know how different this hunt would be...

Hunting with my huntin' buddy, Jay Ledbetter, is always a fun experience, and sometimes we even harvest an animal, just to confirm our excuses to the wives about free meat (even though we donate any bear meat to a needy family).  I think our Outfitter, Louie's Outpost and Timber Wolf Air, groan in anticipation of our hunts because we never seem to double up on bear, thereby ruining Louie's perfect season record.  However, they continue to allow us to hunt with them and don't charge us much more that they would for any normal hunters.  They treat all their hunters with great respect - even us.

The hunt started on a foggy Saturday afternoon where we would fly into our hunting cabin.  We had waited most of the morning for the clouds and fog to dissipate, until finally about two o'clock it looked like we would be able to head out to the lake.  The cloud cover never really lifted as high as I would have liked, but Rick, our pilot and partner of Louie's Outpost, guided us over ridges and below the clouds until we started heading down into a lake.  Now, this wasn't our first trip to our hunting camp, and as we glided on to the placid water, I didn't recognize the lake, but as the cloud cover continued to sink, I wasn't disappointed that we were landing, either.  Rick decided that we needed to wait the clouds out before finishing our trip to the camp.  The wait was longer than we expected.

By, seven or eight o'clock, we had decided that we would be spending the night on this lake, and Rick knew of a cabin we could use for the night.  Rummaging around in our packed plane we gathered up enough food, light and sleeping gear to make the evening tolerable and buckled down for the night while Jay, a fantastic camp cook, fixed our evening culinary delights.

The morning broke, not much clearer, but a little brighter, and we loaded our gear back into the Beaver and by late morning we were ready to make what was not much more than a quick hop into the lake that housed our cabin and hunting area.  Rick left us with plenty of bear bait and a promise to drop by and see us tomorrow.

Jay and I had hunted here four previous times, so we knew where the bear baits were, and jumped into the one of the fourteen foot boats that we would use as the only way to get to the bait barrels and stands.  We took along three trail cameras to post at some of the baits so we could better determine which baits were getting hit and, by which bears.  The five baits are scattered around the lake and getting to each, setting the cameras and checking the contents of the bait barrels took us well into the afternoon.

Rushing back to camp, grabbing a snack to eat and changing into our hunting gear, was done in a hurry so we could get into our stands before dark.  Jay and I have a routine about deciding which of us will hunt in which stand.  It usually starts with me asking courteously where Jay would like to hunt.  Jay, of course, says he wants to hunt the south beach, where we saw the most sign.  This announcement begins the next faze of our routine of stand selection.  Because I have him by thirty pounds or so, and I have positioned myself to take advantage of the situation I usually win the wrestling match after four or five minutes of grunting, heavy breathing and shear exhaustion.  We leave the brass knuckles out until that last day.

Heading out to the south beach, I have to pass through a narrow section that joins the south end of the lake to the north end.  There are places where the lake gets very shallow, especially this year when there has been a dearth of rainfall.  The narrows twist and turn a bit as well.  It was almost five o'clock by the time I reached the narrows and I was anxious to get to the stand.  As I came around one of the bends, I noticed something swimming across the narrows and immediately thought of beaver.  But as I slowed down and got closer, I realized that the head I saw was much too big to be a beaver and there where 3 slightly smaller heads following along in the wake of the first head.  By the time I had coasted to within about 30 yards I recognized the "beavers" were a sow bear and three cubs!

Of course my camera is in my backpack in the front of the boat and way out of reach.  Before I can even get up to try my fruitless attempt to get to the camera, the sow climbs out of the water, shakes herself one time and trots up the hill into the deep cover of the hillside, with a replica of those sequence of events from each of the cubs, right down to the one shake.  Wow!  This wasn't the first time I had seen cub bears, nor even the first time I had seen triplets, but it sure made my day, and I thanked God for the opportunity to see these guys on my first night out.

As I continued through the narrows, and toward my bait, I was pretty sure I would find that the bait had been hit since we checked it earlier this afternoon.  That sow and cubs were coming from the direction of the bait barrel, and were less than a half mile from it.  It would take me longer to boat to the barrel, because I would have to go around the point and a peninsula to get back to it.  Sure enough, the bait barrel was down when I got there.  And it gave me a good feeling to know that the Sow and those cubs were able to sneak a little high fat content into their little bellies.  Little did I know, that the trail camera didn't have pictures of the Sow and her cubs but a much bigger bear.

I skirted the barrel and the camera on my way to the tree stand which is situated about twenty yards from the bait, and climbed into it.  I was sitting west of the barrel, and I positioned my video camera slightly to my left but in a position to focus on and have a good image of the bait barrel.  The camera was set, focused and ready to go.  My arrow was nocked and resting in my Vital Gear arrow rest, and the bow was in my lap.  Thinking of my seven day wait for a shot last year, I settled in for the two hour wait until dark.

I am ever amazed at how quite a bear can be.  I have taken three bear with my bow over the years, and I have seen countless others that I have turned down, but I don't remember a single bear that gave me any warning of movement or sound before they just magically appeared.  This bear was no different.  One moment the opening around the bait barrel was filled with only the barrel and the next moment a BIG bruin shared that space.

I have often pondered, upon the first sight of a bear, whether or not this is a bear that I want to shoot.  I have gotten a little picky in my old age and I have found that the kill is no longer the driving force in my decision to harvest an animal.  I am now, more often than not especially with bear, looking for a bear that will make the Pope and Young record book.  I turned down a couple of bears last year, before I shot one that I thought could make it.  I didn't have to wonder about this guy.  He was huge!  Certainly, the biggest bear I had ever seen in the wild!

I reached over, turned on the video camera and tried to calm my palpitating heart.  I knew the trail camera would be picking up pictures of this guy, and the video camera was positioned perfectly at the barrel.  Unfortunately, this big boy knocked the barrel over and pulled it toward the thick cover he had just come from.  I could clearly see the bear, but not clear enough to get a shot at him from my stand.  And the video camera could only see patches of black through the cedar bough behind which the bear was working the barrel.  I contemplated standing and leaning out a bit over the ladder stand, but concern about making any noise to get into position might cause the bruin to scamper off and bother Jay (I wouldn't want Jay's nap in his stand to be interrupted by such a nuisance as this bear).  Of course, my recognition of the precarious position relative to the tree and platform I would find myself in, if I was able to get up on my wobbly legs, played no part in my decision to stay seated, no matter what Jay may say about the incident. 

Since I couldn't shoot the bear where he was, I was able to calm down and even tried to position the camera slightly more to the right so as to get a better view of the beast.  I didn't realize it at the time but in shifting the camera, the automatic focus of the camera focused on the cedar bough and showed the bear slightly out of focus when we I reviewed the film later. 

Every minute seemed like an hour to me as the bear continued to work the barrel, but didn't offer any real shot opportunities.  Bears are unpredictable!  I have seen bears come into a bait and stay for hours and I have seen bears come in, take a taste and head right back out.  I was hoping this guy was going to stay long enough to give me an opening.  Not having a shot, gave me time to manage my adrenalin to a reasonable level, and when the bear had been there nearly fifteen minutes, he finally moved around to the clearing side of that barrel and presented me with my first real opportunity for a shot. 

I drew my Matthews bow with the arrow tipped with a Montac G5 broadhead and waited for the right opportunity.  I knew not to shoot at a bear laying down with his front legs under him.  Those shoulders protect his vitals, and my broadhead was not likely to get through that tough plating.  I waited.  Within a few seconds, he reached his left leg and paw toward the barrel, opening him up for my shot, and I gently squeezed the release.  The arrow hit him slightly further back on his body than I wanted, but he was quartering away, and I was pretty sure I would have tapped both lungs.  

He was off in a flash, and into the heavy cover he had appeared from.  I was confident but a bit nervous about the shot.  My other bears had all expired within sight of my stand.  None of them went further than forty yards and I could see them the whole way.  This guy I couldn't see.  I heard some crashes as he ran off, but I didn't hear anything that sounded like a death groan, or thrashing.  I decided that I wasn't going into the brush after this boy until I was sure he was dead.

After an half an hour I climbed down out of the stand, exchanged the trail camera chip for a fresh one and headed back to camp.  I hadn't been in the stand for even an hour.

Back at camp, I showed Jay the pictures from the trail camera, which to my surprise, only showed pictures of the big bruin I shot, and not of the sow, and the video I had taken.  Jay heaped congratulations upon me by burning the stew, putting salt in my tea, and spilling the dish water down my boots.  He was clearly excited by my conquest of this bear in what he called "his" stand.  Some huntin' buddies wouldn't get that excited over their partners success, but Jay can get carried away by any successful hunt.

The next morning Jay and I headed out to the south beach to track my bear.  Not ten minutes into the search we heard Rick's plane fly over, and seeing our boat, he landed and joined our search for the bear.  I hadn't had to track my other bears, and typically blood is hard to find in the first few yards.  The undergrowth behind the barrel clearing was intense.  You couldn't see 10 feet beyond where you were.  There were a number of well worn trails that led back into the thickness and we concentrated our search along these trails.  After about 40 minutes, but only seventy yards from the barrel, Rick turned to me with a big grin, and said, "Nice Bear!"  There on the other side of a down log lay my bear. 

He has expired quietly behind a log in stuff that was so thick we almost had to cut trees down to get to him.  When I tried to pose for pictures, I had to lean over in a very awkward position to get both me and the bear in the same picture.  Come to think of it, any picture of me is a bit awkward, but this one is worse than most.

Jay too is a picky hunter, and although he did see other bears last fall, the only one he wanted to take spotted Jay before Jay spotted him, thereby protecting our reputation with Louie's Outpost as the least wanted bear hunting pair.

Louie's Outpost and Timber Wolf Air are located in Blind River Ontario.  We have hunted with them a number of times and found Louie, Nancy, Rick and Robin more than outfitters - friends.  We have never been disappointed by their friendship, or their professionalism.  If you would like to learn more about their bear hunting and fishing opportunities visit their website