First Bear by Jay Ledbetter

August 25th 2007, Rick Horwath, of Louie's Outpost and Timber Wolf Air, flew Bob and I in his DeHavilland "Beaver" into a remote lake in Central Ontario, where he maintained some cabins and a couple of small boats. After landing and lugging our gear up to the cabin, Rick took us up the river in a small boat and showed us where the bear baits were, and how to get to the tree stands, which had been emplaced for our convenience. Soon Rick fired-up the DeHavillland's big radial engine, and the plane disappeared over the horizon. Bob and I were alone in the far reaches of Ontario.



Bob and I have hunted together for years, and he'd talked me into going with him to Canada this year on a black bear hunt. He knew Rick, and promised I'd have a great time. Bob had heard me talking every year about going bear hunting some day, and I guess he had grown tired of the talk... he was ready for some action. Well, we would soon have some of that.

Bob wanted to show me a great time, and so far it was working. I had my new Dren all ready to go. The sights were set, the arrows and bow tuned, and a few shots into the block target behind the cabin confirmed my setup had not changed. I slept like a baby that night after a quick dinner of canned stew eaten with the calls of wolves and loons over the shining water.

The daily routine was the same. We would check the baits early in the day, refresh them if needed, switch-out the chip in the trail camera I had placed at the site I wished to hunt, and fish for Pike during the middle of the day. After catching our dinner, we viewed the trail cam pictures, changed clothes, and went to our respective stands. We would be all strapped-in with our safety gear "up a tree" overlooking the bear baits by 4:00 each afternoon. Bob always insisted that I take the best stand. He's like that.

On the second day, while on the stand, I saw a cub come in. The cub pushed around on the fifty-five gallon drum which dispensed the bait, but couldn't move it much. He was so cute. I just wanted to get down and pick up the little guy and give his little head a good rub and tell him just how cute he was. Well, I wanted to do that for maybe a thousandth of a second. Cute cubs normally have a protective momma bear around the corner. So I just picked up my video camera and did some filming. Soon the mother bear came into the clearing, and stood up on her back legs, looking in my direction and sniffing the wind. I noted the level of the branch on the nearby tree which was at the same level as her head. I would later get down and stand under that branch. It was about six to seven feet high. I filmed her, not wishing to shoot a sow with her cub. But she surely was nice. The trail camera caught her standing, sniffing the wind to find me.

The third day, I was on the stand again, and another large bear came in. This bear was larger than the sow the day before. Last night at dinner, I was told that the big sow wasn't "all that big", and was given a few hints about how to judge a really big bear. So, I started analyzing this new bear. It was bigger than the big sow, but still didn't have some of the signs I was told to look for. I took more video, and passed this one up as well. Again, the video camera took a very nice photo of this bear.

When I got back to camp last night, Bob looked at the video and then began slapping me on the back of the head. "What were you thinking?" he demanded. I began to explain how this bear wasn't truly big, but my mouth wouldn't work right with my head being batted about like that. Bob then explained to me the essentials of judging bear. He calmly explained how to size-up a bear. If a bear is big enough to look over the top of the drum with the chin higher than the drum's edge, its plenty big enough to shoot. It's a larger than average bear.

He would have explained many more of the finer points of bear hunting, but his hand was getting sore, and it was time for bed.

The forth day,  I was in the stand again, twenty feet above the ground, bait barrel ahead of me. My bow was hanging with an arrow already nocked on the hook to my right, next to the video camera, on green equipment hooks I had emplaced into conveniently placed limbs earlier in the week, when I still had single vision.

I winced as I pulled my face veil down over my head and into place. The back of my head was still quite sensitive and a little puffy from all the hunting lessons last night. I secured my hunter safety harness around the tree, and then around myself. A fall from this height, especially with a possible head fracture, could be fatal.

I looked at my watch. It was about six. I glanced back at the thicket which surrounded the little clearing where the barrel was lying, beckoning bear with its delectable smells. I saw a small movement, and then leaned forward to get a better view.

Through a tiny hole in the underbrush I could just see the outline of a black ear, about thirty yards away. The ear moved now, as a large bear's head carried it to the left and then to the right again. I took a deep breath, leaned back, and reached for the bow. I lifted the bow carefully and quietly off the hook. No video camera this time.

About thirty seconds passed while the old bear surveyed the area, making sure it was safe to come in. My bow now rested across my lap, my left hand upon the grip, and my right index finger nervously fiddling with the trigger on the Tru-Ball release strapped to my right wrist.

The old bear quietly stepped into the clearing and walked to the barrel. She sniffed the barrel, and began to lick the top of the barrel, savoring the used cooking oil that I had put on the barrel just before climbing the tree. A closer look at her showed me that she measured up nicely to the exacting standards that Bob had impressed upon me last night. Carefully and quietly, I raised the bow to vertical, and stood.

I leaned forward, putting tension on the hunter safety strap. Slowly and quietly I put my feet in the proper position. The bear pushed the barrel with an easy slap of a large paw. I drew the bow. The bear turned, presenting a very poor quartering-toward shot. I debated in my mind as to whether to let down or just hold it. I opted to just hold it. I didn't want to take any more chances. The bow is adjusted to 65 lbs, and with 80 percent let-off, I can hold it a little longer.

The bear then pushed the barrel with another easy shove, and turned to present me with a nice broadside. I got my anchor solid again and the top pin instinctively found its place just behind the right shoulder. I began to squeeze the trigger.

The string released smoothly, and before I knew it the arrow was away. I watched in slow motion as the arrow spun its way toward the bear. The bright fletchings quickly disappeared into the bear's side. Then she exploded in a flurry of energy that made me blink in amazement. She was out of the clearing in a second, and I heard crashing through the thick brush for a hundred yards as she went back up the hill.

After getting some tracking helpers from the hunting lodge, we recovered the bear. After tying her paws together front to front and back to back, we cut a small pine tree and slipped it between the knots to carry her out. For the next hour and a half, four of us strained to put that pole on our shoulders and struggle through the underbrush to get her to the river. We loaded the bear onto a boat, and took her up the river to where the plane could land.

I have learned a lot about bear hunting on this my first attempt. I learned to focus on scent control. I learned to bait the barrels. I learned to climb the trees to the stands in a safe manner. I learned to shoot further forward than you would first think is proper. And I learned how to sleep on my stomach, with my face in the pillows. All in all, it was a great hunt.

The Dren has drawn first blood. She did her job, and I did mine. I hope to have a partnership with her for many years to come. Next summer I will have a nice bear skin for a bed spread.

Bob? No, he didn't take a bear this year. He saw bear alright, but none presented him a shot. He could have shot one if he'd traded stands with me as I'd asked him. He always insisted I sit in the best stand. I got the bear. He's like that.



H.J. Ledbetter is the owner of Buffalo Mountain Ranch in Texas which features Trophy Whitetail and Bison hunts.  For more information go to Buffalo Mountain Ranch.  For information about Louie's Outpost and Timber Wolf Air visit their website Louie's Outpost