Article courtesy of South Pacific Bowhunter Magazine. Please click on the South Pacific Bowhunter Magazine link to view the website.
Author: Barry Seabrook, Gunsmoke Adventures
For quite a while I have been taking on different challenges whilst hunting abroad and I really enjoy the research and planning that new hunt destinations require. With my booking agency business, Gunsmoke Adventures, I have to ensure that the destinations I am sending hunters to are as good as I can possibly find. I had decided it was time to pursue bruins and I finally settled on a tree stand hunt over bait in Alberta during the 2012 Spring bear season.
The bears hunted over the Spring are a little lower in weight from fasting during winter hibernation compared to the fat and heavier Fall bears, but generally the trophy quality is superior if you want a nice rug or good hair for a full body mount. The bears emerge from their dens with long dense winter fur and the hides are in top condition.
A bear rug or mount certainly looks impressive in the trophy room and consideration of what you want to do with a trophy will help you decide the season that you hunt them. One factor to keep in mind as Spring progresses and Summer approaches is the tendency for bears to rub on trees and appropriate limbs. This will increases the likelihood of bald patches and hair loss in certain spots on the Bears body, but the severity of each rub patch will vary between bears and not all bears will have the urge to itch.
I had scheduled my hunt in early June during the last couple of weeks of Spring. Bears at this time are well and truly out of hibernation and are very active. They are hungry for food to increase their dietary intake to begin building up fat reserves again and this period also signals the start of the courtship where boars will actively seek out sows for mating purposes. This often makes the larger male bears more visual to the patient hunter as they tread trails and amble around throughout the day. To coincide with my hunting out of tree stands I decided to wear the High Definition ContraCAM Fade camouflage from Lamellar as I thought this pattern would give me best effect at breaking up my outline.
The outfitter had been working hard to ensure a successful hunt and pre-baiting feeding stations for several weeks prior to my arrival. Baiting of bears might seem perhaps a little unfair, but in the dense hardwoods and tall timber of the region we were hunting it is one of the better methods of locating bears on a reliable basis. My Canadian guide indicated that the number of bears hitting the baits each night was significant and with several big boars in residence we were hopefully going to get a few encounters. The other advantage of bait hunting bears is you typically get a fair amount of time to size up an animal on the feed. Rather then a quick encounter in a logging coup or a traveling bear walking across a clearing, bears coming into bait can be judged for sex and size efficiently and you normally get a decent chance to look over the animals hide.
The sun is up until 11pm of an evening this time of year so we planned to arrive early afternoon to re-bait the sites and get into position. Dry dog food, fish scraps, tallow, blueberry pie filling, and solid blocks of licorice were all on the smorgasbord bear menu. After checking the previous night’s activity and laying the new baits, I selected a site that looked likely to be productive and a couple of portable tree stands were set up in a strategic position.
Before climbing into the stand I stepped out the distance to the bait and noted the likely shot scenario as 18-20m from where I would be launching my arrow. Bears do look large in pictures and first hand in the forest, but when you remove the hide, you can see that the kill zone of the engine room of a black bear is actually quite small. It also pays to be mindful you don’t aim too low on the chest cavity as the hair can fall a bit lower then where the brisket finishes giving you the impression the bottom of the rib cage is actually lower then what it is.
Within half an hour a bear showed up and started to take his fill of dog biscuits that we had scattered around the bait site. Unaware of our presence he greedily fed for the next 20 minutes as we watched on. He sported a nice glossy hide without any rubs but judged at around five foot he was of no interest to take a shot at and he moved off in his own time.
The outfitter encourages the taking of older mature bears and if possible these middle-aged bears are best to be left for a few more years to reach full potential with body mass and skull size. It is sound management principles and my outfitter places an emphasis on ensuring there are plenty of bears to hunt in the future.
The afternoon wore on and was fairly uneventful over the next three hours until early evening when suddenly a larger bear came loping in from an acute angle and to our right. This bear was on the edge of the track but had been out of sight for most of his approach. As he galloped in it was noted that he was carrying badly injured left front leg. Skidding to a complete stop 50 meters short of where we were sitting, the bear lifted his nose into the wind and briefly sniffed the air in front of him before turning and bolting at lightning speed into the bush. Definitely a good sized bear but as they say “the big ones don’t get big from being silly” and suspecting that something was not quite right he had wasted no time in getting out of open view. Most likely he had either seen movement or picked up our scent on the shifting evening breeze. Before he moved off we did notice he glanced at us sitting up in the tree, but my Lamellar camouflage worked very well as he soon shifted his gaze and attention relying on the thermals for detection of our presence.
A short time later another bear sauntered in and without hesitation started to feed and pull branches out of our structured bait site. This bear was also of average size and did not gain any real interest from me as potential shooter. His appearance however was enough to raise the confidence of the big guy with the limp and we began to notice him circling around in the shadows of the surrounding bush. It is quite spooky how bears can move up on you so silently and without being noticed. It was with some surprise that I noticed his muzzle sticking out from a shrub directly in front of the bait and sniffing cautiously. Eventually he could not help himself any longer and stepped out growling and offering a challenge to the younger bear who was feeding there.
In those first few minutes there were a number of opportunities to take a clear broadside shot with the bow but I had not yet been able to identify the trophy quality of this limping animal. Glassing carefully I was able to determine that he was a very good sized boar and I was also unable to find any rubs in his fur. I considered carefully the injury he was carrying and if it might affect the quality of the pelt. The injury appeared to be one that had healed on the outside and that this ageing bear would make a fine trophy to harvest.
The initial confidence of the big guy had quickly disappeared once he had pushed the other bear away from his food source. He was now once again suspicious of the situation he found himself in and I was forced to wait patiently for a clean shot opportunity. That big old bear didn’t move far from the tree line and continued to stand front on to where I was stationed. With his ears pricked up, each small noise or movement sent him hurrying back into the safety of the bush. I drew back the string twice over the next half hour loading up the bow only to let off again as he failed to present a good angle to me. The pressure was building as the bear showed signs of increasing nervousness. He lifted his head looking in our direction once again and turned for the gap in the trees having eaten his fill. It looked as though this might be his final exit and I loaded up my little compact 70lb bow. My patience was rewarded as the bruin paused just momentarily and looked back in my direction over his shoulder. His vitals were exposed and I sent the 100gr razor sharp broad head on its way just as he was lifting his foot to make off for good. A resounding thump followed and with a bellow the bear launched forward into the scrub and out of view.
In the seconds that followed we listened as his death cry broke the silence of the wilderness and confirmed that he was quickly expiring and that my shot had been good. The undergrowth was thick and mossy but we didn’t have to go looking far to find the brute just 30 meters further along the game trail. A fatal heart lung shot had given me the cleanest kill I could have hoped for.
A healed scar showed that his bad limp was caused from an ailing injury from the previous year and his worn teeth identified him as quite an old bear. At 6 ½ foot, with a 19 inch skull and a thick glossy black hide this was a truly great old bear to harvest as a trophy animal.
This was the first of two fantastic Alberta black bears I took with my bow on a 6 day trip. The quality and number of bears seen was amazing as was the opportunity to take wolf and coyote coming to the predator calls. For information on these very affordable and exciting bow hunting adventures check out the Gunsmoke Adventures website www.gunsmokeadventures.com.au or contact Barry on 0438 860510.