Having experienced every possible physical hunting condition offered in Northern, Central and Southern Ontario over a total period of four decades, I think I’m safe in saying those conditions would represent a majority of conditions in Canada with the exception of the open plains of the Prairie Provinces, the Rocky Mountains and the frozen Far North of the Territories. In other words, that would be typical of most hunters experiences from Central Canada to the Maritime Provinces and The New England States south of the border. And in that vast arena black bears are plentiful and increasing in number. But most of the printed media focuses on the Western States and Provinces, including the south west, central and North West. Be that as it may, we have over 100,000 resident Ontario hunters that annually chase any land mammal on license as well as various bird populations. I say “over 100,000 resident hunters” as that number is representative of moose hunters alone. And black bears are increasingly popular among resident hunters as targets of opportunity while pursuing deer or moose, or as a preferred target. Wherever I’d choose to put in a bear bait, with permission on private land or in season on Crown Land, I’m virtually assured of it being “hit” within a few days. Of course, when I say “wherever I’d choose to put in a bear bait” is NOT intended as random choosing, but rather with knowledge and experience of hunting them over baits for three decades.
As hinted at in P1, I’ve learned a lot through those experiences, including some drama that has caused me to weigh carefully what firearms and cartridges to employ. As pointed out in P1, handguns are not permitted and bows/crossbows are not practical for scouting alone or coming to baits to check them out. So that leaves me with either a rifle or shotgun. In either, I want a bit more than adequate “power” for the eventual bear charge, surprise event or a known circumstance that will expose me to a potential threat. Some of that has been suggested in P1 but this time more details will be presented.
A few years ago I did a series of blogs on “Are Black Bears Dangerous”, and shared a few instances. This time around I want to go a bit more into details and depth of insight from a few of those experiences.
Have I ever been charged by a bear? No. Have I ever been followed by a bear? Yes. Have I ever been exposed to dangerous situations? Yes.
So lets begin:
The bull moose and the .45-70 showdown – Situation No.1: In P1, I mentioned having been exposed to a confrontation with a creature that may have been more dangerous than a bear, while at the same time a known aggressive bear was hitting my bait!
That was when I was still hunting with Norm Easto as my outfitter near the northeast corner of Algonquin Park in the northeast of our province not far from the Quebec border. That’s very rugged country with sparse human population. The Madawaska Highlands are a few minutes to the east, and east of that is the Ottawa River that separates Ontario and Quebec. On the Quebec side are mountains that come up from New York state – the Adirandacks (In Quebec, the Laurentians).
The location assigned to me and my close friend, Bob Allen (not the one of fame), was barely outside the northeast border of Algonquin Park that sticks like a finger south into the Madawaska region. East of that, within a 1/2 hr drive, was the Algonquin Lodge where we and a number of American hunters were housed.
< My friend, Bob, is on the far right and I stand next to him with the orange hat. This was a later bear hunt with Norm in which my son Brent (on far left) and a younger friend were all after an Algonquin bear!
This particular site contained a one-mile long marsh that bordered the Park on its south side. At each end of the marsh/bog was a bear bait setup, and an aggressive boar had claimed both as his property. When a dominant boar bruin claims an area as his own it’s persona non grata for any other creature, including humans — unless they have big sticks that spout fire! I’ve been around a few of those! Anyway, one of Norm’s guides had a confrontation with one at the north end bait that he was checking. My friend, Bob was assigned to that bait, and I was assigned to a new bait at the south end, one mile away — as mentioned, that bear was hitting both on alternate days. Norm dropped both of us off at the north end where Bob Allen was to be on watch with his .300 Win Mag (Bob was older than I by about six years – a retired school principle). I had my trusty 1895 Marlin Classic along (the same one that I’d shot my first bear with a couple of years earlier), but with a better custom 400gr at increased velocity than the 400gr Speer I’d used on my first bear. But the old logging road ended at the north end of the marsh where Mr. Allen was keeping watch. To make it to the south end of the marsh, I had a one-mile trek over rough gravel that was a new extension to the old logging road. It was “rough walking”. I was told that eventually the new-rough trail would take a sharp turn to the right where it would end at the Park border. About 50 yards around that corner was a large spruce deadfall on the left side that would serve as my blind. It had an old rickety kitchen chair as my seat! Diagonally across the trail, at about 65 yards, was the bear bait. A line of softwood timber separated it from the south end of the marsh. The bear was expected to show up — if it did — on that side somewhere near the bait, so my shot would be under 100 yards. So I settled in behind the fallen spruce that still had branches with needles, and about 18 – 20 inches thick at that point, and about 15 feet from the trunk that still had the roots where it had made a shallow cavity just inside the tree line when felled by strong winds. Passing by the root-end of the tree was a traditional moose trail littered by dried-out moose scat… it passed behind me within five feet. I noted that with a little concern — It wasn’t moose season and I didn’t want to deal with a moose out of season (it was the month of May) when on a bear hunt.
Well, it turned out that matters didn’t depend on what I wanted or didn’t!
I arrived at the site around 4 pm, and nothing was stirring “not even a mouse”. But that’s the norm in waiting for a bear to make up its mind on what it wants to do! So I wasn’t taken aback by that! You put in your time in fighting black flies (in a spring hunt) with headnet and repellent. You look through your scope a million times… You break out a chocolate bar, etc. You take some pics. And then, out of nowhere a very black back of a big animal is moving in my direction among the trees! A bear? No, it would have to be a very tall one! A moose, silently moving toward me out of The Park, down to my left and disappears. Through the forest of trees on my left, the deciduous ones among the spruce and fir have not yet produced full foliage so I can discern a lake. Ah-ha, he’s headed that-a-way! But I must be vigilant because of the moose trail beside me! And it’s 6 o’clock PM – time for serious bear watching! I hope the moose doesn’t spook the bear — of is that the other way ’round? A confrontation between the two would likely be more than interesting! An almost silent “tic”… the moose is below me to my left.. then total silence again. Ten minutes pass, or was it that long? I’ve settled on watching the bear bait at 65 yards. But then I have a spooky feeling! I hear nothing, see nothing and smell nothing, but yet there’s this sense of being watched! If you’ve hunted long enough you understand.
I turn in my chair, and there 20 yards behind me is this monster of a bull moose with huge antlers (in May), head lowered trying to figure out what this animal is in his path behind the fallen spruce! It’s bear time, not moose time! Yet, amazingly, I’m neither overly concerned nor afraid… just a quiet assurance as the rifle between my hands is this Marlin loaded with custom 400s at about 2000 fps. I stand to my feet, turn toward the bull, raise the rifle with both hands over my head and firmly shout at the moose, “GET OUT OF HERE!” The bull freezes, raises its head, swings like a huge Clydesdale, and trots away from me to the ridge seventy-five yards distant. Half-way up he stops and turns, looking at me — what a magnificent beast! He was a larger one than the one in the pic at the top that went 1000 lbs or better. I point my rifle at him… he snorts and takes off, up over the ridge, crashing through trees like a bulldozer in the process and disappears. How could a large bull moose have been so silent in sneaking in on me just moments before and now sounds like a big logging machine at work? By then, of course, my person and location had been compromised to any bear nearby, so I knew the hunt was over but stayed till darkness settled in – just in case!
I had yet to make that 1-mile trek in pitch darkness to where my friend would be waiting to be picked up by Norm. Neither of us had fired a shot, so I assumed the bear had been spooked by all the commotion. But walking out that 1-mile, my Marlin was at-the-ready fully loaded, with a flashlight in the other hand.
Question: Would I have been as confident with a .308 Winchester as my companion in that encounter? I’ve considered all that and came to a firmer conviction than ever that a meaningful Big Bore is the best choice when the unexpected happens! What if that bull had charged when I stood with the rifle? At 20 yards I know that load in that rifle would have been devastation – for the moose! And I was confident and mean in disposition through it all!
And what if that aggressive bear had shown up in the midst? The moose? Well over a thousand pounds! The bear? Probably over 400 lbs.
< This is a rug from a 400 lb black bear shot by my friend and hunting buddy, Ken. I helped dress it out and in skinning it.
Then, if it were today in the same place and circumstance? One of my BG rifles is a 9.3 x 62 Mauser bolt action repeater. How many shots could I get off at a 20 yard charging moose or bear? NO MORE THAN ONE, a SINGLE SHOT! At 30 mph it would have taken either of those potentially dangerous creatures 1.36 seconds to hit me! A single shot from my 9.3 might slow or turn them, but should I count on that? I can tell you this with utmost assurance, it would be my Ruger No.1 “Tropical” in .458 Winchester Magnum! Two of my current favorite bullet loads are a 300gr TSX at 2760 or 2950 fps, or a 480 DGX at 2100 or 2350 fps. Likely the latter. At either MV that DGX would go through a big bull moose from stem to stern – or visa versa! And then exit! A .308 Winchester? Forget that! And that’s why I have! And I know from experience the 9.3 x 62 Mauser, as much as I like it, is NOT a stopper unless the CNS is hit! It will kill, but it won’t stop an aggressive bear that’s charging frontally unless hit in the head! And the way I load it, it’s the equal of a .375 H&H!
A few days ago, I read a piece by a former outfitter/author that in all his years of guiding and hunting he’d never seen any animal dropped in their tracks unless it was a CNS hit! I guess he’d never used, or seen used, a .45-70 or .458 Win! I’ve dropped bears where they stood without a CNS hit from .458-cal bullets! Of course, they weren’t wimpy loads! From my Marlins some loads were making 4000 ft-lbs at the muzzle from 400s – 405s. And the .458? Well, there’s 6000 ft-lbs on tap if you want from several weights including the 350 TSX! But if that’s too rich for your appetite, then drop down to 3500 ft-lbs from a 400gr. I’d have no qualms facing off with that moose on a frontal hit from such a load… Hey, I did that! The bear? He’d have no recollection of ever harassing Norm’s guide! A 400gr or larger .458-cal bullet of the right construction will hit like a 10 lb mall – not only like a “big hammer.
< External appearances don’t tell the whole story. On the left of the 450gr TSX’s, in the middle of the pic are two .458 Win Mag cartridges loaded with the 480gr DGX with their flat tips. They have thick steel jackets which are copper clad, and hard lead cores. These were not bonded, though later Hornady did bond them, which I doubt they would need for any soft-skinned large animal. As mentioned: One fired into my test-media system went completely through and was lost. A 500gr Speer GS (second from left; on the far left is a 500gr Hornady Interloc) was stopped by the same media after only 6.5″ of penetration and lost it’s front core at 62% weight retention. Those were fired from my former Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT at near identical MVs.
In this pic, the 500gr Speer GS was making about 2300 fps from my .458 in the Ruger No.1, and the 480gr DGX about 2350 fps. Note the cannelure for the 480 is closer to the tip than the 500s. That’s because the 480s were made by Hornady for the 450 NE. That’s a moot point, however, for my Ruger as I can seat any bullet longer than so-called “specs”. And so it’s the same for most bolt action .458s as well, depending on the length of their actions – and more specifically due to the long throat of all .458 Winchester Magnums.
” Our help is from the LORD, who made the heavens and the earth” – Psalm 124, vs 8