Have you done a solo hunt for black bear, or with a partner or guide? If none of these, what would be your preference?
In this space I’ll share some of my experience and insights from all three models, preferences, positive lessons/advantages and any negatives.
Since there are unique conditions that characterize any individual’s life, no two hunter’s situation will be identical. Hence, my purpose in sharing will be to highlight certain principles related to safety, confidence and relationships.
As I’ve aforementioned on numerous occasions, my first eight bear hunts of thirty-five were with the same outfitter/guide in the vast semi-wilderness areas of NE Ontario, SE of Algonquin Park. Since that time, I began the baiting process on my own, closer to home, in the Haliburton Highlands on Crown Land. From time to time I’ve had different apprentice partners (no former experience in bear hunting) but a couple with some wilderness and/or hunting experience.
But those initial eight successive seasons with the same outfitter/guide in the same type of wilderness were like a degree course on bear habitat and culture. After that, I was very confident in continueing on my own in similar habitat. Instinctively, I knew what to look for in type of terrain, natural growth forest and bush, and water sources. In addition, I’d had some experience in deer hunting that area, only an hour’s drive NNE from my house.
Then, of course, the curriculum on black bears, their habits, habitat, characteristics, etc, has no end and continues till this day…
< At 8 o’clock one morning in early spring as I was lugging two buckets of bait – one in each hand – I cleared the brush and trees and came into an opening and looked up and ahead to the blind that was a relatively new piece of indoor-outdoor green carpeting. It was torn down with a good size black bear standing broadside on top of it. He fixed me with a stare that said “This is my turf, don’t mess with me!” I didn’t have a rifle in hand, so I dropped the buckets of bait, backed out to my van and waited awhile before returning with rifle in hand. The pic above was taken the next year in October with a dominant bruin still in the area and attempting to intimidate. The day of this pic I was alone and the bear snuck in behind my seat to within 3 yds. I stood to take this pic without knowing he was there. When I started to return to my seat (out of picture to right in thick bush) he took off like some sort of logging machinery, crashing through bush and young conifers like they weren’t there!
< A tight shooting lane from blind to bait barrel at exactly 100 yds downhill from the side of a ridge.
HUNTING SOLO – it’s ideal (for me)
Hunting styles may legitimately differ: some like still hunting, others prefer spot and stock, etc, but as I’ve already stated in a former piece in this series, those styles rarely work in thick bush, remote wilderness areas or rugged timber terrain – without a very unusual degree of luck! In deer or moose hunting those types of terrain, it’s possible to run into a bear or see one… but if you’re hunting bear in those conditions without bait… “Good Luck!”
So the baiting process is best! And if doing so alone, you need very careful planning for a food (bait) source, transportation of it from vehicle to site, etc. Believe me on this one… that alone is a LOT of work! Then, the finding, field dressing and retrieval of the carcus to your vehicle is ponderous as well.
The point I’m making is that a SOLO hunt for bear has obvious dangers associated! One needs to be physically fit and capable. That’s apart from the inherent danger of pursuing DG anyway – especially on your own!
Having said that, it’s still my preferred method.
Because one has to be self-reliant, independant and confident! It challenges your self-respect and fears! It also means one has to master knowledge of all that’s required for safety and success. It means you will not have someone else to lean on and tell you how to find your pickup in darkness…. and so on.
Before venturing alone we are FORCED to acknowledge the potential dangers, such as a bad fall, a knife cut, a sprained ankle, etc., so we then KNOW we must be well prepared in advance, and proceed with great caution under particular physical constraints, such as crossing a stream or climbing a steep, rough ridge.
It also means we need basic survival skills and equipment! I’ll not detail all of that here, but I think you understand what’s being emphasized!
At my present age, I’m less inclined to tackle BG hunts solo, but a “modified” version I’ll undertake come spring. As always, we inform others of where we will be, AND carry a WORKING cell phone.
But my nature is still loving SOLO hunting! But I’m never alone…. “My help comes from above, the Maker of heaven and earth” -so wrote the Shephard-King of Israel.
WITH A PARTNER(S) – it’s practical
Some partners are truly a blessing, others may become a burden.
Those who become “a burden” aren’t necessarily apprentices, but mostly those who think they know more than you do – but don’t! I find that type a “burden” because they like to talk but don’t listen! They’re often “undoing” what’s been “done”, claiming they’re improving a situation revealing a lack of respect for the leader. It’s a “one-upmanship” attitude that destroys healthy relationships.
But… thankfully, I’ve had few of those, and most have been genuinely “a partner” who listens and helps not only with physical tasks but shares valuable knowledge and insights. Such partners are invaluable!
< The same two amigos were a great help in my 2015 fall hunt – Brian (a sheep farmer and hunter – in red T-shirt above; and Ken, a long-time partner (in camo) and a retired CO.
1> Decide who is the senior partner of a duo of trio. That may be obvious or not. Usually one will emerge as the leader of the pack. Though quite often with a friend it’s shared work and responsibilities, with one tending to some matters and the other to different matters. That’s when the two get along well and have been friends for a number of years.
2> Otherwise, if it’s your hunt and you’d prefer to have a helper-partner, then the rules change. You’re in charge and must carry the heavy end of the load.
3> Have a clear understanding as to what may be required of your partner, and he/she needs to be made aware of what you will assume as your responsibilities.
4> Also, depending on whether you will be hunting over the same bait, or separate locations, there should be a verbal or non-verbal understanding as to who has any priorities.
WITH AN OUTFITTER
As stated, I learned “bear hunting over bait” from a master. He was a woodsman who worked as a scaler for a large lumber company, and during summer months he became a sport fishing guide for a lot of American sportsmen. Some wanted to see black bears so he took them to a local dump where they saw some that went over 500 lbs! They asked about shooting them! So a year later he got a guide’s license and started a side business to his work at the lumber mill. And he also was a deer and moose hunter who knew the area well SE of Algonquin Park because that’s where he lived. When I first met him he’d already been written up in some American sports magazines by some of their staff writers. But I didn’t know any of that… I only had heard of him through a young man at a local gunsmith’s shop while there on business. That young man was so enthusiastic about his experience with “The Bear Man” in NE Ontario, I asked for the telephone number of this outfitter, and the following spring I had my first attempt to “catch a bear”. That led to seven more with a few bears in between. Then… on my own since 1997.
My first bear was with an outfitter named “Norm, the Bear Man”. And the rug.
As related here and in several prior blogs, eight seasons with Norm as outfitter and guide (he had two additional guides), and never in the same location – each was distinct and different – and inviting me along to check baits and service my own (he had 85 bait locations in a 3000 sq-mile area), was like earning a university degree in bear habitat and culture. Then, I also had the privilege of sitting at breakfast with several American hunters who, on the most part, had hunted with Norm previously (for several of them every year) and had stories to share.
One American hunter, who had previously hunted that area with Norm, presented a video of his chosen morning hunt that evening after supper in the lodge where we were staying. I didn’t see the video but was told about it the following morning at breakfast. This American hunter was a pro videographer who published some of his material. Anyway, during his early morning hunt, a cow moose passed under his tree stand, stopped and gave birth to her calf! She got it up and going in a hurry because she was being followed by a black bear – the hunter got it all on his camera, plus the bear that he ended up shooting!
So there are many things to learn from an outfitter-guide, in that kind of environment that’s all inclusive in the cost!
Plus – of course the benefits of many hands helping with chores. I was involved not only in the baiting process, but also in the finding and retrieving of a big black bear in pitch darkness that the hunter wouldn’t search for after he’d shot it – and rightfully so! And I “barked orders” to the other voluteers (about six of us) to “bring A rifle” (NOT “rifles”!) with a commanding tone as none had thought of it, probably because of the law which says: “All rifles must be encased at sundown”! But you don’t go looking for a wounded or even a dead black bear without a light AND a firearm! And we don’t need or even want a “crowd” searching for a wounded or dead black bear in blackness! The bear was found dead under low lying branches of a fir tree, but safety mandates that no more than three are doing the search: One aims the light beam, another holds a firearm and the third is there as a helper/guide.
So whatever our choice in hunting a black bear – solo, with a partner or outfitter, we should only do so with some awareness of the potential positives and negatives of our choice, based on thorough research and recommendations of others with adequate experience.
Hoping this has been of some benifit to inquiring minds…
Till the next…