I’ts already April, and May 1st is opening day for black bear hunting in Ontario. Being ready involves getting some plans together in relatively short order!
Types of hunts available on Crown Land:
- Still hunting
- Sitting in or behind a temporary blind
- A tree stand
And I’ve never done a “hound hunt”, so that will not be entertained at this stage.
< Wild bear country and I will meet again! It will see me with the Traditions G3 in .35 Whelen or the .375 H&H, depending on the day.
I expect to be doing some of each. The main goal is the hunt, NOT shooting a “trophy boar bear”. Having done that in past years, I now take more pleasure in the hunt than in shooting something. Older and more experienced hunters understand that sentiment. That’s not to say I’ll pass on a shootable bear, but consideration must be given to its size and circumstances. First of all, I’ll be alone and will not shoot a bear that weighs over about 250 lbs because of logistics on several fronts – unless it’s a monster bear that’s intent on having me for lunch! Then neither a bear that weighs less than about 130 lbs, again for practical reasons, some of which has to do with personal goals. Also, females are off limits if it’s a mother. However, a dry sow spring bear is fair game. I’ve only shot one in 40 years, and she went about 165 lbs.
A RIFLE hunt: And that’s all I’ve ever done, although sometimes a 12ga has been in my vehicle for backup, and while toting in bait, or followup of any wounded bears – always loaded with Challenger Magnum DGS slugs (492 grs of hard lead at 1550 fps. from the 18.5″ pump action Savage 320 Security with pistol grip, gost ring sights and five in the tube. OL = 39 inches at 7 lbs).
This time I’m planning to involve all four of my BG rifles, appropriately loaded. Since the 9.3 x 62 has seen a lot of action in bear hunts, it will be used less than the others. And I’ve killed bears with both a .35 Whelen and .458 Win Mag, so no surprises there, but my current Whelen and .458 have yet to be bloodied so they will get their turns. That leaves the .375 H&H for which I need to decide on a load, get it sighted-in (the others are already sighted with a chosen load), and put in some practice that should happen over the next 2 to 3 weeks.
A load for the .375 H&H will be selected based on the accuracy of either the 235gr TSX or 250gr Sierra. Both should be making over 2800 fps.
The .458 Win Mag load in my RUGER NO.1H is already sighted from last year’s very brief bear hunt: the 250gr Hornady MonoFlex at ~2680 fps. That’s a monolithic bullet with a poly tip. It’s crazy tough yet expands down to an impact velocity of ~1400 fps with +90% weight retention!
The Tikka T3 in 9.3 x 62 will use a traditional load (for my rifle) of the 286gr Partition at a little less than 2600 fps (2588 fps). I’ve downloaded it by a couple of grains of RL-17 from it’s former max load of 70 grs at ~2640 fps. Both of those loads will shoot MOA or less. I’ve killed one 6′ bear with the 70gr load (and two others using different loads for each). So this rifle will see less use in this spring hunt than the others – at least, that’s the plan. It will be used mostly in scouting and walking due to it’s light weight.
The .35 Whelen: This also saw limited action last year because it took a while to develop the load I wanted and get it sighted-in. That latter point was complicated because I had to change scopes twice. Not wanting to purchase a new scope for the Traditions OUTFITTER G3 single-shot, I first opted to install a World Class Tasco 3 – 9 x 40 that I had on hand for a number of years. That didn’t work out very well so I purchased a new 2 – 7 x 32 Vortex, installed it, sighted it with my 225gr AB load, went to my bear bait setup, aimed it and the reticle looked almost like this X, it had turned about 45* clockwise! Back to the store! After a 15 minute heated argument with the shop manager, I finally convinced him that I was involved in a “very important” bear hunt and needed a new scope and couldn’t wait on Vortex to replace the bad one! I said I’d buy a new (more expensive) one IF he would give me full credit for the bad one! So, finally, I came away with a 3 – 9 x 40 Diamondback that, so far, has worked as it should! The hunting load is the 225gr AB at ~2850 fps that shoots into MOA over 69 grs of CFE 223, ignited by WLRM primers in Rem brass. COL is 3.45″.
< On the hunt May, 2022… Oh, that red box? It had lots of smelly stuff for bears, including molasses on top. And that’s the .35 Whelen making over 4000 ft-lbs KE at the muzzle!
I’m expecting that this rifle and the .375 H&H will see most action during the spring hunt. And if no bear is taken then the license will still be good for a fall hunt that is twice as long in duration – without those nasty black flies and deer tics!
While I’ve previously owned an M70 Winchester (24″) in .375 H&H that went on both bear and moose hunts, no shots were fired on either species. That was many moons ago! That rifle was traded for another .375 H&H in a Browning A-Bolt, SS in a left-hand action (As explained many times over the years, I’m compelled to shoot from my left side due to a childhood accident to my right eye causing blindness in that eye.) That didn’t work out well because, while I loved the rifle in SS and the LH action, it was a very inaccurate rifle from most handloads due to the bore being off-center by .008″. That problem was resolved in returning it to the dealer, and for $100 I got a new Browning A-Bolt, identical to the .375 H&H, in .338 Win Mag that was turned into a .340 Wby by a rechamber job and adding a .375 H&H clip to the floorplate that replaced the .338 Win Mag clip. That became a great long-range moose gun for the Far North of our province.
On my first moose hunt using my first .338 Win Mag in the Sako FS, that preceded ownership of the .375s mentioned above, it took place in what was unofficially called “The Near North”, south of North Bay and on the Northwestern side of Algonquin Park, about a four hours drive NW of home in the Kawarthas’. My backup was an 1895 Marlin in .45-70 because ranges were rugged and short. “Close” only counts in horseshoes, but I came as close to shooting a moose calf on that hunt as my rifle was away from me while taking a “dump” in thick woods on the side of a ridge. All sign said there was a bull, cow and calf on the ridge we (four of us) were hunting. The bull and cow were consoring near the top of the ridge in thick bush during the night. Before daylight they parted with the cow and calf going down into the thick tree-filled swampy area below. The bull went “wherever”. I had a bull tag and there was another provided by the “outfitter-camp owner” – whom we only saw at camp – if we needed it! But the cow was frantic over our presence on “her” turf! She was galloping hither and yon with the calf (which went about 400 – 500 lbs). So, with my pants down around my ankles, and the .45-70 stashed against a sturdy fir tree eight feet away, at around 7 a.m. she decided to crash down from the ridge, through thick brush within seven or eight yards of me… but I couldn’t see her because of the thick bush… no matter, we had no license for a cow anyway! I carried on. But, in less than a half-minute the calf was doing a dance and song just above me trying to get past while my rifle was eight feet away! Quick decision time! With no one watching but God, I pulled my trousers up partway, rushed for my Marlin and the “calf” took off out of sight in the direction of my son, who also was out of sight somewhere around 75 to 150 yds to my right and downhill! While reaching for my rifle I’m yelling: “THE CALF IS COMING YOUR WAY”! He later said, “I heard it crash past me but never saw it!”
So I began my moose-hunting career with two powerful rifles that were relatively short and handy, but never got to pull the trigger on moose.
My Sako FS in .338 Win Mag was similar to this one above
The day following the above hilarious and frustrating incident, my son and I started the day with our two companions before daybreak on the same ridge. Walking through thick woods, after leaving our two vehicles by the side of the dirt road, we heard a loud splash in the unseen pond to our left (a beaver sounding an alarm!) that got our undivided attention, as the preceding day’s events had already heightened our collective nervous systems. You see, not only did I have a chance on the calf, but friend Dave had a close encounter with the same cow later in the day as it came charging in his direction as he was stuck in an island of alders down in the swamp – and he couldn’t shoot a cow even if he could have!
So, I had a plan for day 3… The other two guys would stay, one near the top of the ridge and the other down the other side in a tree stand that looked across an expanse of tundra for 400 yards before terminating in another heavy-wooded ridge. My son, Phil, and I would work the opposite side of “our” ridge and swamp where a lot of the action seemed to be taking place. (Incidentally, another group of hunters shot a bull on that “other ridge” across that 400 yd tundra near the end of the hunt. I had sat in that tree stand the first day of our hunt.) Early morning, on the day following my escapade with nature interfering with my hunt, I asked Phil to do a circle up over the ridge where I saw the calf and where momma moose had bowled-over brush and minature softwood trees to make a fast escape – or was it to intimidate? – and I would sit on a knoll at the bottom of the ridge and at one side of the swamp. He did the reconnaissance out of sight for about an hour, and then appeared on the far side of the swamp emerging from the trees. He joined up with me and couched down in front, with me on my hunting seat, as we discussed our next steps in wispers.
Suddenly, quickly, all in a rush we heard loud noises coming in our direction that sounded like a stampede! (Not that we’d ever heard a real stampede!) First the cow errupted out of the bush and trees in full gallop, stretched out like a race horse, coming directly at us from no more than 30 yards! And the calf on her tail! When she saw us, on went the binders as mud and brush fled before her… the calf bounced off her rear… then an abrupt 180 degrees turn and away she went with calf in tow! “SHOOT THE CALF! SHOOT THE CALF!” I yelled at Phil who was still crouched down in front of me! He stood and let fly two rounds from his .338 Win Mag in a 700 Mountain Rifle. “WAIT UNTIL THEY’VE SEPARATED”, I yelled just before he’d fired… they’d disappeared into the bush beyond… Then the search began that lasted another couple hours. No blood, other than the trickle down Phil’s nose! His load, btw, was 225gr Hornadys at ~2750 – 2800 fps. That day, my load was a 250gr Sierra BT at ~2700 fps from the 20″ Sako FS.
The above is funny in ways, and serious in others. But the takeaway for me was: Be prepared for the unexpected… and too much gun is about right for moose! They don’t all just stand around at 30 yards waiting to be shot through the lungs with a .30-30!
The first day of the hunt I was in that tree stand that made me question the effective reach of my load in the Sako FS with the 20″ barrel. Directly across I estimated 400 plus yards. Any angle from the shortest distance could have increased the range by 250 yds or more. Where the bull was shot by another group of hunters, it was about 100 – 150 yds beyond the edge of trees. Was that “our bull” that had been consorting with “our cow”? If so, it had to cross that open tundra. What if I’d been in the stand when it crossed? Questions like that make us more realistic in our choices of rifles and their ballistics… Or should.
I’ll not be chasing moose in those regions again, but when we went a distance four times greater from home to “The Far North” of our Province of Ontario for our next moose hunts, I decided it was time for a .340 Weatherby! And I was not mistaken in that choice of possibles.
And the .375 H&H may yet become a .375 Weatherby. But first it must pass tests as it is. 235gr TSX’s at 2900 – 3000 fps should get’er done on any bear that wants to eat me, I’m thinkin’…
Till the next…
Happy Easter: “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand’
“After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (ISAIAH 53: 10-11)