There were only four more days left of my Saskatchewan Black bear hunt of our seven day trip, as I climbed into my stand. It was late afternoon and the bears were starting to feed. I had only seen one small bear so far, and he was not the trophy I had come for, so refrained from unleashing my arrow through is tough hairy hide. He did, however, feel the need to check me out and climb up my tree and stop just below my platform where I pelted him on the head with a rock, after which he quickly retreated into the woods.
Bear hunting in Saskatchewan at times can be anything, but pleasant. The biting black flies and mosquitos seem as big as birds. They are relentless as they try to bite at you; it is a nonstop battle. Even with multiple thermo cells running they are still ever present. The smell from the bait can be overpowering, as well, depending how fresh it is. Additionally, there always seems to be one animal, or another, coming to steal the bait before the bears can get to it.
I remained optimistic and patient that the bear rug that I had come to collect would arrive soon. I had seen plenty of signs that there were good bears in the area; such as the large deep footprints that covered the muddy landscape, and large steaming piles of excrement that littered the access trails leading in and out of the tree stands. I was hunting with my good friends Doc, Earl and Cooper. Doc was a high school principal, Earl was a truck driver, and Cooper was a building engineer. Our career paths had sent us all in vastly different directions, but we remained true to our promise to always make time to hunt together. We all met in junior high school; and we grew up hunting together with our fathers on the weekends for waterfowl, and by ourselves afterschool for pheasants, and other small game. As we grew older, we got real jobs, got married; we all had children of our own; and less time to spend hunting with each other. Thus, we stopped hunting for small game and switched our focus to Whitetail deer and Black bears. This was our 18th annual hunting trip together. We had been all over North America hunting for seven to ten days at a time.
The dreary, cold, rainy weather that greeted us upon our arrival in Saskatchewan had finally begun to clear. We were all cold and wet from dodging storms the first two and half days. I knew that with the change in weather, the bears would be on the move and in search of an easy meal after seeking cover for the last few days. I hoped that my luck, much like the weather, would be changing. After a short time in my stand, a nice sized, 150 pound Black bear came into where I had set up my tree stand; and he worked at ripping apart a fish carcass for a meal. He was a young bear, maybe around three or so. It was a good feeling to see a bear munching on a meal from the river so early in the evening, and I just hoped he had invited his older relatives to visit for dinner.
We chose to base our hunt out of an old remote cabin on Dewey’s Creek, which fed into Hastings Lake, so we could enjoy some time being away from civilization; while at the same time, taking advantage of the world-class fishery we had at our doorstep. Otherwise, we would be making an arduous ninety minute long drive back to town each night from where we were hunting. The cabin had all the amenities we needed, and was much nicer than we could have ever anticipated. Everything was included: a world class cook who made all the meals, electricity, running water, hot showers, full kitchen, an aluminum Jon boat with a twenty five horse power gas motor, comfortable beds with bedding, the list goes on and on. It was like staying at a five star resort in the middle of nowhere. Our hunt was the last week of April and the temperatures in Saskatchewan had been in the 40’s with heavy wind and rain. The camp guide would set up the baits for us daily. The baits were a combination of fresh fish, beavers, and left over food scraps from the day before. It was the third day of our hunt before I was even hopeful of seeing a bear because of the bad weather that had beat on us nonstop from the minute we had arrived. I guess we were lucky to have satellite TV to keep us entertained. In fact, we chose not to hunt on the second day because of rain and the winds were so strong we feared that we would be blown out of a tree stand. The hunting stands with the best activity were not accessible the first two days we were in camp because the rain had washed out most of the old dirt logging roads that led to them. We would have to wait for the heavy rains to reside before we would be able to access them via a truck or ATV.
We managed to get some fishing in early on the first day of our trip and enjoyed fresh trout and walleye for lunch the next couple of days. Doc and Earl arrived a few days earlier than Cooper and I, and had set up a variety of stands to accommodate the four of us. They were pulling out all the tricks to entice bears to our hunting area, as our hunt was almost half over and we had not even started yet. Copper, Doc, and Earl put together a concoction of bacon, honey, and our leftover breakfast scraps in hopes of drawing in some wall-size bears. This, plus the bait that the guide was putting out, we hoped would do the trick. The bacon was fried, the honey burned, the Bear Bomb cans set off, and the nearby grounds and bushes were sprayed with every bear scent product known to man. In addition, everything we touched was sprayed with Primos XP Scent Eliminator. We all wore Scent-Lok Vertigo clothing, something Doc highly recommended. Doc was serious about bear hunting, so I took his word as the gospel.
It was finally a good evening to hunt on the third day. At long last, the rain had stopped and the winds had calmed. The ground was soggy and the trees dripped rain drops on our heads from above. Cooper had a good bear come in, but it presented no shot as it looked to be more interested in finding a hot sow than eating. Clearly, he had romance on his mind. Doc saw several bears; the biggest bruin was a shooter, but stayed hidden from his arrow by a thicket of trees that were as wide as three old wine barrels tied together. That night, I too saw a bear. He was a young bear, which was very nervous, acting as if he was expecting a bigger bear to show and chase him away from the meal he had found. He kept looking behind an old oak tree. To my dismay, nothing else showed that evening.
Cooper had missed the three previous bear hunts we had gone on, as his wife was giving birth to three of his four kids. We gave him a pass, but I thought it was just poor planning on his part. He was surprised at how quietly a bear could appear from thick forest and muddy terrain. No sooner had he just finished scanning the area and seeing nothing, a big Black bear was slowly nearing his tree stand. With each step he took, dust would fly off his dried coat as the mud would break loose and drop to the ground. Not wanting to lose his opportunity to shoot his first bear, he raised his bow, quietly drew back on the bear and followed him in his peep sight until he felt he had a good shot. Cooper released the arrow and connected with the bear; the Helix broadhead drove through the bear and out the other side. The bruin did not go very far before letting out a loud death moan, which we all could hear from nearly a mile away. It was a mature bruin, and weighed about 200 pounds. This was Cooper’s first bear and he stood over it smiling like a proud father at the birth of his first child. After we all arrived back at camp and heard the good news, we took some time to congratulate Cooper and take some pictures before we needed to get the bear out of the truck to be skinned, quartered, and frozen.
The three of us got up early the next morning and caught some trout for lunch. Cooper slept in; he was the last one out of bed because he was so jacked up from killing his first bear, not to mention, he did not finish processing his bear until after 3:00 am. We loved our remote camp and enjoyed being away from civilization; it was the way a bear hunt; or any hunt for that matter, was meant to be. After a little relaxation, we took showers and got ready for our evening hunt. Cooper would continue relaxing and fishing around the cabin, while the rest of us headed out in hopes of tagging our own bears. We had a few more days to close the deal and the weather continued to improve, giving us hope of seeing and killing a trophy bear like Cooper had done the night before.
Doc is a smart hunter with a lot of bear hunting experience. He had been hunting for bears longer than all of us. So, when Doc offered advice, you took it. The stand I was going to, was one that many bears were familiar with, so he told me to put up a second stand to hunt out of that was well concealed to the bear’s running back into the woods from the river.
When a medium size sow came into my stand area, she kept me entertained, so I decided I’d grab my new camera to take some photos, only to realize I had forgotten to put the battery back in my camera, which was still charging back at the cabin. That sucked. I had small and medium sized sows and boars at the stand almost all afternoon. At one point when there were no bears, I suddenly heard footsteps on the trail behind my stand. I could smell the stench of a bear, but nothing appeared. I slowly turned my head, but could not see the trail while seated. I waited, growing more impatient, only to see a big Black bear walking away from me. My heart sank. I should have waited longer, as he probably caught my movement. One of the other bears, from earlier in the evening, returned to my stand area, and then was pushed out by a bigger boar. I had really wanted to get a better look at the bigger boar, and really hoped he would return. After about an hour, the bigger bear I had been watching, made a quick exit and I looked back on the trail again; nothing. I had remained standing, as it was the only way I could see the trail behind my stand and could be prepared if the big bruin returned. I saw a big bear through the trees; he looked to be circling downwind of me, and he looked huge. Its belly was nearly touching the ground, and he was long like a VW bug. He was too long to be an old fat sow. I knew I wanted this bear on my wall, this is the one that I was waiting for and that is when the adrenaline kicked in.
I did not think the bear had gotten my scent, otherwise, he would not have come back. I was wearing two layers of Scent-Lok clothing, rubber boots, and had sprayed a cover up scent over my clothes, backpack, and bow. I kept watching and hoping this boar would work his way back towards the bait I had put out earlier. It had been several minutes since I last saw him and I did not know where he was, when suddenly, one of the other bears reappeared around my stand. My heart was pounding, and I was nervous about getting a shot at this wary bear if he came to the bait. He was the biggest bodied bear I had ever seen while hunting.
While watching the bear in a small clearing, I started to relax until I heard footsteps behind me again, and that distinct smell of bear hit me in the face. I looked down and the big bear was walking right under my stand towards the bait. The other bears took off running, and I expected to get a shot at the bear as he was walking away from me. I slowly raised my bow and drew back quietly. He walked just past the bait and kept going, never giving me a chance to shoot. I came down off my draw and was really getting depressed. The more I saw this bear, the more I knew I would settle for nothing less, and he was being extra cautious of the bait. I guess he did not get this big by being careless.
He circled downwind again from me about 20 minutes later, and I could hear the bruin not too far from where we stopped the night before. The big bear had gone about six hundred yards passed the bait, then paused, and then started coming back. This time he stopped at the bait, giving me a shot. As I drew back my arrow, my legs became weak and began to shake. I took two deep breaths and lined up my peep and my Hog Father sight. I was focused on a single hair behind his front shoulder. I squeezed the release and let the arrow fly. It struck the bear squarely behind the front leg, and I could see the blood beginning to pour out from where the arrow had entered. He ran much further than any other bear I have ever shot, and I lost sight of him as he disappeared into the bush. Normally, the combination of my Helix broadhead and Carbon Express Pile Driver arrow would bring down animals quickly.
I sat quietly in my stand for 30 minutes replaying the shot over and over in my head before beginning the two mile walk out to the truck. I tried to reach Cooper on the radio, but I got no response. I was really pissed about having to walk to the truck. I knew it would be a long, foot-blistering walk (rubber boots are not made for long walks) being swarmed by mosquitoes and black flies, all the while reflecting on my shot and the big bruin.
Cooper and Doc were at the truck when I arrived and they were enjoying a drink when I told them the news. We jumped on the ATVs and headed back to track the bear. Day was fading fast and we only had about 30 minutes of good light left. After a few minutes of checking the area where I had heard the last sound of the departing bear, we found nothing. We went back to the point of impact and started to follow the faint blood trail. It did not take long for the blood trail to turn from a few faint drops to a river of red. The blood trail quickly became very visible. Blood was seemingly flowing from the bruin, and man, was I relieved.
I had never before had a bear go this far after being shot, and Doc had never seen this much blood come from a bear. My Helix broadhead had done its job. It had been a few hours since I had shot the bear, and the blood was still looking fresh. The three of us talked it over and felt he may still be alive and we were pushing him deeper into the woods; although we were not sure how a bear that had lost so much blood could still be alive. But I never heard the death moan that every bear seems to make right before it dies. We decided to hold off until morning, as it was now pitch black dark and we were hunting for him without our flashlights. With such a great blood trail, I was confident we could find the bear first thing in the morning.
We headed out early the next day, and with the full light of the sun, we quickly found the blood trail and soon thereafter, my bear. It was only about twenty yards from where we had stopped looking the night before. It was a great relief after a long sleepless night. There on the ground laid the bear that would soon dawn the wall in my family room. I think the arrow must have hit the shoulder bone and changed course as it cut through the bear and came out its neck. The 125-grain Helix broadhead held up well, as I knew it would. I had tested it on 3/4-inch plywood and cinder blocks. I was thrilled when we found him; though he appeared a little smaller all piled up and deflated from sitting overnight then I had remembered him looking under my stand just twelve hours earlier. He squared over seven feet and had a skull just shy of 20-inches. Cooper told me that I did not get the big bear he had seen in the area. Honestly, I do not think I would have passed on this one, even if Cooper were sitting next to me telling me that when this one came in. Maybe Doc or Earl would get the monster; they still had two more evenings to hunt.
That evening, the temperature began to drop into the 30’s, and I was thankful to be done hunting. Earl continued to hunt the same stand where Cooper saw the big bear earlier in the week, hoping to get a shot. Doc went to a new location with a stand set up more for a rifle hunter (than a bow hunter) in hopes of keeping his scent and movement further from the bait. I wanted to sit with Doc, and be a part of his hunt like we had done in the past, but we decided it was best to minimize the amount of scent and movement. Doc had a big boar come walking in front of him, though not as big as the one he had seen earlier in the week, and not as big as mine. Still, Doc, with only two days left of the hunt and not wanting to go home empty handed, drew back and shot the bear through both lungs. It was an impressive shot from 50 plus yards away. This was the first time I ever shot a bear bigger than Doc. Still, it was a nice bear and made a nice addition to Doc’s collection of fine bear rugs.
Earl was now the only guy in camp to have tagged. We got a call from Doc as dusk was approaching, and Cooper and I went to help get his bear out of the dense woods and snap some photos. We only had to follow the blood trail for about 70 yards before finding the bear on the ground. It was a perfect double lung shot; a near impossible shot from where Doc had hung his stand.
The three of us wished Earl the best as he headed out for his final night in the stand. He went to another new location where there were signs of a big bear. Earl passed on a couple of bears even though it was his last day of hunting. He had come to camp for something bigger than he already had, or at least a mature color phase bruin. As the evening progressed, he played over and over the bear and the pass from the previous night. He was content knowing he had opportunities, even though the week’s hunt was cut short due to bad weather. Shortly before quitting time, he caught movement in the dense forest. It was a large color phase bruin and it worked its way towards him. Earl had a number of good bears come in that evening, but they were all more interested in finding a hot sow than eating the bait. Earl did not think the bear was going to stick around as it walked past the tree, so he raised his bow and concentrated on the sweet spot before he squeezed the release and sent an arrow its way. The arrow sent the bear on a sprint into the forest, where it was found a few hours later. What a fantastic animal: it squared nearly above six and half feet and had a skull just shy of 20-inches. While this was not his biggest bear to date, we were all very excited for him.
Hunting trips like this are why I keep going back to Saskatchewan and bringing others with me. I have been to Saskatchewan several times now, taken several great bears, and have never had a bad experience.