ALL IN ONE DAY OF HUNTING:
Ricky had never hunted bear before. He was a police officer so he knew what adrenaline rushes were all about but he had never experienced this kind of a rush before. Bear hunters all know what a thrill it is and Ricky had heard the stories and he was looking forward to the whole experience.
The first day of the hunt Roger, the guide, took Ricky and Ricky’s friend Mike out. We usually don’t use ground blinds but Roger had a few ground blinds out in an area that he knew were ripe and ready to pick!
Ricky felt nothing but pure excitement as he approached the ground blind . The barrel of bait was nicely positioned with a good trail of vision to the blind. The blind was a well built 4 foot square construction with a window to the front where he would be able to watch the bear at the bait as well as a window out each side. As he settled into the space he thought of the expression “boxed lunch” and a smile crossed his lips. Roger made sure he was set and was off quickly and quietly. Ricky liked the guide—he was fun and was really easy to get along with and knew his stuff.. Roger was a professional chuckwagon racer and he was going to be competing in a major race on Friday. Although he knew nothing about this kind of racing Ricky made a mental note that maybe him and his friend Mike would go watch this enticing sport if they took a bear by then … and if the guide was right they would have no difficulties in that. Anyway, this was not the time to think of anything except the excitement of the hunt.
It was a nice day and the area that he was in was an incredible panorama of thick trees … exactly what a bear likes to call “home”. In a while, a sow and nearly full grown cubs walked into the baitsite. The sow was very aware that something was different about the area and Ricky knew that he was the reason for the disturbance. She kept looking his way and pacing while the cubs were eating, oblivious to anything except their meal. She kept sniffing the air and then she came about half way between the bait and the stand and stopped. Ricky picked up the camera to video the beauty of the animal. She stopped only for a second to sniff the air one more time and then she kept coming. “Oh crap!” Ricky muttered under his breath and dropped the camera and at the same time picked up his .300 Winchester Magnum in one hand and the pepper spray in the other. “Don’t do this” he said softly to her. She walked by the stand as he watched her silently, being careful not to move. Seconds went by without him knowing where she was. She was there somewhere but what was she doing? There was complete and eerie silence. Suddenly, like in a high intensity movie, there she was with her head stuck through the side window only inches from his head! This is as raw as hunting can get! There was nothing but a few measly inches of air between him and those teeth that could rip him apart in a few painful minutes … no fence, no window, no zoo-keeper … this was rugged nature and it was at its most dangerous. Unlike the risky situations he had encountered at work, Ricky was the one that wasn’t supposed to be there—this was her turf and she had every right to be protecting her cubs and Ricky knew that protect them she would. This is one of those moments when time stands still. It felt like many minutes went by but in reality it was probably only 5 seconds … Ricky wasn’t keeping time he was just very aware of the danger and yet knowing that he did have both pepper spray and gun in complete readiness… which one he would use would depend on her next move. “Don’t do it” he kept saying to her silently in his head. He didn’t want to shoot her but if it came to a choice of his life or hers, then it would have to be hers or at least he would die trying! Finally she satisfied herself that he didn’t appear to be the danger that she initially assumed and walked back to the bait and her cubs who still had no idea that there was any kind of impending danger. Slowly Ricky relaxed his grip on the gun, thankful that he had given her no reason to engage a full attack.
For the next two hours he watched the sow and cubs as well as two other bear come and go. Then a big black bear with a brown patch on his back came in and as he looked, Ricky knew that this was a shooter. The bear sat, with his back to the blind scooping the food out of the barrel and eating.. Ricky put the gun up and waited for the opportunity “Calm down, calm down” repeated to himself. Ricky waited patiently but at no time did the bear present Ricky with a good shot opportunity. Then out of nowhere another nice black bear came in … now there were two nice looking bear! For 25 minutes Ricky compared the two bears, putting the scope on one and then the other repeatedly. Both bear were similar size but finally he decided that the second bear had a nicer coat. He was really shaking now and repeated over and over “Calm down, Calm down”. As the black bear stood up, the sun shone on the black fur and Ricky was struck by the sheer beauty of the animal. Ricky just knew that it was showtime and took careful aim. The bear looked over at the bait barrel and then the moment that Ricky had been waiting for arrived … the perfect broadside shot. Ricky pulled the trigger and the bear dropped straight down. The adrenaline rush was incredible! “I felt like I was walking on air—what an awesome feeling”! Many hours later, as a matter of fact, days later he still felt the effects of this “ultimate rush”. The bear weighed in at 300 pounds… for a spring bear that is a nice size. Ricky saw 7 different bear that first day of his hunt and was heading home with a real trophy.
In the meantime Roger was delivering Ricky’s friend Mike to his blind. Now Mike is not a stranger to us and we love every minute that he is here. He always presents us with something interesting. I recall the first year that we met him. It was two years ago and he had phoned when he was quite close so I was expecting him within minutes. I didn’t know much about him but I knew that he was a policeman and so I had a vision of a big burly kind of a guy (which in effect he is a big man). I had enjoyed our prior phone calls and e-mail messages and was looking forward to meeting him in person. I was watching up the road for him and from 2 miles away I could see a vehicle. We don’t get much traffic down our road so there was no doubt that it was him. As I continued to watch the vehicle I thought … “what is that? ….. Its …. Its …. It’s a mini Cooper! … now how in the world is this guy going to take home a big bear in a little mini Cooper?! He’s gonna have to strap the dang thing to the roof!” … As he parked in front of me , he uncurled himself from the little car and walked over with a big smile on his face, all ready for his hunt. Anyone who has ever had to go through a vehicle rental agency knows that sometimes there is a surprise or two. The main thing was that Mike was here and he was ready for his hunt. He will forever be remembered as “The hunter who showed up in a Mini Cooper”. The story last year was that Mike had a tremendous hunt. He saw the bear that he knew was the bear he wanted and although he noted that it limped a bit he still chose him. He had no idea that this was a three legged bear! I have been an outfitter for over 20 years and my guides have many, many years of experience and no-one had yet seen a three legged bear! How unique is that?!! The missing leg was possibly the result of a fight many, many years ago as it was well healed and the bear very easily navigated life without it. So now Mike is known as “the hunter who showed up in a Mini Cooper and takes home a three legged bear”!
Anyway, back to the story at hand. Roger also had a ground blind set up for Mike. As Mike approached the blind which was a 4 foot square building similar to the one the Ricky used he noted that it very much showed the signs of bear in the area. The corners were chewed up and there were claw marks all over it. The plexiglass of the front window was ripped off and when Roger opened the door, he closed it before Mike could get in, walked back to the vehicle and came back with a fresh plank to replace the one that appeared to be completely chewed up!! Naturally this caused a bit of apprehension for Mike and if he thought of the term “boxed lunch” like Ricky did, it would have made him sweat even more! As Roger stood there with the door open with all the confidence in the world, Mike thought “well if Ricky can do this, so can I!” and quickly stepped into the blind.
He wasn’t in the blind for very long when a bear came into the bait. It is amazing how quiet they are. One minute there is nothing there and then the next minute there is a bear there … no warning! Mike picked up the video camera and when you play the video back this is what you see: Scene 1: A nice black bear at the bait barrel … Scene 2: the bear stops eating and looks toward the blind …Scene 3: the bear turns and starts walking towards the blind … closer, closer … closer …. Scene 4 the camera drops and everything goes black!. I think this says it all!! Needless to say, a wild bear coming straight towards you is nerve racking to say the least! It didn’t take Mike long to have his Marlin .45 70 in readiness! Silently Mike said in his mind “You might not be a big bear but if you come through this window you will become my bear rug”! That bear just kept right on coming. Mike noted that the bear did not show signs of aggression and appeared to be only curious … but what would that wild bear do once he realized that Mike was a possible threat to him?
Without hesitation that bear shoved his whole head into the front window and Mike pushed himself to the far back of the blind .. Keep in mind that this building is only four feet deep and that doesn’t leave much room for retreat. So there they were, Mike and the bear, eyeball to eyeball. “I can sit still” “I can do this” Mike thought to himself all the while aware of the gun in his hand and the bear’s eyes staring him down. The bear then started sniffing … it could smell something and Mike wasn’t sure if it was the sandwiches that he had taken for lunch or if the bear was considering him as lunch. The staring match seemed to go on forever. The bear, in time, considered the situation harmless and turned and went back to the bait barrel while Mike sighed in relief.
Soon after Mike heard a shot that came from Ricky’s stand and knew that his friend had taken his first ever bear. Mike smiled at the memory of the rush of excitement that comes with taking a bear and knew that Ricky would be on a real high right now. It wasn’t long after that a nice bear came into the bait site and presented Mike with a nice clean shot.
What could be better than two friends taking their bear on the same day AND having similar experiences of having staring matches with wild bear. We all know that both situations could have had a different ending. These are wild animals and it is not wise to look a wild bear right in the eyes, especially a boar … you must watch the bear but a person should not look directly into his eyes … he could perceive this to be a challenge and most boars do not back down from a challenge. Mike and Ricky will remember this hair raising moments for the rest of their lives … they will also remember the awesome adrenaline rush that comes with taking a bear!
On that same day, Danny (who had also hunted the same week as Mike last year) was put into a tree stand miles away. Although Danny saw bear, the best part of his day did not include a bear story.
As he was sitting there, enjoying the day he glimpsed something out of the corner of his eye. Ever so slowly he turned to see what the movement was about. “It looked like a really light coloured blonde bear” he told me. He watched the animal through the trees and as it turned its head Danny’s lips moved to the sound of “wolf”! “Never in my life did I dream that I would have the privilege of seeing a wolf in the wild and I will never forget it”. He told one of the guides that it was on his “Bucket List” but he didn’t think that it would ever come true. And there it was and only 20 yards in front of him. The animal was regal and fearless and it is easy to see why legends abound about this animal. They carry a sense of power and confidence about them and although there are many in this area they are rarely seen. They are wise and stay out of sight of man. Even experienced local trappers have a challenge to catch them. This wolf had a unique colouration. Wolves common to this area are grey … some are light grey and some are dark grey but the wolf in front of Danny was white but not an albino as it had a touch of silver down his back … truly a beautiful animal. The wolf never once looked at Danny and we are still not sure if its because the wind was in his favour or the wolf, in his regal glory did not consider this man dare to be a threat to him. Danny longed to pick up his camera but did not want to risk having the wolf see his movement. He wanted this sighting to last as long as possible. The wolf went and stood under a low hanging spruce bough and stared intently down the trail behind Danny but ignored Danny completely. When the wolf turned and passed out of sight Danny became curious as to what had held the wolves attention down the trail . Some time later a sow and cubs walked down the path and Danny knew that the wolf was aware of their presence long before they arrived.
The sow was quite entertaining and stood up with her back against a tree and scratched. She looked like she was doing some kind of a dance and he had to smile at the comedy of her actions.
The next day up in the stand, Danny watched a rabbit run wildly across the trail in front of him and he hoped that the wolf might be there but alas it was not. It is amazing how certain events stay alive in our minds for the rest of our lives and Danny’s wolf sighting was exactly one of those moments.
-written Kathy Dopko-Esler
as told by Ricky, Mike and Danny while hunting with Makwa River Outfitters Ltd