By: Jim Kushner.
Soon after buying a cabin in Ontario I learned that a non-resident could legally hunt moose & bear without an outfitter/guide within the game management until that their property was in. It wasn’t long before I had recruited a good friend to help me try and get my first black bear.
That summer we fished and we scouted likely spots and we collected bait, mostly old doughnuts that we packaged tightly and froze. It is legal to use barrels etc. to bait bears in Ontario and I happen to have a 35 gal. steel barrel. We cut a hole big enough that a bear could reach inside but not get their heads in. With two small holes near the top I chained it to a tree. That didn’t last two weeks, the bears ripped the barrel off the tree and tried to drag it away. They actually tore the metal barrel and left the chain hanging on the tree.
We fixed that by removing the top and using a flat piece of steel as a large washer we lag bolted it from the inside. In the end they had bent the lag bolt but they never did get the barrel loose again.
Opening morning we loaded our gear and 5 gallon bucket of sweets onto the 4 wheelers and drove the 5 miles to the bait site. We walked the last half mile or so down a heavily grown over log trail to the stand. We refreshed the bait and climbed up into the tree stand to wait. Nothing showed that morning but we stayed until just before noon then headed back to camp.
I don’t really remember what we did that afternoon but I know we headed back to the stand fairly early in the afternoon. It was the end of August, I wanted to be bear hunting before any of the local moose or bird hunters were out in the woods but that also meant it was pretty warm still.
It was a long sit and it had been raining that afternoon. Dressed in rain gear we were extra warm. By early evening we had taken off the rain gear and sat with our backs against that big cottonwood knowing it could still be a while before anything happened.
This was my first attempt at bear hunting and I had done a lot of reading, how to judge a bears size was one thing that everyone wrote about and how difficult that can be. One suggestion that I took was to find a limb about 6 feet long and lay it on top of the bait barrel, that gives you a rough idea how big/long the bear is. A couple of other things I remember was to look at their ears, a big bear will have smaller ears and a small bear big ears. Big bears have a visible crease on top of their head and finally I read, when a really big bear comes in you will know it immediately.
Maybe two hours or less before dark I saw a pine branch move well behind the bait. There was more movement and then to my surprise a bear appeared. I had no thought of shooting it after all it was 100 or more yards away and it was going to walk into the bait just like all the hunting videos I had watched right? I slouched back into my seat when that bear stood there for only a few seconds before walking out of sight, and not in the direction of the bait. I went from bored to excited to let down all in about 10 seconds. I sat and watched that spot for quite a while but of course no bear re-appeared there. The more I thought about it the more I convinced myself that the bear was to close not to know the bait was there and he was probably just being cautious. He was coming I told myself, he was coming. I sat back up in my seat once again watching intently at every opening I could see.
It was quite a while later when I scanned back behind the bait and saw what I though was an old burned stump, just a black spot in the middle of green pine branches. I had been watching closely for hours and I don’t remember seeing that before I told myself. About that time the black spot started to get smaller and smaller and then it was gone. It was my cautious bear I told myself and he is headed to the trail that will lead him to the bait.
My excited whispers to my friend were met with silence, he couldn’t see it.
Then I heard him say “I see him” but now I couldn’t. It was only a few seconds later that I saw a bear running away from the bait & I wondered what was going on. That’s about the time I saw “my” bear step out onto the trail. The two bears met pretty close together and the second one clearly wasn’t sticking around. That was my first clue that this was probably a mature bear. The problem was I couldn’t see anything of him other than a few movements of black behind the green pines that lined the trail. At least he was headed in the right direction. When he arrived at the spot where he should be turning toward the bait I was once again disappointed when he did not show himself. A few seconds later I heard a noise, kind of a clunking noise, what the heck was that? Then I realized what it was, we had left a 5 gallon bucket out on the trail after refreshing the barrel and it was smeared with chocolate inside. Mr bear had found the bucket.
At one point I could see him in my rifle scope, well most of him. There were a lot of leaves and branches in the way and his head was now inside the bucket, well most of it was. At one point the bear stood on his hind legs and watched down the trail where it goes past the bait, another bear I thought? All we could do was wait, it wasn’t long though. He was done with the bucket and pretty soon he came walking toward the bait. His head came into the opening, the same one we had walked through several hours ago and as he stepped into the open he stopped mid step just like a deer does just before it whirls around and leaves you wondering what went wrong. Uh no I thought, did he just catch enough man scent to spook him, he had to smell what was in that barrel. He stood for a few seconds and then he stepped into the open. I was watching him through the 4x scope and thinking about size, he didn’t look small but he didn’t look obviously big either. I looked at my friend who by the way was supposed to be filming this, he wasn’t, our eyes met and he just shrugged his shoulders.
About that time the stick I had placed on top of the barrel came into play. The bear was quartering away from me but he was almost at the barrel and he was pretty darn close to the length of that stick. I looked back at my friend and we both nodded yes. Back to the scope, a quartering away shot is good, aim just a little high to compensate for the downward angle and aim so that the bullet exits in front of the other side front leg. It happened a lot faster than it takes to tell the story but a slow squeeze and the gun went off, I was shooting a NEF Handi Rifle in 45-70 and after the shot I quickly reloaded. As I was doing that I heard my photographer say repeatedly, you got him Jim, you rolled him right into the barrel, you got him! Apparently the impact of that 350 grain soft point had caused the bears head to drop and his front legs to buckle, he fell right against the bait barrel.
That however is not what I saw, when I looked back up from reloading my single shot all I saw was the north end of a quickly moving south bound black blob and then it was gone. No time for a second shot. We whispered back and forth, what did you see? He didn’t go far, you hit him good, oh and why no camera? Because the earlier rain had caused enough moisture that the camera had shut it self off even though it was inside a plastic bag under his raincoat. “Lets go, he’s dead.”
We lowered our gear and climbed down. As convinced as my friend was I only saw a bear that was running fast and I have to admit I was a little bit nervous. We walked to old rail where we figured the bear had crossed it as he ran away but we found no blood. I decided we should go back to the barrel and start there. The ground was a little torn up but we didn’t see any blood here either. Then I saw something on the ground right under the barrel. It was the shed jacket from a bullet, my bullet. I also saw a big dent in the bottom of the barrel right at the seam. The bullet passed through the bear and still had enough velocity that it separated the lead from the jacket, had to be what happened. Bears don’t just tip over for no reason. We went back up to the trail and a little ways off to the side we found the first blood. A little ways farther & there was a steady blood trail, it lead right up to the bear only a few yards beyond where we had last seen it.
A fine boar, all black with a brown tan muzzle. He wasn’t huge but he was to big for us to drag out of there. We had thought about this and we had rope. By the time we had returned with the 4×4’s it was starting to get dark. By the time we had the bear out on the trail it was dark. I did a quick field dressing and tagged the bear. It was all the two of us could do to load him on the back a 4×4, picking up a bear is like lifting a really big bag of jello, there are no good handles. We guessed his weight somewhere between 250 & 300 lbs but it really is hard to tell. He was big enough & I was very pleased with my first bear.
I was pleased with my choice of weapon also. I had debated, use my bow, maybe my muzzleloader or maybe just my trusty 30-06. Couldn’t go wrong with that. In the end the single shot was a compromise and I knew that the 45-70 with the 350 grain load would be up to the job. It was to, the bullet had hit just where I’d aimed, a little high back in the rib cage and it came out low just in front of the off side leg. That low exit I am sure, helped with the blood trail.
It was well after dark when we got back to the cabin and it was cooling down, we used a come along to hang the bear in a tree and went inside for a drink and some late dinner.
I spent most of the following day skinning quartering and then fleshing the hide. I had mounted a few deer and small mammals, I wanted to do a full body mount and since room was an issue at the cabin and at home I decided to do an upright stance, just like this bear had done while he was cleaning the insides of my 5 gallon bucket.
After that we went pike fishing the rest of the week and ate bear backstrap. It was surprisingly good.