Talking about the Tank - an Interview with Paul Arseneau
With the end of the New Brunswick spring black bear season last week, countless stories and pictures began to emerge of those who were successful at harvesting a bear this year. Several from among the Wilderness Obsession team found success, and those stories will be documented and shared in coming weeks. However we felt it was first important to share the story of one of our readers, Paul Arseneault who has been getting a lot of attention for his bow harvest in Northern NB, even being featured in the French-language publication “acadie-nouvelle” that you can read here. Join us as we talk with him about his own once-in-a-lifetime hunt!
Wilderness Obsession: Tell us about your spring 2017 NB black bear. We would love to hear the story of the hunt. Don’t leave out any details!
Paul: I got back into Bear Hunting 4-5 years ago when my good friend René Duclos coaxed me into grabbing my bow again after a 20 year pause. A wonderful wife and 3 beautiful children, a busy career among other things, filled my agenda pretty full, and this for me, was just a natural process to come back to bow hunting. When I go in, I go all in, and bow hunting, when done right, takes up a lot of time, you really have to commit to it.
I had shot a Pope and Young bear I had rightfully named ‘’Pope’’ last year from one of my stands after no less than 27 sits waiting on just the right opportunity, but shot placement was a bit too far back and we were never able to recover this beautiful bear. The shot was lethal, but after many hours of searching, we just had to call it quits. So it was with a renewed sense of purpose and redemption that I picked up on aerial grabs during the winter months to pinpoint a location that would have all the key features I was looking for to setup another stand nearby in hopes of photographing another of 2 Pope & Young bears I had on my cam strings, albeit completely nocturnal.
I was cleaning up my garage on the last day of a week-long vacation at the end of May and I thought to myself: ‘’better go check the bait site setup on Monday to see if I have a worthy opponent to hunt next week’’. Lo and behold, I had hundreds of daytime pic of a ginormous bear hogging my barrel on a 24-7 schedule, this was a first for me, as I must have lucked out and setup very close to its den. Needless to say, stands were put up in short order, shooting lanes cleared and the waiting game began. I dubbed this one ‘’Tank’’ as he was built like one, and hunted him 3 evenings in late May, but he vanished for 6 days, doing his rounds, undoubtedly. Then in early June, he showed up on a card pick-up I did on a Sunday afternoon, so my friend Robert Godin offering to film the hunt, we setup on Monday, June 5th, in hopes of getting a crack at him.
Tank was always on my cam survey with a 100 pound sow I had dubbed ‘’Hottie’’, so when I saw her come out on the West trail at 8:30PM, I knew this could be it. Soon after, Tank came circling in from the North, but when he got onto Hottie’s scent path, at a mere 26 yards (full frontal to me), he pulled a 90 and followed her out of sight. You try to prepare yourself with an encounter with a bear of this size, and I have been blessed to see some monsters over the last 3 years, but let me tell you, for the first time in about 20 years, I felt it (buck fever)….that adrenaline burst, enough that as I was standing up and readying for a shot, I held my release hand in the air to confirm I was not shaking (I wasn’t). I knew then I could make the shot, but he never offered an ethical one. He then proceeded to circle the bait and stage all night on a plateau about 40 yards due North, biting every tree, chasing every bear and breaking saplings in the process. I will never forget this incredible encounter.
The next evening, we were up and early in our perches, hoping the couple would still be around. At about 7:45PM, Hottie came out from the West, and bedded at the barrel. I told my bud to get ready….then the wide and muscular front legs appeared from under the canopy, he circled twice, came in straight downwind and offered me the perfect slightly quartering away shot at 18 yards, which is exactly where I wanted him standing. The bow came to full draw, and at the sound of the pulleys camming, Tank turned 90 and look straight at me. I can hold my draw for a long time, only pulling 60 on my Matthews, but when he turned towards her, completely away from me, I decided to let down my draw. At that very instant, he turned 90 degrees facing West from where he had come from, and I just remember the kisser button anchoring in the corner of my mouth, picking a spot, release and follow thru…at the shot, I simply knew it was over, the shot placement was perfect, he circled out and ran a mere 20 yards, then in a manner of seconds, all was quiet again. I will cherish this hunt forever, it was an incredible experience.
Wilderness Obsession: We heard it was over 400 pounds. Was that “live weight” or “field dressed"?
Paul: Live weight. I knew he was over the magic 4, but I did not dare guess a number, until the news spread up here and a good friend, Livain Comeau of JLR Outfitters offered to weigh it for us on his certified scale. His previous record from 12 years of outfitting was held by his guide, Léo Roy, who had shot a 412 a while back. Léo was next to me when we hoisted Tank up and he said ‘’Paul, yours is bigger’’, I joked and I said ‘’I know, he’s 416 my guess. Then Lee quieted the whole crowd of Sportsmen that were there claiming that this was officially the biggest ever on his scale at 414 lbs. Pretty special indeed.
Wilderness Obsession: Was this a bear that you knew was there before he appeared? Is it one that you targeted for a while?
Paul: Tank was a welcome surprise, a shocker to have so many pics of him daytime at this new stand setup. I had a bear last year, completely nocturnal I had dubbed ‘’Yogi’’, I am pretty sure it was him all this time. I think moving my stand setup, ultimately, was the best strategy, as bears are so smart, especially the older boars, this one was on to me last year and never made a daytime appearance, something was just not right to him.
Wilderness Obsession: In addition to the difficulty of harvesting a mature NB black bear, you added to it by doing so with a bow! Can you tell us what it is about bow hunting that attracts you?
Paul: Bow hunting for me was a natural step in the hunter’s hierarchy of stages. Hunting for me is a 365 day/ year process. I am very meticulous in my approach to hunting and the more I learned about the game I pursue, the more I want to learn and play chess with them. Bow hunting allows me to quench that thirst and offer the trophy game I am after a fair chase concept and a reciprocal respect I could not adhere to with a rifle anymore. Most of the shots we took on deer and moose were extremely close anyway, so why not go all in and make it more ‘’technical’’. There is something unexplainable that goes on in an archer’s mind when he harvests a mature game animal, it is inextricably part of my fabric anyway…
Wilderness Obsession: There have been reports the “green” score of this black bear was over 20”. Can you tell us about where that might rank in the NB Big Game Records book?
Paul: As an archery harvest up North, some have told me he would rank way up there, if not at the top (I couldn’t care less where he ranks) for a bow harvest. I have done a very quick green score of Tank’s skull perpendiculars and he will score in the high 19’s or low 20s, which should place him anywhere from 5 to 12 in our trophy archive as an archery harvest.
Wilderness Obsession: We know that you are involved in the NB Big Game Club yourself. Can you tell us a bit about that involvement?
Paul: I felt compelled, along others, to resuscitate the Big Game Record Book movement George Chase and Bill Hanson had started so many years ago, which fueled my passion for the outdoors and to pursue quality animals from a very young age. As I travelled to other provinces for hunting and I knew of the record keeping organization well established elsewhere and in the States, I felt we had to make sure this tremendous hunting heritage stayed current and so George, Billy and I met in Durham Bridge one evening and the New Brunswick Big Game Club was rejuvenated. Since then, we have increased our network of provincial measurers throughout the Province, held many scoring events and I co-wrote the 5th and 6th Edition of the New Brunswick Big Game Record Book. The public’s response to our book projects has been overwhelming, we want to thank our readership for this.
Wilderness Obsession: Could you explain to us the process of “scoring” a black bear for the record book? How does "green" score generally translate to final score? Are there deductions for bears like those in whitetail racks?
Paul: A black bear’s skull measurements are the simple addition of 2 caliper measurements taken parallel to the longest axis of the skull’s entire length, and perpendicular (across) to the long axis. The 2 measurements are added to give you a final score, to 1/16th of an inch precision. For example, a 13’’ long x 7’’ wide skull would give you a 20 0/16’’ bear. Green scores are taken by the hunters and / or the guides immediately after harvest, while the final scoring can only be done after the required 60 days ‘’drying’’ period. Normally, if you don’t boil your skull, shrinkage is minimal on a bear, not like a deer or moose’s antlers, which can shrink quite a bit, namely with the spread measurements.
Wilderness Obsession: Is this the biggest black bear that you’ve harvested to date?
Paul: Without a doubt yes it is and I do not think I will be able to top this one for a long time….or maybe next year?....:) Do you have other animals entered in the NB Big Game Record book? Yes, I have a 140 whitetail buck I shot back in 2002 (gun) and my Dad and brother have a nice bull moose I called in for them at spitting distance. I have been blessed with some great harvests, some of trophy stature from other Provinces as well, but for me, it’s not all about who gets to shoot, I take great pride into putting people on game and making an ethical shot to kill the animal respectfully and enjoy the venison. There is nothing I like more than introducing new recruits to this wonderful activity, and teaching them right the first time. This is one of the reason I became a Provincial Hunter Educator and Firearms Handling Mentor, I think it is our responsibility to pass it on and to transfer our knowledge and experience.
Wilderness Obsession: Tell us about your own personal use of the black bears you harvest. Do you eat the meat?
Paul: I have a hard time harvesting game for only the purpose of killing…I love moose and deer, and I will occasionally eat bear meat, but I have friends who absolutely love this wild meat and I always donate meat to them. Will you be making a rug or mount of the hide, or perhaps finish the skull? I have not decided yet how Tank will be displayed, we have skinned him properly, and for now I will have the hide tanned by a professional and the skull will be mounted on a plaque to adorn our hunting camp walls.
Wilderness Obsession: What advice would you have for someone who wants to get out and hunt for NB black bears?
Paul: Be creative, be intuitive, don’t fall into the trap of set ways to hunt. Read all you can about your prey, its habits, its nutrition, its reproduction cycle, the habitat it favors different times of year, and be ready to move your setups if you want to pinpoint a specific trophy. Talk to Bear Hunting Guru’s (we all know 1 or 2), bask in this knowledge and formulate your own game plan, but remember, when it comes to Black Bear, the ultimate lure of hunting this Apex Predator is that we hunt an animal that knows we are there…it is one of the keenest Big Game animal in North America, I encourage all who have never tried black bear hunting to give it a try, they truly are amazing creatures…the true ghosts of our NB forests…
We thank Paul for sharing the story of his hunt with us, and for spreading some of that passion today! It is always exciting to us to find other outdoor obsessed individuals with a passion to spread our traditions to others, and we look forward to his next contribution on our site.
Contact us and let us know!