In our neck of the woods, hunters often have a way of identifying themselves based on the species they like to hunt the most. “I’m a Moose Hunter” or “I’m a Deer Hunter” are often refrains you hear thrown around here on the East coast. In recent years, with the excitement that comes from the growing Eastern Wild Turkey migration into our province, along with more and more hunters heading south to experience the wonders that come with chasing that big gobbler through the ridge, you’ll even hear many of the dedicated tell you “I’m a Turkey hunter”. What you won’t hear very often, is someone referring to themselves as a Bear Hunter. It’s a shame.
Black Bears are truly an amazing creature. They are highly dexterous, capable of opening screw-top jars and manipulating door latches to get something they’re after. They also have great physical strength. Even bear cubs have been known to turn over flat-shaped rocks weighing 310 to 325 pounds (141 to 147 kg) by flipping them over with a single foreleg in search of bugs that live beneath. They move in a rhythmic, surefooted way and can run at speeds of 25–30 mph (40–50 km/h). Contrary to popular belief, Black bears have very good eyesight (better than Humans), and have been proven experimentally to be able to learn visual discrimination tasks based on color faster than chimpanzees and as fast as dogs. Of course, bears are famous for their incredible sense of smell. It’s been documented that a black bear’s sense of smell is 7 times greater than that of a dog. All of this adds up to the challenge of a lifetime. Outsmarting a monster bruin is not an easy task!
While the population of black bears on the east coast is exploding (biologists estimate that the population has nearly doubled in the past 8 years alone), you can’t simply watch a corn field and reliably find a bear. Even rarer still is going on a hike through the woods and coming across a bear that hasn’t been alerted and vanished long before you even knew it was in the area. Bear hunting in the east involves finding a location where bears are likely to occupy, setting up a bait site, and lugging bait regularly. Bait can be anything from popcorn and crystal fruit drink mix to beavers and fryer grease. Bear are the ultimate omnivore, and boy can they eat!
Another way to describe spring bear hunting, and one of the reasons there aren’t as many people involved in it as you’d expect for such a magnificent trophy, is the hard work. One black bear can eat a lot, but if you’re in a bear hotspot, feeding a half-dozen bears or more takes a lot of perseverance and dedication. It can be a challenge simply keeping your bait site stocked. The payoff however, in trail camera photos alone is more than enough to keep you going. You really begin to get an understanding of which bears are in your area, and how you should approach managing these bears. Which boars you should consider harvesting, how many cubs are around, the growth rate between spring and fall, etc.
Bear Hunting, especially spring Bear hunting, is a sport that’s packed full of excitement. There are few experiences like sitting and watching a couple of aggressive spring bruins chase each other through the woods, or wrestling over a food supply. Enjoying the company of 2 or 3 shoebox sized bear cubs for an evening while Momma bear circles the area snapping her jaws and making lots of assorted noises, well that’s enough to give even the most grizzled adventurer goose bumps.
Over the course of my hunting career, I’ve been fortunate enough to successfully harvest several Black Bears, but for the first time in 2013 I set out to harvest one with my compound bow. The first major difference between rifle hunting and bow hunting at a bait site is the distance you set up from your bait. Watching a brute pick up your full 55 gallon barrel and throw it around at 70 yards will get your heart pounding through your chest, imagine that experience at 20 yards. When even a small bear stands on his hind legs looking in your direction to try to figure out what the source of the extra smell he’s picking up is, it’s breathtaking. At this point I had not successfully harvested any big game with my bow.
Luckily, things worked out in my favor in late June of 2013. As the season was drawing to a close none of my hunting partners or myself had had much luck in finding the bears we wanted to harvest. However, during the last week of the season, all of our luck was about to change. On Tuesday, one of my hunting partners managed to connect on a boar, also his first bow harvest. Wednesday was here, and the pressure for me was mounting. After only an hour on stand that evening, an average sized boar appeared to my right. One of the wonders of bear hunting is how amazingly quiet they move through the forest. While you can hear a whitetail coming from a long way, breaking twigs and snapping branches seemingly with every step, a bear is mostly silent. Anyone who’s hunted bears will often repeat the same thing, “I saw him before I heard him”. This was not quite the case with this particular bruin, as I heard a snap in the woods moments before he stepped out. He came in silently, circling the bait site, and proceeded to come in as if on a rope. The bear wasted no time removing the various raccoon-proofing measures I had taken to ensure that when bait gets taken, a bear is responsible. This boar made short work of these, and then got comfortable and ready to dig in. A couple of times while I watched him, he’d turn and look in my direction, perhaps smelling something of the essential bug-proofing measures one must take while hunting in the woods in June. He would look in my direction, unsure of what he was seeing, standing up on his hind legs for 30 seconds at a time. When he would do this, I couldn’t help but admire the nearly full white “V” he had blazed on his chest, highly contrasting to his dark black coat. In other parts of North America, you can target “color phased” Black Bears, which come in a wide variety of colors, but here in New Brunswick, our bears are nearly 100% black. Finding a nice boar with a perfect white “V” is often the goal. It was one of these moments that I became determined to take the shot. The combination of the V and the bow opportunity was too great for me.
As he continued to grab bread and sweets from the barrel, he’d set up the perfect shot, quartering away with his front leg forward. The next time he assumed the position, I let the arrow fly. This was the textbook positioning, and on this occasion at least, my shot was just as textbook. The lighted Nock allowed me to easily see the arrow entered the bear with a thwack in the perfect position. Both lungs were hit, and a full pass-through was evident by the lighted nock shining just beyond where the bear had been standing moments before. The bear let out a roar and crashed off directly away from my position and didn’t go more than 25 yards.
For the record, on June 26, 2013, I joined the legions as a true bow hunter with the harvest of this delicious boar with my compound bow. Although I do not like to limit my obsession with labels, I stand before you all today to solemnly state - “I’m a Bear Hunter”.
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