“That’s the big fella.. take “I’m”
By: Gord Follett
Having taken three black bears in the past four years weighing less than 200 pounds, I was determined this time to pass up any animal that wasn’t at least that size. The first two were taken out of sheer excitement and the prospect of actually harvesting a bruin, while the third was the result of needing a kill to complete a Sportsman television show, as the time we had allotted for that trip was winding down.
This past July 1, however – Canada Day 2010 – as we pulled into friend Peter Tucker’s cabin in Northwest Gander, I told him and Dwight Blackwood that even if it meant not getting another show, I was not – under any circumstances – going to take an animal unless it was 200 pounds, minimum.
I had to stress my point, you see, because both are avid salmon anglers and had taken their rods and waders on a bear hunt “in case we got the animal early.” The fact that there were a couple of salmon rivers in the immediate vicinity made my job of keeping them focused on the hunt that much more difficult.
Dwight was the cameraman on this trip, while Peter, who along with cousin Blair Tucker had been replenishing the bait on a weekly basis – and having to drive five hours from home to do so – was my unofficial guide.
Peter actually had a bear licence and had spotted some animals a few weeks earlier from the large, sturdy tree stand that he constructed, so I asked him during one of his weekly visits to the Sportsman office why he didn’t take an animal when he had the opportunity.
“I figured it would make a good TV show for you fellas,” he said. “You were hoping to get a few programs in the can early, so… and one of the bears is a friggin’ big fella, too.”
So here we were, 5:45 p.m. on Canada Day, sitting in the stand overlooking the bait barrel, trying to ignore the swarm of black flies and mosquitoes that were taking advantage of the fact we couldn’t coat ourselves with insect repellent.
With no sign of an animal by dusk, we climbed down and went back to the cabin for a late supper, during which Dwight and Peter talked almost exclusively about salmon angling.
Early next morning we were back at the stand. The bait hadn’t been hit overnight, so our hopes were running a bit on the high side. I was wondering what Peter was doing with two small tins near the bait, then he asked for my lighter. In the bottom tin he lit a small candle and filled the top one with molasses.
“Burnin’ molasses will bring them around,” he said.
With neither sighting nor sound of a bruin and hopes diminishing somewhat by 11 o’clock, one of the boys suggested going after a salmon during the usually dormant afternoon bear hunting hours.
“No, you guys go ahead,” I said. “I’ll set up the camera on the tripod and if a bear comes around, I’ll film it. If it’s a big one, I’ll film it for a while and then shoot it.”
“You’re cracked,” Peter offered.
“Chances of a bear coming around in the middle of the afternoon are pretty slim,” Dwight added, “and you’ll be eaten alive by the flies in this heat.”
“Okay then,” I agreed, “you guys go fishing for a few hours after we get a bite to eat; I’ll stay back, wash dishes and clean up the cabin, then get a rest so that I’ll be wide awake for the evening hunt.”
They did manage to hook a number of fish at a pool called Scott’s Landing on Southwest Gander River, and they weren’t too fussy about having to leave. But all agreed we had a job to do, so back to the stand we went just after 5 o’clock.
“Look, the bait was hit while we were gone,” Peter said, peering through the trees as we walked in the trail to the stand. “The bear even hauled the 45-gallon drum away from the tree I had it tied to. Betchya that’s the big one.”
Now we had a decision to make: Go to a second stand further out the road that Peter had been baiting, but which hadn’t been touched by a bear in a week, or replenish the bait here and hope that it will be hit twice within a few hours.
We went for option No. 2, primarily because of the large bear tracks we saw nearby, plus there was some activity here, at least.
Peter got the hot molasses going again as Dwight and I climbed back up in the stand ahead of him.
I was staring at a rabbit which was actually licking molasses that we also poured on the ground around the barrel, when Peter tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to his right.
“Looks pretty small,” I whispered as the 160-170-pound bear crept through the alders and eventually made its way to the bait.
We watched it for several minutes, but not for a second did I think about reaching for my new Browning X-bolt 30-06, which was about half the weight of the 30-06 I had been using for big game over the past 10 years.
“You gonna take him?” Peter asked quietly.
“Nope, too small.”
“He’s not that small,” Dwight added.
I shook my head and grinned, knowing full well what they were up to.
Suddenly the bruin seemed to sense something and disappeared back into the woods. Did the animal pick up our scent, or was there a larger bruin moving in?
Our question was answered 20 minutes later when Peter pointed to another bear approaching from the bushes and alders behind the barrel. I knew this one was larger than the first, but even when Dwight whispered that it was “a huge one,” I was still hesitant.
“That’s the big fella,” Peter added. “Take ‘im.”
I reached for the rifle, but still didn’t appreciate just how large the animal was until he put his head through the 12”X12” hole in the barrel and his ears scraped the sides.
I raised the gun, but continued to watch the animal as it ate meat from the barrel, then lapped up berries and molasses from the ground.
“Okay, Dwight,” I said while releasing the safety, “I’m gonna take him.”
The boys had already suggested I go for the head or neck so the animal wouldn’t take off into the woods and perhaps have us searching in the dark, so I steadied the crosshairs of the Vortex Viper scope on his head, took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger, sending the 160-grain bullet exactly where I had aimed and knocking the big bruin on its back.
“Good shot, Gordie boy, good shot!” Peter exclaimed. “He’s not goin’ anywhere. Now we can go fishin’ tomorr… Look! I don’t believe this; he’s trying to get up and take off. Shoot ‘im again, shoot ‘im again!”
Despite being hit just below his ear, the animal was indeed trying to crawl into the woods, so I aimed for his neck and brought the hunt to an end.
As Dwight and Peter struggled to drag it into the open to begin the paunching process, both estimated the animal to weigh “at least 400 pounds.” I was guessing a little lighter – maybe 350 – but I wasn’t about to argue.
“Let’s put it this way,” I said with a mile-wide grin. “I’m more than satisfied with this one. Guess I’ll have to raise my standards even higher next time.”