A Decade With the Dangerous Clowns.
By John Sloan
A bow and arrows, even the most modern ones, do not instill a great deal of confidence when over 300 pounds of humorous evil is staring right at you. What immediately runs through the mind of those who have one is, ‘I could be in deep do-do, here.”
However there is an allure to bear hunting that tends to draw those of us who are a tad twisted, back into the bush. I hunted and guided for bear for over 10 years. I enjoyed all aspects of it but one. I never did come to like skinning a bear. I can’t imagine why anyone would and I never met anyone who did.
It was a typical, early June, northern Saskatchewan evening. It was just past 9:30 P.M., about an hour before dark. The insects were at a bearable level and the sound they usually produce, a low, irritating hum was not unpleasant. A loud “POP”, changed everything.
That sound can only come from one source-a bear violently snapping his jaws together, causing his teeth to impact violently. They make that sound for one reason. It is their way of showing that they are not only badly irritated, they are totally pee o’ed. Whatever got them in that mood had best be quickly on their way somewhere else. Sound advice, that.
The problem being, when you are perched 10 feet up the side of a jack pine, it is hard to go anywhere quickly. The pop came again. I refused to look behind me and made a valiant attempt to affect absorption by the tree. Failing that, I tightened my fingers on the string of the Champion bow and gritted my own teeth.
A stick broke to my right. He was circling as bears often do. Then the brown, beady eyes locked on me. The squinty orbs just blazed. He was at just about 18 yards and I could see the slobber dripping from his jaws and feel the malevolence he was exuding.
This is much of why one bear hunts. The adrenalin rush that comes with knowing that which you pursue can kill you very quickly, easily and horribly messy. I freeze, my hand slightly shaking. I estimate his weight at 250 pounds, 150 pounds less than he weighed when he went into hibernation, still plenty big enough to do a lot of damage to a human body. Now, freshly awake from his nap, he is hungry and I am between he and his dinner. He turns 75 degrees and look toward the barrel in which the various goodies make up his supper.
It is time. The string comes back and nestles against my right cheek. The bright green, single sight pin settles, albeit a tad shakily against the crease behind his left shoulder. I relax my fingers and the fletchings vanish in the lustrous black hair. Our worlds, his and mine, explode.
With one loud roar he bulldozes into the Canadian bush, knocking down a waist-size dead pine as he goes. I grab the pine tree in which I sit and take a deep breath. He is dead and I am drained. Surely not the biggest I have ever killed, just one that comes to mind.
Paul is cussing me. He does not like the tree he is in. He does not like the position of the bait barrel. He does not like the blackflies that are eating his ears. He does not like the bear that is whacking the bejeepers out of the iron bait barrel.
Paul does not have a great deal of experience in judging the size of bears. He has only seen three in his life in the wild. Those three, a sow and two cubs, just left his stand site. They left very quickly. One woof from the bear currently eating the pastries and old grease was all it took. It made Paul so mad he shot the bear. Then he radioed me to come get him. Paul had no idea he had just shot a bear that would tip the scales at over 550 pounds. By black bear standards, a huge bear.
She has never hunted bear before, Betsy. In fact her hunting experience is minimal for any game. We sit in a ground blind I made that morning. It is 25 yards from the bait barrel. She is shooting an in-line muzzleloader. I watched her shoot this morning back at camp. She can shoot.
The ghost slips quietly in. A solid black wolf, weighing maybe 125 pounds. His yellow eyes scan the surroundings and immediately pick us up. He is gone. It is a great experience. Not one I have often had. There is no wolf season for non-residents in this province. I wish there were. I would like to have a wolf mount.
She looks at me and mouths, “What was that?”
I smile and tell her it was a wolf.
“No way!” Typical reaction.
A magpie comes to visit. A pine squirrel comes to rob. A raven scolds and gargles. The bush is alive this night. The ThermaCell keeps the insects at bay quite well and it is just cool enough for a second layer of clothes to feel good. It is early yet, too early to expect a big bear. That was my opinion as the great white guide and I shall stick with it.
Sometimes guides can be wrong.
I won’t say I was dozing. I prefer to think I was just checking my eyes for light leaks. Then I hear, “Bear!!!!! Big bear!!!” I open my eyes and determine she is 100% correct. It is a bear and it is a big bear of about 400 pounds. Unfortunately, it is only six feet…yes feet, from our comfy hidey-hole. My hand tightens on the axe handle. In a bear fight, I would rather have an axe than a gun any day.
I am staring intently at the bear when the gun goes off. The blind is filled with smoke from the black powder and I wonder if my pants are filled with anything? The smoke clears and I see a bear, a big bear, laying just six feet in front of our hidey-hole.
Angie has killed a bear with a rifle. Now she wants to try it with a bow. She has only been in the stand 10 minutes and is still getting settled in. A quick glance behind her and she sees a bear crossing the small creek. She knows it is heading for the bait barrel, 15-yards in front of her. By the time the bear reaches the barrel, she has the bow drawn. The shot is dead solid perfect.
That’s just some ways bear hunting can be. The first week of June is the week I would pick above all others for a spring bear hunt. I will not hunt bear again but I am seriously considering jumping on a plane and heading across our northern border for a week or 10 days of camera work with the bears of New Brunswick come June. I have killed my last bear. I have no idea what he weighed. The scales only went to 500 pounds. No, I am not kidding.
Bears are tremendous to photograph. They are funny clowns when at rest and relaxed. They perform antics that make you laugh and grin like a mule, eating cactus. Then they pop their teeth and it all changes. They are dangerous clowns.
I still own an axe.
Paul with his giant Canadian bear. Once he learned how big this bear was, he was in a lot better mood. By black bear standards, this bear is huge.
This bear weighed about 250 pounds, about half as big as the bear Paul killed. Still, a bear this size can do a lot of damage to a human body when they are mad enough to pop their teeth
Betsy and the bear she shot at six feet. This bear would probably weigh 375-400 pounds. A good black bear.
When Angie first saw this bear it was crossing a creek 60 yards away. By the time it came to the bait, she had her bow up and ready for a killing shot at 15 yards.