Spring for hunters is a time to hunt turkey and for many, to prepare for chasing black bears as they emerge from their dens from the winter. Many people wonder why one would want to hunt black bears. According to the Canadian department of the interior, there are approximately 900,000 in North America, 500,000 of them in the wilderness in Canada. Bears are omnivorous but are a predator who often are associated with human/bear contacts in mountain cities in Colorado and other parts of the United States. They are known to take livestock and other game animals should the opportunity present itself. Hunting predators is a widely debated topic, in my opinion taking a small percentage of the population (about 5% is the annual take in Canada) helps maintain the health of the predators and they animals that they prey on. And they are delicious, while many go to Canada just to trophy hunt, I was excited at the prospect of bringing meat home to my family as I remember eating black bear in Pennsylvania as a child.
I am the kind of person who is willing to try new things and was lucky to meet Kris Cheater on a mountain lion hunt, after which I decided to venture north to Saskatchewan to hunt black bears with him at Full Boar Outfitters in spring 2018. Full Boar is located on Wappawekka Lake just east of La Ronge and has stands situated across the lake; this is an amazing place to hunt and I cannot wait to go back.
I arrived at Wappaweka Lake as the sun set and was amazed at the wilderness setting.
Before the first night of hunting, the guide gave us the instructions that a shooter bear would be able to fit a dollar bill between its ears and be the height of the bait barrel. Prior to the hunt, I’d spent a good deal of time talking to the guide about bear behavior and the risks involved in hunting baited bears. He told me that bears might approach or try to climb your tree but they would go away if you shoo them. So I went into the tree stand with a small pepper spray, eschewing the offer of a shotgun for peace of mind.
The first night, I took the ATV ride out to my tree stand. I quickly got settled in for the next 8 hours. I thought this would be a painfully long sit, but the minute Kris dropped me off, the forest came alive. There were birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. Then about 45 minutes after I was sitting, a bear came in. I thought he was close to the size of the barrel, his ears looked far enough apart and he had that bear swagger. It turned out he was shorter than the barrel, so I settled in to video and photograph him. It was amazing to watch this bear just hang out. After about an hour, he walked off and another bear came in. He seemed big but was also not as tall as the barrel. This guy was jumpy, if I moved, he’d get up and leave. There was also another bear nearby, every time he’d leave the barrel, I’d hear a ruckus off in the thick bush. For the remainder of the night, these two bears as well as a few other smaller ones kept chasing each other around my tree in large circles. Hearing the different vocalizations as well as watching them fight made for a great night of hunting. I left my tree stand with questions about bear judging and refreshed with the excitement of getting to know how these animals work. It turns out that at least two of these bears were shooters but me being both literal and patient, I just got a good show that first night.
Nearly as soon as I got into the stand the second evening, a beautiful blaze sow came in. She walked over to the barrel, stood up on it, stood perfectly broadside, and basically frolicked all over the place, I knew this was my chance. So I stood, drew back as she stood up and then came back down perfectly broadside. I loosed my arrow and it went straight through her with a resounding thunk as the barrel behind her stopped it. As I watched her, for what seemed like a long time but was really seconds, I saw my fletchings sticking out of her probably right above her heart. As she ran off, she pulled the arrow the rest of the way through her body and pulled it sideways in the barrel. Then I waited for about 30 minutes, because I had to go see my arrow. I could see the bright red on my fletchings but I had to get up close and personal. The arrow had bright bubbly blood on it, I was so excited.
I couldn’t wait for Kris to come get me. As he pulled in to the clearing, I heard his laughter and he said, damn I knew you’d kill something tonight. I told him my story and we headed back to the truck to pick up the other hunters.
The next morning, I was ready to go get my bear bright and early. I impatiently waited by the lake for everyone else to wake up, so we all headed out to look for my bear.
I told them the way that I thought that she went and we looked extensively but no blood. The guide said my shot was good but with our inability, after an extensive grid search, to find her, that likely she got carried off by wolves. Holy cow, I was already nervous about the wolves but that is crazy. I was heart-broken to lose my first animal. When we got back to camp, I helped the other people in camp by carrying their bear down to the lake, busting out my photography skills, and then taking the bear back up the hill to the skinning tent. Exercise helps me work through stuff so it was good therapy. After lunch, I wanted to sit down alone for awhile to wrap my mind around losing my animal and how lucky I was that the guide was going to let me go back out for another bear even though we knew I had killed one that wasn’t retrievable.
I went into my last night of hunting feeling a little defeated by that lost bear. As I sat there in a different tree stand, listening to ducks and watching squirrels. A little sow came right up to my tree, she walked down a log, put her paw on my tree, came around, put her foot on my ladder and proceeded to frolic and eat carrots. She was so cute, at that moment, I knew I wouldn’t shoot her, barely not a cub, just to fill my tag. It’s just not my way. Every hunter has their own values and standards. Lots of people fill the tag because it’s expensive or whatever their reason, that’s not me. I had an amazing hunt up to this point and this bear was not on my radar. Suddenly, she ran to a tree about 10 feet from me and started to climb, off at the other end of the meadow was a huge bear. He came in, checked stuff out and left. My little bear hunting buddy climbed the whole way to the top of the tree and laid down. It was amazing. As I watched her, she gave clues as to where the other bears were coming from. Before I knew it, this beat up boar came right up beside me. I could see his scars and rubs. As I stood there with my heart racing, I knew this was going to happen. As he came up broadside and looked up at that sow, I tried to pull back my bow but my hands were shaking so bad I couldn’t. I told myself, that I was doing this and to get it together so I pulled back, anchored, leaned down, aimed and shot. I heard the thunk and the grunt as he took off. Then the craziest thing happened, he ran 30 yards and then climbed about 30 feet up a tree, his heart must have stopped as he slid down the tree and fell to the ground.
I couldn’t believe it, he fell on the path right where they’d pick me up. It turns out that I got both lungs and the heart, according to the video he died in less than 4 seconds. I am humbled and amazed to have worked so hard at my sport to be able to make that shot under pressure. This is a shot I will remember for the rest of my life.
I was lucky to have lots of meat to take home to my kids and have a new knowledge and respect for black bears in a different location than I am used to. If you are interested in hunting bears and having an adventure in an idyllic setting, go see Kris and Don Cheater up in Saskatchewan. They are knowledgeable, experienced, and will treat you like family.
If you're interested in learning more about Full Boar Outfitters, or booking a hunt, check them out online: