I guess I’m a do-it-yourselfer at heart. I suppose that’s why I spend most of my deer hunting adventures on public land without any aid from an outfitter or guide. That interest in handling the work and enjoying the added satisfaction that comes from figuring it out and being successful on my own translates into bear hunting as well.
I have nothing against outfitters and guides at all. In fact, I’ve been on a dozen fully guided bear hunts where food and lodging were provided, I was instructed along the way, and the bears I shot were skinned, quartered and frozen for me. I love it. But it’s just not the same as doing it myself, and it sure doesn’t come with the same price tag.
Recently I have fallen in love with a “middle ground” in this bear hunting game. For the second year in a row, I travelled to Northwest Ontario to hunt with Havik Lake Outfitters. It’s owned by Edward Wilson, and he offers what I have come to refer to as a semi-guided experience. He has bear bait sites that are active with regular visits by bears. When my friends and I show up, we take over and do it on our own. We hang treestands, transport ourselves to and from the baits with a combination of trucks and ATVs, handle all the baiting from the time we arrive, and get our tagged bears out of the woods. It’s less than half the cost of a fully guided hunt and much more satisfying.
I took a small group of six friends on this hunt last year, and we all got our bears by the fourth night. This year that group ballooned to 12, the maximum Eddy allows at any one time due to the number of baits he has available. I have a number of people who want to go along for next year, so we have already booked a full camp for opening week of 2017. We love the experience that much.
On day no. 1 this year, five of the 12 got their bears, so let’s just say the guys who weren’t picky about the size of the bears they shoot filled their tags. On day no. 2, more bears came in and the lights were on the skinning pole until after midnight again. I shot a great bear on the second day.
By day no. 5, only two hunters remained, Gordy and Dave. There was some good-natured ribbing going on, especially since Dave had to leave the following morning, bear or no bear. He arrowed a really nice bear only 10 minutes before the end of legal shooting light that evening and went home with a bear. Gordy filled out with the second biggest bear of the trip on day no. 7.
Eddy owns the Havik Lake Campground, which is rustic – without electricity and with pit toilets – and he charges us only $15 a night to camp there, so the overall cost of the hunt and camping is a real bargain. Fishing is available right there on Havik Lake, or at any of the dozens of nearby lakes that are accessible by ATV or 4-wheel drive.
While the camaraderie is fantastic, the hard work does pile up. This kind of a hunt will help you better appreciate the work that goes into a daily routine of a guide. We spend our days checking scouting cameras, baiting, and moving ATVs from one place to another. That’s followed by 5-7 hours on stand and then late nights skinning and quartering the bears that are shot that evening.
Of course, a guy has to eat, and eat we do. Mostly we are responsible for our breakfasts and lunches, but often some of the guys throw in and make a meal together. Usually one of the group agrees to feed everyone for the evening meal. We create some great meals that are easy to heat up because we tend to eat in shifts. Things such as chili, stews, goulash and so forth work well because hunters return from their hunts at differing times and these meals are easy to reheat.
Some of the baits are near camp, so hunters start showing up right after dark, but others straggle in over the next couple hours because some of the baits are some distance away by ATV, and some hunters are getting bears field-dressed and out of the woods. Brandi set a record this year, shooting a bear 11 minutes after climbing in the stand, but other hunters have not showed up in camp until 2 hours after dark, prompting talk of sending out a search party.
We have a system that works well for us, and Eddy seems happy with our way of doing it. Of course, it looks good for him as well, since we have gone 100 percent on getting everyone a bear the last 2 years.
If the thought of paying $2,500 or more for a fully guided bear hunt with all the amenities isn’t for you, consider the option of semi-guided black bear adventure for a fraction of the cost. Most outfitters that offer this service do so for $500-$1,000. It’s a lot more work, but certainly a lot more rewarding.
Check out the video of this year’s semi-guided Ontario black bear hunt below:
Images by Bernie Barringer