I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in the business side of bear hunting as a writer, editor and product promoter for many years. I’ve been able to go on quite a few bear hunts, from British Columbia to Maine, and a lot of places in between. I’ve enjoyed running my own baits and hunting with outfitters, and I’ve had plenty of successes – and failures – from which to learn.
When I shot a 400-pound B&C bear in Manitoba last fall, I figured my bear hunting might have peaked with that giant bruin. But when I headed back to Grandview Outfitters in the Duck Mountains of western Manitoba for a fall hunt this year in search of my 20th bear with a bow, I had no idea that the bar was about to set even higher.
People talk about 500-pound bears all the time. The weights of bears are so often grossly overestimated that it’s the topic of jokes around the campfires of every veteran bear hunter. The reality is a 300-pound black bear is huge, a 400-pounder is extremely rare, and a 500-pound black bear is one in a million.
(Editor’s note: Want to see a 500-pounder arrowed by the author on video? Check it out below!)
For a baseline, look at the real statistics. In most places, such as my home state of Minnesota, the average black bear shot is 120-140 pounds. A lot of so-called 300 pounders have been put on a scale and weighed less than 200.
When my 2015 fall Manitoba bear hung on a scale and moved the needle to 400 pounds, I figured I was topped out. Its skull later measured 21 inches, making Boone and Crockett. So when I went back to Grandview Outfitters for opening day, August 29, 2016, I was looking for a nice, representative bear. In fact, the outfitter had sent me some scouting camera photos of really nice chocolate brown color-phase bears on one of the baits, so I hoped that one of them would be going home with me.
I shot my bear on the first day of my 2015 hunt, and was a bit disappointed my hunt ended so soon. When I climbed into the treestand on opening day 2016, I committed to just watching to see what developed; I was simply not going to shoot a bear on the first day and end my hunt that soon. And that commitment lasted about 4 hours.
Several decent-sized bears came and went over the first few hours. One was a big boar weighing about 300 pounds with a nice white V on his chest. Maybe he would be a target bear if he returned on subsequent nights. The sheer number of bears in this area is staggering. The first 11 bears were all blacks; no sign of any of the many chocolates seen on camera.
Bear number 12 was different – he was a giant. When he got up on the barrel to feed on oats, my heart leapt as I realized I was looking at the biggest bear I’d ever seen in the wild. I sized him up and it was obvious that he was larger than the one I had shot in 2015. But I was steadfastly committed to passing all comers on the day No. 1. He fed for a while and then left.
Immediate and overwhelming remorse overtook my emotions. Was I nuts? I just passed up what was most likely a legitimate 500-pound bear. What am I thinking? I soothed my troubled mind by promising myself if that bear ever came back to this bait during this hunt, I would shoot him at the first opportunity.
Ten minutes later he was back.
The shot looked perfect, and the massive boar exited the area in a rush, then all was quiet. I figured he had gone down 30-40 yards away. In reality, he, like many huge boars are prone to do, just slowed to a walk.
And walk he did. When we found him the following morning, after following a remarkably visible blood trail 400 yards through the thick bush, we were all stunned at how far he had travelled. Despite having an arrow through both lungs and a heart nicked by the broadhead, he had calmly walked through thick willows, swamps and spruce thickets until he just fell over. Tom Ainsworth, owner of Grandview Outfitters, stated simply, “The truly big ones do not want to die. They don’t lie down and give up after a short distance like most bears.”
We stood over the bear and analyzed him for a while. There was no way we could move him. It took all we could do just to roll him over for photos. The three of us – Tom, an outfitter who has handled hundreds of bears in 30 years of guiding; Jim, who had just shot a 350-pounder the evening before; and me, who had the vision of a 400-pounder fresh in my mind – tried to get a grasp of what we were looking at on the ground. All three of us agreed, without reservation, that this bear weighed at least 500 pounds.
That was good enough for me, so we set about cutting him up to hauling him out of the woods. A few hours later, we had the bear’s meat along with the front half of the hide with head attached back at the ATVs for the ride home. The front half of the hide and head weighed nearly 100 pounds.
Next year, there’s no way I am going to shoot a bear on the first evening.