The last six years I have looked forward to making the trip to Bluffy Lake in Northwest Ontario for my annual bear and fishing expedition. The trip from Missouri starts with hunting fever in July. My thoughts are increasingly directed towards returning to the pristine lake and beautiful great north woods.
Preparing my trusted gear early in the summer helps to fill the gap and assures me that everything is fine tuned. I start flinging arrows at my bear target almost daily for two months and culling and adding my necessities for the trip, keeping in mind I like to travel as light as possible.
This season I took three good buddies, an avid walleye fisherman, my brother in-law, Bill, who looks for any excuse to fish, a good friend and camera man, Scott, to film the expedition, and my good friend and hunting partner, Colin, who was on his first bear hunt with a bow. These fellows were pumped up for the trip for the 1185 mile trip to Bluffy Lake, Northwest Ontario.
I look back at my first trip with my two sons and the excitement we felt as we set out for the Canadian wilderness 8 years ago. Memories were made that will never be forgotten and the bonding was priceless! The trip this year was full of that stimulating anxiety, just like every trip of the past. It is a feeling every outdoors man is stricken with!
My partner and I would bear hunt this trip, and fish with my brother-in-law, and the cameraman. If you have never hunted bear, you are missing a great thrill that some people just don’t understand. Why would you go into the North woods with bow and arrow to hunt an animal that can hunt you? Bears remind me of the movie “Ghost in the Darkness” although I prefer bears over lions! The timber and canopy is very thick and you do not normally hear a bear approaching the bait. You may catch a glimpse of black as the bear moves through the undergrowth, and then he disappears, and suddenly reappears at the bait. Your heart starts to pound and you wonder if he can hear the beating! As you try to calm yourself, you are waiting for the perfect quartered away shot and the bear circles and moves cautiously around the bait. Unlike many of the TV shows you watch, where the hunter is hunting over a 55 gallon drum surrounded with logs and filled with bait, circling around the large bare patch of ground worn smooth by bears coming to the barrel over the years, our bait set up is a small drip bucket hanging about 6 feet up on the side of a tree. The bears that come to the big barrels of bait I call “garbage dump” bears as they are so accustomed to the barrel. I prefer the small drip method as these locations are new every year and are chosen because of fresh bear activity in close proximity to the wild blueberry patches, an attractant and good food source, for the black bear. These bears have not been around people or conditioned to intruders.
Keith, our guide and camp owner, uses his personal recipe of grain, camp leftovers, popcorn, and “special ingredients” to fill the small buckets with drainholes. The mixture will drip down the tree. He puts a large rock in the bucket so the bear cannot tip the bucket easily when he tries to tip it over for its contents. The shot opportunity is when the bear stands on his hind feet and has his front shoulder stretched out. Shot placement is critical and patience is very important. Once the bear is comfortable at the bait, his focus is on eating. That is your opportunity to draw back and fling one into his vitals!
The camera position for this event is quite critical in order to capture a good clean kill shot with minimum movement from the camera man. We set the tree stand two feet higher than my stand and centered over my right shoulder. My camera guy could touch my stand or shoulder with his feet even though he was in a separate tree. This way, he could tap me if he saw activity before I did. The camera arm was fully fastened for firm rotation prior to the actual hunt along with the stands being preset. The night after the first evening hunt, a bear had actually gone up the very tree the camera arm was fastened to and had tilted the arm downward. This was probably a young bear that had a curious nature for camera equipment and tree stands!! Fresh claw marks were on the tree and alongside the climbing sticks…a sure sign he had been there! Obviously he had picked up our scent and paid a visit during the night. Needless to say, Scott was a little apprehensive when he saw what had happened. Little did he know the apprehension would not stop there!
We had gotten to the stand on the second day around 3:30 p.m. We knew the bait had been hit and Keith refilled the small bucket as we got into our stands. A game camera that Keith had placed on a tree, revealed some good sized bears in around 6 p.m. until dark, the day before we started our hunt. The previous day we had a small boar coming in between 4:30 and 6:30. He actually came in 4 different times, laid down, played with bugs, and licked around the base of the tree. It was entertaining to watch his behavior, not knowing we were just 21 yards from him. We shot a lot of footage using two cameras. I always put a small camera on my stand to insure a backup for capturing the kill shot. I can activate the camera with minimal movement. At 21 yards you have good depth of field that allows you to preset the camera’s view.
On the second evening, after getting into our stands at 4 p.m. we sat patiently and quietly, watching the deep green hues of the forest change with the diminishing light as it pushed its way through the canopy. With sharp edged beams of light penetrating every small opening in the canopy above, picking up the gold haze of the Canadian air, an occasional mosquito buzzed around our head nets, searching for a way to gain access to a meal of good ole Missouri blood!
Suddenly, at 7:10 p.m. my camera man lightly tapped my stand with his foot! I knew that signal. I saw nothing in front of me so I cautiously looked back at him over my shoulder. His eyes shifted to my right as a subtle signal that there was movement in that direction. As I slowly turned my head to the direction he indicated, I readied my bow, which seemed like a lifetime. As I turned, I saw a very large boar black bear just 10 yards from our stands. He had come in without a decibel of sound! He actually came in over the very path we had come in on. He was headed right to the bait tree. I could see the shoulder flesh move with his swagger and immediately determined this was a shooter! I let him pass as he moved away from us towards the bait. My guide Keith always says “let them get to the bait before taking the shot”. I have learned from years of experience: listen to your guide! I have to say, my heart was in my throat and I could hear its beat, pounding like a bass drum! I have bow hunted 48 years for game in North America and Africa, and never had a rush like this one, even with previously killed bears. I held my trusted Matthews Drenalin, ready for the shot. I could see the steel blue Muzzy quiver at the tip of the Golden tip shaft, knowing that it was about to be launched into this massive animal! Suddenly, the big boar bolted off to the right! I let off my full draw, looking back at Scott and shrugging my shoulders, not knowing what spooked this monster! Suddenly, the boar came back as if nothing had ever happened! He may have seen another bear approaching and chased it off, something I have seen them do.
As the bear calmed down and began licking the ground at the base of the tree, I once again prepared to draw back the 75 lbs of Matthews power and speed. He stood up on his hind quarters and pawed at the bucket but his right shoulder was at the wrong angle. I waited….he began sticking his snout in the bucket, which seemed to be clinging at the tree for its life. He was stretched out to a full 7 feet. He finally put both paws on the bucket, leaving his shoulder fully exposed. I took careful aim just behind his shoulder and let it fly. Just at that exact second he dropped down to all fours! In that same second I heard the “thaaawackk” that only a bow hunter knows. As he lunged into the brush I could see the arrow in his shoulder, almost sure I had caught the shoulder bone. Now, the wait, as we looked at the video. Yes, the shot was high and just grazed the outer edge of the shoulder. After 20 minutes, knowing it was going to be dark soon, we got down and went to look for blood and there it was, bright red but no bubbles in the small pools, indicating no lung shot. I was almost certainly convinced it was muscle blood and not a vital. Animals will have foam in their blood trail if you hit lungs or a vital as they expel blood.
I knew we were going to run out of daylight so I began flagging the trail with orange tracking tape as we crept along through unbelievably thick underbrush. We did not want to track a wounded bear in the dark so the trail would be marked for the next days search. I silently hoped it would not rain during the night, thus washing out the blood trail. I want to mention that it is very easy to become disoriented in a dark forest so a GPS and compass is part of my “trusted” gear.
We knew the way out would take lead us back by the bait, lucky, no bears!
My spirits sank to a new low on the way back to camp. I had never wounded a large North American animal….until now. This is not the kind of emotion a hunter wants to experience. It imprints itself in your mind for days to come, reliving the shot over and over again in your mind. Back at the camp I shared the experience with the others and reviewed the video footage a dozen times. It was a case of the bear dropping down at the exact moment I released the arrow, jumping the string perhaps, or just a coincidental case of bad timing! I felt very badly that I had wounded a bear that most likely would not be found and could later die of infection.
The next morning proved me right as four of us followed the blood trail until the tiny pinhead drops of blood were no more. He had traveled 300 yards to that point. We searched for 4 hours….no bear. I was so demoralized that I decided not to hunt the next day. My hunting partner, Colin, tactfully asked if he could hunt my stand that evening as the game camera showed that bears had come in again at that location. I assured him to go ahead and take the camera man, Scott, with him. I explained to him we had come along journey to hunt and he should take the opportunity that presented the best odds, my stand. What happened that evening only would occur once in ten thousand times. At 7:10 p.m., Colin had a good sized bear come into the bait. He circled and was very spooky. After several minutes of more heart pounding waiting, Colin placed a good lung shot on the big boar. After waiting twenty minutes, Colin and Scott tracked the big bear and again, faced encroaching darkness. The blood trail was full of bubbles, indicating a good lung shot, and sure enough, 30 yards into the undergrowth, was a big black bear with a great broad head, a real shooter! As Colin looked his trophy over, Scott noticed a dark patch of dried blood on the shoulder. You got it! Colin had shot the bear I had hit the evening before! It had come back to the bait and Colin nailed him. Eureka!! When they came back to camp to get help to bring it out, I was ecstatic that we had not left a wounded bear in the woods to suffer or die, or be maimed for the rest of it’s life. I was temporarily in disbelief but happier than if I had killed it myself! Colin had not only gotten a trophy, but also a trophy that had been given up for lost the day before. I was equally happy that the camp owner and guide did not feel badly towards me for my misfortune. It is such a bad feeling of remorse, knowing you have wounded an animal instead of a clean kill shot.
I truly did not care if I hunted another bear on this trip or not as I had all of the excitement, disappointment, and renewed excitement that I could stand on one trip! I hunted one more evening but my heart was not in it. Having killed several other bears before, I felt like I did not want to push the envelope. I left the bears for another hunter to pursue while I took the opportunity to catch some Walleye and Northern Pike. Of course I have booked another hunt for three other hunter friends of mine, and who knows, maybe another shot at it myself.
As I settled into fishing out the rest of the week, I was once again reminded that Bluffy Lake (http://bluffylake.com/) is one of the best fishing lakes I have experienced in Ontario.
Bluffy Lake Lodge has so much to offer. I try to take someone up there every year so they can experience all that Bluffy has to offer and memories and stories that will stack up like cord wood. For me, my story on this particular trip has a humorous and happy ending.
When Colin was dressing out the bear, I asked if I could have the male organ off of the big boar. Bears have a long 7 to 8 inch bone in their male member much like a raccoon, which makes for quite a conversation piece. Colin obliged me and my other hunting buddies immediately summarized my hunting experience….Colin had shot Ed’s bear, and Ed got the shaft!!
Bluffy Lake is waiting for you too! I can’t promise an experience like mine but believe me, there is a memory waiting for you to bring home.
Good hunting. Get out in the great outdoors!