Semi-guided Bear Hunts: Great for the Frugal Sportsman
Bernie Barringer 10.06.15
When his grandfather and father died, 22-year-old Edward Wilson III found himself the owner of a campground and an exclusive bear hunting concession covering 5,300 square kilometers of prime northwestern Ontario bear country. He didn’t have the equipment nor the funding he needed to offer fully guided hunts, so he chose another option. He decided to offer semi-guided hunts at a bargain price.
He would provide active bait sites and the hunters would do the rest. His hunters are required to most of the things that a guide would normally do: hang treestands, transport themselves back and forth to the hunting area, get the bear out, and get it skinned and cooled. They also must camp or book a cabin at a nearby resort. While a fully guided hunt with meals and lodging runs $2,500 at a minimum, Eddy’s hunts are a bargain at $500.
I spent opening week of the 2015 bear season in Eddy’s campground hunting the baits he provided for my group. Our group of five hunters included myself, Paul, a friend from my hometown, Virgil, a friend from South Dakota who I have hunted with several times, and two of Virgil’s friends (Alex and Ben from Texas) who had never hunted bears before. Paul’s wife and daughter came along for support; they picked blueberries and made dinner for us—and, of course, blueberry pancakes for breakfast.
To make a long story short, we hung our own stands, ran our own baits, drove ourselves to the bait sites and back, camped at Eddie’s campground on Havik Lake, had great fishing, and, ultimately, retrieved our own bears from the woods. All five of us shot nice bears in the first four days and we had a blast. It was one of the most enjoyable hunts I have ever been on. It is still hard to believe the cost was only $500 per person (plus a $250 bear license).
Some people like the idea of doing the work themselves, and some just don’t have the means to shell out several grand for a hunt. Semi-guided hunts like those offered by Edward Wilson are the perfect solution. I have seen similar hunts run from $800 to $1,200 depending on how much of the process involves a guide or outfitter. Outfits that take care of your bear for you or have stands already hung are on the higher end of the spectrum.
Hunting without a guide looking over your shoulder at all times means a lot more work on your part, and being prepared in advance for things that may come up. Here are nine important things to think about when choosing a self-guided or semi-guided hunt.
- There can be a lot involved in skinning and quartering your bear and getting it home in good shape. Some may have freezer facilities, but in many cases you will need to find an outlet for ice. Plan ahead for this.
- Require the outfitter to guarantee you at least two active baits. You will need a backup bait in case of a bad wind or something could go wrong with a bait site. With at least two baits being hit consistently, you significantly increase your odds of getting a bear. One of my baits suddenly went dead (possibly due to the presence of wolves) and the bears stopped showing up. I eventually took my bear on my backup bait.
- This type of hunting requires a lot of manual labor and you need to be in good physical condition. Hanging stands, hauling buckets of bait into the woods, and getting a bear out is hard work. If you are badly out of shape, semi-guided hunts are probably not for you.
- Generally, flying to a hunt like this is not an option. You need too much gear, so typically you need to drive to haul it all. Another option might be to have the stands shipped in prior to the hunt, then fly in and leave the stands there as part of your gratuity.
- Even though you are not being guided, tip the outfitter/guide. They spent a lot of time and effort—not to mention money—acquiring bait and hauling it into the woods for you. They are offering you a bargain so be generous with your gratuity.
- Ask in advance how you will access the baits. Eddie’s baits are located along forest roads, skid trails, and old logging access roads so you can drive a four-wheel-drive pickup within 100 yards of all his baits. Some outfitters will have baits that need to be accessed with an ATV or even a boat. Make sure you know this in advance so you are prepared.
- The success rates on these hunts are lower than those of fully guided hunts. That’s not to say that you are less likely to get a bear, it just shows that some people show up unprepared, or just don’t put in enough effort. You need some basic hunting skills to be successful. Picking the wrong tree for a stand where you stand out against the sky or hunting in a bad wind can lower your odds of success. Use good woodsmanship and you have a good chance to go home with a bear.
- Make sure you have comfortable lodging or camping facilities and plenty of food. Nothing can break down your morale, and your drive to work hard at hunting, more than being miserable and hungry. If camping, make sure you are prepared for bad weather and have a place to clean up. Eddy’s campground is primitive, so I bathed in the lake. It’s nearly an hour drive to Kenora for more supplies, so I was careful to prepare for anything. There is a resort 15 minutes away that offers cabins, so that’s an option for those who do not like to rough it in a campground.
- While many fully guided outfits will have activities for you when you are not hunting, the semi-guided option requires you to provide your own “entertainment.” I like to fish, so that’s usually my first option, sightseeing is another good one, and if there are berries in season, that can be yet another. If you are the kind of person who can’t just lounge around camp for a few hours, take this into consideration.
I have been on more than a dozen fully guided hunts and I have baited my own bears for 15 years, but this was the first semi-guided hunt I have been on. It will not be my last, because I really enjoyed it, and the personal satisfaction that comes from doing most of the work myself is a real motivator for me. Contact Eddy at [email protected] or call 807-407-0828.
You can see a video of the hunt below.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.