20 Bears in 4 Hours: An Epic Manitoba Bear Hunt
Bernie Barringer 10.14.15
I left Manitoba this June deeply disappointed. For several years I have been trying to complete the grand slam of all four colors phases of black bears. In June, I had a blonde bear in front of me twice but couldn’t get an ethical shot. That bear would have been the one I needed to complete the grand slam with a bow. You can read about that hunt here.
Because I still had an unfilled bear tag in my back pocket, Tom Ainsworth with Grandview Outfitters agreed to get two baits going for me for a fall hunt. One was only a mile and a half from where I saw the blonde bear in the spring. We felt there was a chance we could pull the blonde into this bait.
As the hunt approached, I started getting emails from Deb, Tom’s wife, that the baits were being hit well, but only by smaller bears and no color-phase bears. I seriously considered pulling the plug on the whole hunt at this point. Was it worth my time and money to drive 12 hours to sit over a bait populated by average-sized bears? One last call to Tom a couple days before the season opener on August 24 gave me some hope. Tom told me that while there were mostly average bears visiting this bait, the area had a history of producing big bears, and you just never know when a color phase bear or a big boar could show up.
With newfound optimism, I drove to Deer River, Minnesota the following day and my buddy Gordy and I headed north. Gordy also had an unfilled tag from the past spring because he had chosen to pass a big bear on the first day, then regretted it through the remainder of the hunt. After the long drive, we settled into the farmhouse where we would be staying and enjoyed an evening drive around the countryside.
The morning of opening day, we went out and hung stands at the baits. That was the first indication I had that I was about to experience something truly special. The bears in this area showed no fear of humans, and four hung around the area, circling, as we put up my treestand. One yearling cub even fed at the bait 15 yards away as we put up my stand. We went back to camp for a meal and I was feeling pretty good about my chances of at least tagging a nice bear over the next four days I had to hunt.
I settled into the stand that afternoon at 3 p.m. with bears working in the woods around me. I had a long time to enjoy the beautiful late August day before the darkness set in. Within 15 minutes, three more bears moved into sight. They were males in the 150- to 200-pound range, bears that most people would be happy to shoot.
Bears kept coming and going for the next hour, when a bigger bear cautiously worked his way to the bait. I had been seeing so many bears I had become jaded as this bear just seemed like yet another bear. But when he got to the bait site, there were four other 200-pound males there, and they appeared to be about half his size. Clearly this was a big male. He fed for a half hour as bears moved around, in and out of the bait. By this time I had seen over 15 different bears, but didn’t seriously consider shooting any of them. After all, it was still the first few hours of the hunt. When the big bear left, I did have a twinge of regret, even though the largest bears typically come in during the last half hour of daylight. Would I see a bigger bear?
Another 300-pound bear made an appearance for a while, a sow with a cub came a little close and the cub ran up a tree right beside me when a male tried to make a meal of it. Then a young male became interested in me, and bluff charged the base of my tree. I stood up and told him, “That’s close enough!” and that put an end to his aggression. A big, old skinny male that was way past his prime spent a short time around the bait but he clearly wasn’t comfortable there in the daylight. By this time I estimated that I had seen about 20 different bears. There had not been one second from the time I climbed into the stand that there was not a bear within bow range.
At 7:00 p.m. the big bear came back. I decided I was crazy for not shooting him the first time. He looked to be about 400 pounds with a big, blocky head, and he would be one of the largest bears I have ever shot. Should I wait another hour and see what comes in at last light? Could the blonde bear really show up? That was a longshot to be sure since it hadn’t been seen on game camera at this bait.
At the next opportunity for a quartering away shot, I drove my arrow into the last rib, where the broadhead lodged in the heart. The bear ran 30 yards, just out of sight, and went down. Over the next few seconds as he was breathing his last two of the smaller males attacked him in a display of aggression towards a fallen dominant bear.
When Tom came to pick me up with the ATV, the bears moved off. There were still bears around us as we took photos and video of the big bear. We weighed him back at Tom’s place, where he weighed in right at 400 pounds. His skull green scored 21 inches, right at the Boone and Crockett record book minimums.
Gordy made the evening workload even tougher by shooting a 340-pound bear that first evening right at last light. We got to bed late that night but slept well with the sense of satisfaction that comes from hunting success.
I have been on a lot of hunts in my life, and this bear was the 18th bear I have shot with my Mathews bows. But this one will live in my memory as the most incredible hunt to date. The most incredible part of all was that I almost didn’t go.
The video of this hunt can be seen below:
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.