Hunting Black Bears has been a passion for me since bagging my very first bruin two decades ago in Lynn Lake, Manitoba. Over the course of those decades, I have been a part of many a bear harvest, both as a hunter, a cameraman and as a guide. It is an exciting and challenging sport that requires a lot of effort to outsmart the wily black bear.
Our Spring bear hunting destination for the past seven years has been Buffalo Point on the beautiful shores of Lake of the Woods in Southern Manitoba. This magical land has its fair share of black brutes, the challenge however is to see them in the wild. The Island, as the locals refer to it, is approximately 15 square miles of dense forest surrounded by many more square miles of tamarack swamp. It is a natural environment that draws and holds the elusive animals providing them with every element necessary to the busy, seasonal life of a typical northern bruin.
Hunting at Buffalo Point is done from an elevated ladder stand or a ground blind, both over baits that consist of 55 gallon barrels filled with grain, pastries and kitchen scraps. These baits serve two purposes.
The first purpose is to keep the bears in the dense forest and away from the community where, in the past, they have inflicted heavy damage on the properties of the local residents. They have broken into homes, decimated garbage containers, torn up gardens and destroyed sheds & small structures. The feeding program was started to keep the bears away and it has been extremely successful when carried out from snow melt to the onset of the berry season, at which time there was enough food in the bush to hold the bears there.
The second reason for the feeding stations is to provide a tool for the Gamekeeper of Buffalo Point to manage the bear population on The Island. Hunters not only provide a method for thinning the population of bears in the community, but they are willing to pay for the privilege to do so, thereby bringing in another source of income to help finance the community’s annual budget.
Since my first solo trip in 2011, I have managed to find a handful of friends to join me in the spring pursuit each year. The spring bear hunt expanded into a fall whitetail hunt in 2013 so now twice a year we return to this nature-lover’s paradise to chase about the wild things of Buffalo Point. During both the Spring and Fall hunts the taking of wolves is permitted if anyone is lucky enough to see one… and yes, they are there. During the fall hunt the taking of a bear is also permissible if a hunter sees one he or she would like to add to their trophy wall.
It was May 26th, 2017 and I was back at Buffalo Point about to head into the bush for the first night of hunting. Harry Fisher, another hunter, was there also and as he, Drew Thunder, our guide and I discussed the high winds, it was suggested that we were probably wasting our time as bears do not move very well in windy conditions. It was sunny and we were ready…so into the field we went for round one of the hunt.
When we reached the drop off point, I told Drew that I could walk in as I was familiar with the bait’s location and the stand set up, but Drew said that he wanted to go in with me just to make sure that he had all of the brush cleared out of the shooting lane, so I relented. As we neared the bait, we spotted a bear already filling its belly. It was pretty iffy, but Drew took my gear and I tried to move close enough for a shot before the bear realized I was there. Our attempt failed. There was just too much brush between me and the bear for a clean shot and by the time I would have been close enough for an open shot, I would have been right on top of it and we would have had to wrestle to the death. I was spotted by the bear long before reaching that open spot and it quickly moved into the deep cover of the bush that surrounded the bait, but at least I had met my opponent.
Drew got me settled into the stand as we excitedly chattered about the experience, both agreeing that bear was a shooter. I stowed my gear, set my crossbow at the ready and prepared my camera as Drew waited patiently for me to finish my tasks. Once I was done, he went to the bait and loudly banged around, placed some fresh logs and sticks in the opening and then noisily walked away from the site.
It was 5:35 p.m. and there was nothing to do but wait. I held the camera in my hands as I was still shaking a bit from the excitement generated by the initial contact with the bear. I was hoping it would return quickly.
Returning quickly is a relative phrase. I saw it the next time at 7:00 p.m. which to me was relatively quick. It was the next 25 minutes that it took the bear to come into the bait that seemed like forever.
Bears do not get to be big bears by being foolish, rash or stupid. This bear was not a monster, but it was of respectable size. It had a few years of education to get it this far. At first it moved cautiously from left to right and then back again about fifty yards behind the bait. It would move a bit and then freeze for a while, then move a bit again, followed by another freeze always staying behind the cover of the thick brush. Finally it turned and began to move in the same fashion towards the bait… very, very slowly.
There was a dead tree that was broken off about ten feet from the ground. The clever bruin situated the dead tree between it and me and used it as a cover as it inched toward the feast that waited for it. Ever so slowly, one step and then wait forever… then another step and another wait, all the time keeping the big, dead tree between me and it.
I had my camera in my hands, and I documented the agonizingly slow process with photo after photo. When the bear finally reached the bait barrel, it did not come around the log pile that had been neatly arranged for just that purpose. Instead, it laid down behind the log pile and began to consume the oats that were scattered on the ground. When the bear was filling its mouth, I could just see the top of its head. It would grab a mouth full and then look over the log pile, giving me a head shot, which I would definitely not take with a crossbow. My .270 yes, but not my bow.
And so I waited… waited and photographed… photographed and waited… for a very long time I waited. In spite of the wait, I enjoyed the experience immensely.
Eventually, after determining that in my record book, this was a trophy bear, I put down the camera, picked up my crossbow and prepared for a shot, should I be given an opportunity. For this hunt I was using the Excalibur Micro Suppressor. It is a petite little bow that is powerful and as with all Excaliburs, deadly accurate. In spite of its small size, it launches an arrow at 340 fps. I was using an 18″ LumenArrow tipped with a 100 grain Rage X-treme Crossbow broadhead which delivers a 2.3″, two blade cut.
The bear was feeding at 30 yards and the time that I had spent on the range with this bow had instilled a healthy dose of confidence in its performance, just as long as I could stay calm and do my part in the final moment. Most often, especially with a crossbow, the bad shots are not due to the equipment, but instead to shooter’s error. Even the best marksman has been done in by the adrenaline rush that comes when the shot is about to be made. A level head and a controlled delivery is the pathway to success and I planned to succeed.
Waiting patiently, I studied the bear through the scope with the second reticle placed and held steadily upon its body. It glowed a brilliant red, brightly illuminated in the low light against the animal’s black fur. I slowly measured my breathing, hoping that at any moment the bear would provide with an opportunity to launch my arrow into its vitals. The safety bar of the stand provided me with a steady rest that supported the weight of the bow. Time was on my side and patience would pay off.
Suddenly the bear sprang to its feet and turned to face the woods to its left. I was provided with an almost perfect broadside of the bruin, although its front quarters angled slightly towards me. Good enough! The second reticle locked onto a spot halfway up and down the bear’s body, just behind its front let. The safety quietly slipped to the fire position, and my index finger began to apply a steady pressure to the trigger. The bow erupted in a muffled bark as I watched the brilliant red Lumenok trail the arrow and then disappear into the chest of the startled black bear. The animal exploded into motion, turning in the direction it had come and instantly disappearing into the dense brush and thick forest. Then all was silent.
I waited for the death moan, but it did not come. The woods were stone cold silent… and I was shaking like a leaf flapping on a dead limb in the middle of a hurricane. As I waited for my body to calm, I debated what to do. Checking my phone and seeing that I had bars, I called Drew to report in. I explained what had happened and told him to bring the big gun and come out to the stand as I was pretty sure the hunt was over for the night. We had plenty of daylight left to conduct a search so the sooner he got there the better.
After disconnecting with Drew, I climbed out of the stand with my crossbow and camera. The first order of business was to re-cock the crossbow. When you hear the death moan, you know the bear is history. Without that moan, you behave in a manner that will prevent you from becoming history. So once the bow was recharged, I slowly walked towards the barrel, staying alert to my surroundings, watching in all directions.
Where the bear had been standing was marked with a heavy splashing of blood. That much blood, so soon, was a very good sign, indeed. As I stood there, my eyes followed a trail that did not diminish as it headed in the direction the bear had taken. It was quite easy to pick up the sign 10 or 15 feet ahead of me and within 30 yards or so, I could see the lifeless body of the bear lying peacefully in the brush. It was most definitely a knockout.
Calling Drew immediately, I caught him just as he was leaving his house.
“Bring the meat wagon, the bear is dead,” I told him.
There would be no need for the big gun. As I walked back to the bait barrel, I spied my arrow brightly lit and off to the side from where it had impacted the bear. Apparently when the bear had spun around it had been flung into the brush, but its location was rather hard to conceal with that bright red light shining out on the dimly lit forest floor.
At the end of the first day of the hunt my tag was filled and my schedule was freed up to help Drew with the other hunters, two of which were physically challenged and would require extra attention during their hunt’s at Buffalo Point. Once again, things had worked out for the best with a knockout in the first round.
Thank you, Drew! As always, you dun’ good. That heartfelt thanks goes out not only to Drew, but to his entire family for their special down-home hospitality; and also to all of the folks at Buffalo Point that do so much and go so far to make their guests feel like visiting royalty. You are all the very best.