Manitoba Black Bear Hunting

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near sighted bear
This is what the near sighted bear sees as it looks towards the bear hunter that is stalking it.

The bright, evening sunlight illuminated the rugged landscape around the bait barrel with warm, rich color-tones that only appear at the beginning and at the end of the day. Originally this particular bait (nicknamed “Frank’s Bait”) had been nestled amid a thick stand of jack pines, which completely sheltered it from the sun’s prying rays. Several years earlier, a brutal storm had leveled most of the trees in the immediate area making it possible for the late-afternoon sun to caress the site with its comforting glow as each day comes to an end. The only hunting stand that stood guard over Frank’s Bait was fifty yards away in a clump of three or four jack pines that had miraculously avoided storm’s decimation. Needless to say, that was too far for an ethical shot with a crossbow, which is always this bear hunter's weapon of choice.

This bear hunter's hunting outfitter knew that this hunter prefered to hunt bears from a ground blind, so when that particular bait went hot with daily raids by hungry, marauding bruins, he told him to grab his ground blind and get out to Frank’s Bait, there was work to be done there. That was Wednesday, the fourth day of the hunt and as of yet, he had not seen, heard or even smelled a hint of the elusive Canadian Black Bear.

black bear bait
The black bear bait is one of the bear hunter’s personal favorites and has played host to him for a lot of hours of peaceful pure enjoyment.

Two hours had already passed since the bear hunter had arrived at the site with his aboriginal hunting guide and erected one of his ground blinds just twenty-five yards from the bait. His digital still-camera was mounted on a monopod and was keeping him occupied with picture-taking as a busy assortment of birds and squirrels moved across the landscape providing some very enjoyable entertainment, as well as plenty of things to shoot. When he wasn’t taking picture’s he was trying to snap the mosquitoes out of the air as they drifted through his shooting window. His crossbow was cocked, had an arrow in it and leaned against the ground blind’s wall patiently waiting to be called into play. But for the last several hours, his Sony H-7 had been the only device getting any action.

One of the great benefits of bear hunting from a ground blind is that it so completely conceals the hunter and his movement that one could do a jig in the ground blind and animals in the immediate area would never know it. The ground blind this bear hunter was using is capable of being opened so that a continuous, vertical window would allow him to see a full 360 degrees around him. However, he usually chooses to seal up the sides and back, leaving just enough of an opening in the front window to make the shot. He wore a black hooded sweatshirt for an outer garment, which makes it virtually impossible to see him when he was secreted in the ground blind under those circumstances. He was able to move about freely while remaining confident that he would not be detected as long as he did so quietly. The camp chair that he sat in was made delightfully cushy by an extra padded cushion and had a high back for spinal support allowing the time to pass by quickly and comfortably. Another nice thing about hunting from the ground is that should you fall from your perch, no bones are usually broken in the eighteen-inch fall necessary to thud onto the earth.

red squirrel
There is never want for action around a black bear bait barrel, even the red squirrels come there for nourishment.

As the sun bathed the landscape, which was a kaleidoscope of bright, rich greens, grays and browns, the sudden appearance of a conspicuous, black blob caught his immediate attention. It was the head of a bear, which had abruptly risen from the greenery with its tan muzzle pointed towards the sky as the sun glistened off its thick, shiny fur. As bears always do, it appeared unannounced and with the stealth and quiet of drifting black fog. One second there was a mural of gray tree trunks and vivid green foliage and the next there was a big black hole in the middle of it of it all. That black hole, however, was moving, had definite ears, polished black-marble eyes and a tawny snout, which was aimed towards the heavens as it sifted the air currents for any hint of peril.

The monopod-mounted camera was resting against the bear hunter's leg and just as quickly as the bear had appeared, the Sony was powered up and focusing on the latest arrival at Frank’s Bait. As the bruin acclimated to its surroundings and began to relax, he struggled to get usable shots of the animal through the dense cover that obscured it from his vision. The bear’s head dropped out of sight as it began a fifteen-minute session of snooping around, laying down, getting up and conducting a general exploration of the area behind the bait barrel. He assumed that the essence of fish, which was the main entree in the bait barrel, had been smeared around that area the bear was concentrating on by an earlier meal. He had no choice but to wait and hope that I would be able to get a clear shot with the camera.

Manitoba black bear
The black bear’s head was aimed towards the heavens as it sifted the air currents for any hint of peril.

After a quarter of an hour, the balking, black bear finally moved into the open providing the first opportunity for a clear look at its entire body. The ears appeared to be large, but the belly hung closer to the ground than the bear hunter would have judged by the size of the ears causing me to estimate its live weight at just under 200 pounds. The pelt was in absolute prime condition with no visible rub spots on it at all. He continued to take photos as it sashayed up to the bait barrel, bit into the logs that blocked the open end, yanking them out, onto the ground. Once the gateway to supper had been cleared, the bear poked its head inside to inspect this evening’s fare. It quickly decided upon one of the fresh suckers that had been placed there upon our arrival, grabbed it in its mouth, exited the barrel and beat a hasty retreat for its picnic spot deep in the recesses of the thick timber.

When the bear had been completely absorbed into the thick Canadian bush, the bear hunter reviewed the photos he had shot before it had disappeared with its supper. He wasn’t really impressed with the quality of the images, but there were a couple of usable photos. In most of the frames, there had just been too much brush, movement or low light to capture a great image. He was able to tell from the photos, however, that this animal was an excellent trophy and guessed that it would be excellent table fare as well. Not the biggest bear on the tundra, but the quality and condition of the pelt would make an exceptional mount or rug. He decided that if the bear returned for a second helping at the buffet barrel, he would set his camera down, pick up his bow and take the shot.

Manitoba black bear
As black bears always do, it appeared unannounced and with the stealth and quiet of drifting black fog.

Half an hour later, the bear reappeared and slowly moved to the barrel. This time it was more relaxed and lingered in the open allowing me to shoot more photos. When it reached the barrel, the bear hunter leaned his photo equipment against the wall of the ground blind and reached for his crossbow. He clicked the red dot scope to setting #11 and brought it to his shoulder. The process required a lot of movement, but the bear was oblivious to his presence thanks to the dark interior of the ground blind. He steadied the bow by resting his elbow on his knee and brought the bear to the center of the scope. When the gleaming red dot found the animal’s ribcage just behind its front leg and then became steady, he pushed the safety off with his thumb and began to slowly apply pressure to the trigger.

The bear was quartering away from the bear hunter with its head deep in the barrel. The red dot was brilliant against the thick black fur of the unsuspecting animal. When the trigger hit the wall, his index finger slowly pulled it through to full-release. The bow snapped loudly as it relieved the tension on the string, sending the arrow directly into a sea of black fur, exactly where the red dot was resting. The fletching of the arrow disappeared from sight as another loud, duet of noises broke the stillness of the woodland. The first part was a muffled gong as the bear’s head slammed into the top of the barrel. The second half was the surprised, hollow sounding “woof” that was blurted out by the bear in the depths of the barrel as the arrow sliced through its breadbox. It yanked its head out for the drum and spun toward the thick cover moving in a clumsy, stumbling gait, which indicated to me that the opposite front leg had been broken as the arrow exited its body. Covering just twenty yards, the hapless, broken bruin crashed to the ground as it began a series of moans that announced that the curtain dropping on its final act.

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