Rookie Mistake

“Bear down?” came the text.

“Bear ran” went the reply.

Moments earlier, a shotgun blast had torn through the stagnant evening air, sending a .50 calibre slug screaming between the trees towards its target.

Over the summer I had expressed an interest in bear hunting to some colleagues and fellow hunters. My friend Robert informed me that he also planned on getting in to bear hunting this year.  A lack of additional deer seals in his unit meant that Robert now had to fill the rest of his freezer with different quarry, and there is no shortage of bears near his homestead.  I had hunted bears once before, but this would be Robert’s first time targeting them.

A few weeks prior to opening day, we set to work getting our bait sites ready.  For the most part, I had to rely on corn that I bought from my local TSC store and the occasional bag of scavenged apples and stale bread. We were also lucky enough to meet the chef of a local pub, who was more than willing to give us his used fryer grease (he has to pay to dispose of it otherwise).  We gladly took several pails over the weeks, making our vehicles smell like chicken wings.

My ground blind

Robert has several existing tree stands on his property, so selecting a bait site was relatively straigforward for him.  He set me up on his neighbour’s property across the road, no more than 300 yards from his stand.  I don’t own a tree stand or a safety harness, so I was relegated to building a ground blind. It was much easier than I anticipated, thanks to an old cedar rail fence running through the property.  After sawing off a few large

cedar boughs and laying them across the rails, I was confident that I could stay hidden. Thanks to some handy trail cameras, we know that several different bears found our bait sites within hours and frequented them on a daily basis.

On opening day, Robert brought up a great idea.  For weeks, we had been using his ATV to fill our bait barrels, and invariably had bears come in soon after we left. So he suggested we use the ATV to drop bait right before hunting, and then walk back in on foot. We figured the noise might alert them to fresh food.

It was an obscenely hot day, the humidex pushing 36C. There was no wind to blow our scent around and alert the bears, but after sitting in a pool of my own sweat for 3 hours I was wishing it would kick up a bit.

Around 7:15pm, a large lone bear appeared at the barrel.  My heart rate doubled instantly – I was sitting in a ground blind 20 yards away from from a potentially dangerous predator. I hadn’t heard a sound as the bear approached, and didn’t even see it until it was 10 feet from the barrel.

I watched the bear sniff the offerings and the surrounding air. Suddenly, 10 feet to my right, a blue jay made a cracking sound as it hopped between the dead branches of a pine tree (I thought birds were supposed to be agile?). The bruin’s head turned to examine the noise, it’s eyes sweeping right across my blind. My hunter orange hat was poking out over the branches, so I was sure he was going to bust me. I released the safety in case it decided to check me out. But it never looked directly at me, and after a moment went back to sniffing a bundle of empty grapevines. It was quartered away from me, so I slowly rose to my knees and shouldered my Remington 870.

My memory of the next moments is blurred from excitement, but I’m confident that I took plenty of time to put the bead on the bear’s vitals.  I pulled the trigger, the bear jumped, and then ran off through the swamp at top speed (which is actually really fast when you see it up close).  Then came the text.

I waited a few minutes then searched the area for signs of a hit. My heart dropped when I found no hair and no blood where there should have been plenty.  Later in the evening (well after dark, actually), myself and 3 seasoned hunters were scouring the swamp for evidence that the slug had found it’s mark. After extensive searching and recreating the trajectory, we concluded that I had missed the animal cleanly. The conclusive evidence came in the form of a low-lying branch that had been shattered by the slug. Given how close to the ground it was and the lack of blood and hair, we all concluded that it was a clean miss.  I’m still embarrassed about missing an animal of that size at that range, but my friends assured me that it happens to everyone at some point. With a little more hunting experience under my belt, I’ll be able to calm my nerves and ensure that everything is in order before pulling the trigger.

Next time my reply text will hopefully contain a different message.

Bear down.

* Note: in the interest of brevity, I have left out the details of Robert’s hunting experience. The outcome was identical to mine unfortunately, but it’s a good story nonetheless. *

One of several bears that frequented my bait prior to opening day.

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