-By Rich Miller
When I was little boy growing up in South Carolina I cut my teeth hunting squirrels, dove, and eventually deer and turkey. Back then we didn’t have hunting shows on television 24 hours a day; all we had was a couple of fishing shows that came on Sunday afternoon. I remember thumbing through Outdoor Life and Field and Stream magazines looking at the photos and reading the articles. For me, reading the articles and imagining the writers on these great big game hunts, was like being there. As a kid obsessed with whitetails these elk, bear, and moose hunts were something that I could only dream of.
About a year and a half ago I was invited on a bear hunt in Canada by a good friend of mine. He rents a camp out in Northern Alberta for the opening week of bear season every year. There were seven of us that were going on this hunt for six days. To say I was excited to be going on this hunt was an understatement. Joining me on this hunt was good friend and Special Promotion Coordinator for Pradco Outdoor Brands, Jim Strelec. All of us had been looking forward to this hunt for over a year so when we all met up in Fort McMurray, Alberta on Friday afternoon we all had a very restless night in anticipation of the next day.
We arrived at camp around noon on Saturday and it was just what I imagined. It was in the middle of nowhere surrounded by Aspen trees and Jack Pines. As soon as we arrived we were all busy getting unpacked and trying to settle in before Miss Audry had lunch ready. Jim and I shared a very roomy 16 x 20-canvas tent with a wood floor in it for the next six nights.
After lunch and all of our licenses were handed out we all started getting ready for the evening hunt. After a long and very thrilling ATV ride through several different swamps I arrived at my stand location and there was already a bear on the bait. By the time my cameraman and I got settled in our stands it was 3:30. About forty five minutes after getting into our stands we spotted a bear coming into our bait site. For a rookie bear hunter like myself judging a bear is pretty tough. The golden rule for a first time bear hunter is never shoot the first bear you see because it will be the biggest bear you have ever seen. Adhering to this rule I just sat back and watched this bear and tried to enjoy the show. This bear looked to be about a hundred and fifty pounds and while he wasn’t big enough to shoot he sure provided a lot of entertainment. He climbed up several trees trying to get to a bait that was tied up and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get a mouth full of it. After exhausting himself on the bait and never getting hold of it he decided the barrel of oats would be easier. This little sucker rolled a fifty five gallon drum around for over an hour trying to get all the oats he could out of one small hole in the end of the barrel. Once he had a lot of the oats on the ground he just laid down in them and ate for what seemed like an hour. Occasionally he would lift his head and look around to make sure nothing had sneaked up on him and then he would continue eating. Sometime around eight o’clock we heard a limb snap and the small bear jumped to his feet and just stared in that direction. Then there was another snap and it seemed to be more to the right of the first one. Then I caught some movement and saw what looked like a black Volkswagen moving through the woods. That is when the smaller bear decided it was time to exit stage left, and when he did the big bear took off after him. When these two bears took off through the woods it sounded like they were tearing the woods apart. It wasn’t but a minute until the big bruin was circling us making his way back in. It was at that point that I got a really good look at him and I wasn’t worried about judging bears anymore I was too busy reaching for my bow. He walked straight in to the bait sight and ended up directly underneath my stand. I will tell you it had my nerves torn up having this huge bruin several feet below my stand looking up at me. Then he just turned around and started heading toward the bait. At that point my buddy running the camera told me he had him whenever I was ready. With the bear having his back to me it allowed me to draw my bow and get my pin settled on him for the shot. I didn’t have my bow drawn very long when the bear quartered away to the left and that is when my arrow found its mark behind the bears left shoulder. After the shot I kept waiting on him to fall but he ran out of sight and then we heard a big crash and then it was quiet. Throughout this whole hunt I was cool and calm. After the shot I turned to the camera and gave a short recap of the hunt and toward the end of it is when it hit me. That is when I really got tore up, my hands were shaking and my knees were getting weak. Don was laughing at me and I was laughing at myself but I still couldn’t get rid of the shakes I had. I guess the combination of excitement of the hunt and the realization that I had just taken my first bear hit me and it was a real rush.
After I got myself calmed down we picked up the trail and about a hundred and fifty yards later my 6.5 foot 300 lb. Black Bear was laying there. Even though we had one heck of a drag out of one of the thickest swamps you have ever seen I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. That hunt will go into my list of top five hunts for me. I never thought that I would be doing much bear hunting because I spend all of my time and money chasing whitetails and turkeys, but thanks to Frank Allen’s generous invitation I was fortunate enough to experience this awesome hunt.