ATHABASCA BLACK BEAR
Athabasca Bear Hunt
By Dave King
My long time friend Charly Culbertson arranged for his girlfriend and him to go on a Black Bear hunt with his friend Ron Nemetchek. Due to last minute medical problems, Charly’s girlfriend couldn’t go and I was given the opportunity to tag along on what turned out to be a great time and wonderful hunt.
Having never been on a black bear hunt and having an innate need to be self sufficient, I packed way too much stuff. I’ve been on caribou hunts in Northern Quebec and had to contend with the black flies/gnats and figured they’d also make the trip to Alberta to feast on this unwary hunter so I packed a lot of DEET which I didn’t used. I was told beforehand we’d be staying in a house with Ron and not in a camp but I, none-the-less, packed extra flannel shirts, heavy socks, some knee high Lacrosse rubber boots, and light and heavy camo coveralls in my duffel bag. All packed up there was quite an assortment of stuff; one 17 pound ‘sniper’ rifle with 20 rounds bear ammo (consisting of 150 grain Nosler Partitions) and 80 rounds of match loaded ammo for plinking during the day, as Ron wanted to try some ½ mile shooting. I brought along my backup gun, a Remington 870 and 10 rounds of Lightfield slugs, just in case things went terribly bad with the rifle.
I had my firearms packed in a Browning Travel Vault that weighs about 20 pounds when empty. With three sets of boots; (Lacrosse knee high waders, Danner Acacia and Elk Hunter’s) 10 pair of socks, three flannel shirts and one top and bottom Patagonia thermal underwear, saddlecloth camo shirt and bib overalls, GPS, compass, two fixed blade and one folding knife, Leatherman, military poncho, space blanket, digital video camera, two flashlights, four heavy t-shirts, three pairs of blue jeans, a Hydrastorm backpack with water bladder, 100 feet of 550-cord, magnesium fire starter, ink pen, hooded insulated Carhartt jacket, 10X camo hooded jacket, my favorite nearly camo ball cap, small assortment of medical items (Motrin, Actifed, bandaids, suture material and one antiseptic zip-open washcloth), my Peltor Tactical 6S hearing protectors and lots of extra AAA, AA and D cell batteries. I’m sure I didn’t mention everything but it was enough to cause Charly to question my sanity. Charly, however, had a large duffle that appeared to be filled to capacity with little more than air and one set of heavy coveralls. He works each year in Alaska as a big game guide and has a better feel for what’s “necessary” and what’s “extra”. He felt I had some extra stuff but cheerfully helped me hump it once or twice anyway.
We caught a Saturday flight, flying to Minneapolis and then on to Canada. The airline had copies of the firearms declaration forms at the gate so we opted to fill out an “official” set just in case the triplicate set downloaded from the internet weren’t official enough for the Canadian Customs Officers. Once we boarded it became apparent that nearly the entire passenger list was comprised of bear hunters. Lots of newbies were asking questions of the old-salts and folks with videos of previous hunts. Nearly everyone had on some sort of camo gear as if we were going to encounter bears right on the tarmac. Our flight time was short and we landed in Edmonton, Alberta on time, shuffling off the plane to begin the process of clearing customs. All went very quickly until we needed to have the firearms checked. Each firearm was inspected and the serial number verified against the declaration form. Charly and I were lucky enough to be about 6 people back from the front of the line and got through in a half hour or so but I’d imagine it took some folks nearly two hours to clear. The $50.00 Canadian ($34.00 USD) fee was the last obstacle and we were out to meet Ron and get underway.
Ron was waiting patiently just beyond the doors at Customs. I’d met him before but he still didn’t fit the Outfitter stereotype and he looked out-of-place. He’s a mild mannered redhead with a quick wit and devious sparkle in his eye. We were never quite sure what he had planned for us.
It’s a fairly long drive to Ron’s place from Edmonton, about 3 hours with all the little sight seeing shortcuts and such. I’d hoped to get to the hunting area in time to hunt that evening, but we needed licenses and provisions (beer and chips for the TV sessions). We stopped in Athabasca for a quick fill up, some supplies and decided to get licenses on Monday, since we couldn’t hunt on Sunday.
Ron’s place was a pleasant surprise. He’s building a log home and had a temporary mobile home on his acreage. There were several additional buildings around, a very nice workshop big enough for the biggest farm tractor and still room for a proper dance hall. There’s a hanger for his plane and a guesthouse that has the largest set of elk antlers (10 x 9 400+ inches) I’ve ever seen hanging from the front. He cautioned us about the wayward porcupine that makes nightly trips through the yard and also mentioned he was not married so his house could use a little cleaning. We later met the porcupine and as for his house cleaning, he wasn’t nearly in the same league I was familiar with while sharing apartments when I was first in the Navy. The mobile home was small but temporary for him. He had typical bachelor food; lots of cereal, ketchup, coffee and easily opened canned goods and in true form he had only 4 plates, 4 cups and 3 cereal bowls.
Charly and I had a room at the near end of the house that we had to share with Ron’s shed antler collection. I believe he did that on purpose because I’ve never been so enticed to hunt trophy whitetail as after seeing those piles of sheds. Ron had several whitetail mounts in the house and also a 10” 8’ (I believe that’s the correct size) Brown bear. We slept in comfort and had Charly, the Alaskan guide, up early each morning making coffee and cereal for all three of us. The night temps were just above freezing, the days were quite comfortable in the 60’s, and nothing more than a few drops of rain to dampen the ground a few times. Good weather, a dry house, a warm bed, and three meals a day on a fill-in bear hunt. I was really making out on this hunt.
Sunday was a ‘help Ron’ day so we puttered around helping with the log home and various chores around the place (lots of post winter little stuff). I went out for a short shed hunting session and found a nice shed right in Ron’s front yard (180 to 200 acres). It was a match to one Ron had already picked up, a non-shooter he called it (about 140 inch deer we guessed). We made a short bait check flight with the plane and saw several elk, a moose, and some small herds of mule deer and whitetail, but no bears. Sunday ended fairly uneventful and we spent several hours talking and filtering beer.
Monday morning Charly did the normal breakfast meal. We stretched and yawned our way around for a couple of hours waiting for the time to be proper for a trip to town for a session at the bank exchanging currency, then on to the hardware store to get hunting licenses. As I had expected we had to make a few short stops here and there with a side trip for a little peek at a special spot before we eventually got to town. I’ve become accustomed to these leisurely slow paced events that are the lifestyle of folks not from the ‘big hectic gotta do everything right now cities’. It takes a day or two for me to assure myself that things are proceeding according to the ‘local’ time schedules and we’re really not behind time or missing something. Like I said, eventually we made it to town, exchanged money and talked to a few folks at the bank.
Shortly thereafter we made it to the hardware store, got the licenses out of the way and chatted a bit. There was the necessary trip to the grocery store for proper provisions, as Charly had a special meal in mind. I was once again in for one of those little chuckles that happen in life; Charly needed a few items for his Italian delight, one green pepper and one onion were included in the necessary ingredients. The grocery store was very well stocked and designed more for the folks that make monthly or quarterly trips to the market to get a flat of canned corn or green beans, 50 pounds of potatoes and such. They weren’t quite ready for Charly and his one onion and one green pepper order. We did actually get the green pepper and onion but Charly had some recipe exchanging and other explaining to do. We had two giant size boxes of Cheerios as indicators of our local provisioning savvy and we eventually got out of the store. Final stop in town was at the liquor store for more beer and rye whiskey. We thoughtfully bought sufficient quantities so as not to be labeled as newcomers.
We got back to Ron’s place in early afternoon and began the ritual of getting our gear situated for the evening hunt. I packed a 10X jacket, flashlight, space blanket, military poncho, 100’ of 550 cord, video camera, camera holder, 15 spare rounds of ‘bear’ ammo, my Dunn hunting knife, compass, extra D cell batteries and GPS into my hydrator pack. I dressed in my saddlecloth shirt and bib overalls, the Danner Acacia boots and my almost camo ball cap. Of course, I stuck my standard Maglight AA flashlight, magnesium firestarter, folding knife, wallet, 4” adjustable wrench, Leatherman and ink pen into the various pockets of my bibs and put 5 rounds of ammo into the Eagle Industries butt stock pack on my rifle. I was now at least partially ready for the evening hunt except for the trip to the restroom to get a short roll of TP.
Ron got us packed and lashed to our 4-wheelers. We hit the road/trail to place me on stand at about 4:00PM. He led the way on the trails and we parked the 4-wheelers about ½ mile from the stand and walked in. I hadn’t been to the place and it seemed like forever to arrive. I was sure we’d scare up a trophy bear at any moment during the walk but it didn’t happen. Soon enough I was introduced to the evenings stand. The bait barrel was tethered to a spruce tree with a piece of yellow poly line and held to the barrel by an eye-bolt that was attached to the lid. The barrel was metal with four ¾ inch holes drilled through the sides. The holes were such that the bear would need to roll the barrel to get the oats and grease mixture to trickle out of the holes onto the ground where it could easily be licked up. Ron mentioned that the bears would pull at the knots and roll the barrel around the tree but they wouldn’t actually bite the poly line. I looked at that knotted up mess and remarked that my dog would chew that line in half faster than he could cut it with a knife. He reminded me that it was the barrel that was tied to the tree and not the bear so the little yellow line worked fine. He also mentioned that at one time he tried using chain but the bears would break it so he switched to the poly line.
The stand was about 30 to 35 yards from the base of the spruce tree and about 15 feet off the ground. It was situated across an old trail from the bait and I could see 70 or 80 yards to my left and about 150 yards to my right on the old trail. Directly behind me was thick cover at about 10 yards and I could see about 10 yards beyond the bait. Ron waited until I was up the tree and had all my gear stashed and stowed before he ambled off to get Charly set up. I busied myself for a few minutes attaching the video camera stand to the tree, pruning a few stray branches and back gougers then setting up the camera and getting the Peltor tactical earmuffs in place. I loaded the rifle and settled in for the wait. I figured this would be like the whitetail hunting I’d done and nothing was going to happen until late evening but I was wrong. It wasn’t long before I heard rustling coming from directly behind me, a few minutes later here comes my first ever in-the-wild bear. By carefully turning my head to the left and craning over to the side I had a bird’s eye view of this impressive critter. He was directly below me right at the tree steps and seemed quite unaware of my presence or the least bit worried about anything. He ambled over to the bait as if rehearsed and plopped down to have a snack of oats, no sniffling or shuffling just straight in and plop.
I was a little amused and excited with the animation and closeness of the events but very calm, somewhat to my surprise. Ron had mentioned that the barrel was 24 inches across and 36 inches tall and would be a good indicator of a bear’s size. Charly and Ron both had told me I should spend a good deal of time examining the bear’s fur for rub marks and also getting an appreciation for the size of the critter(s). Two very good bits of information stuck with me, Ron said that if the bear could fit in the barrel it’s a small one. Charly said if it’s jet black so much as to almost have a bluish look, it’s got a good hide. Well, this bear was a lot smaller than the barrel and it looked pretty fuzzy and brown in a lot of places so I contented myself with watching the thing eat and wiggle the barrel. About 30 minutes into the early show I once again heard rustling but this time it was further to my left and up the old trail. I turned to look just as a much larger bear entered the trail. This bear looked huge by comparison to the first bear. The distance between its ears was certainly much greater than the spread of my palm. Its fur looked deep black and smooth. It was about 60 yards from me and broadside but directly downwind. It immediately turned and looked in my direction. It stood for a bit, raised its muzzle to get the wind, and began walking directly down the trail toward me and the barrel. The bear came in slowly constantly checking the wind, advancing and eventually came right to the base of my tree. I was very sure this bear knew I was in the tree and had been warned that bears can climb trees faster than I can fall out of one. I slowly, awkwardly brought the rifle around to point at the bear’s head, which wasn’t too difficult as it was straight down the tree. We had a Mexican stand-off going. The bear had two feet off the ground and on the ladder stand strapped to the tree.
I had a 150 grain partition chambered and the safety off. We stayed like that for what seemed like a minute or two before the bear thought it’d eat and then worry about the fella up the tree. By this point I had already decided this was a fine bear for my first. I spent a few extra minutes looking at the bear from the rear as it slowly walked over to the bait. It’s fur a deep black to bluish as I was told and it had the appearance of having just come from an appointment at the hairdresser. The first bear on the bait beat a hasty retreat UP the spruce and stood on a large limb. The second bear slowly circled the spruce and bait barrel looking at both me and the little bear. I noticed the bear was about 6 inches taller than the barrel’s 24 inch dimension which meant it was easily over a 5 foot bear and to be truthful, I’d already decided to shoot this one as it had a beautiful hide. The bear settled down uneasily, began licking up oats and trying to get more oats out of the holes.
It lay on the near side of the barrel and spruce and I could make a clean shoulder/spine shot without hitting the barrel just as soon as it settled down enough for a non-moving shot. It didn’t take long for it to calm down. I settled the crosshairs on top of the shoulder joint and gently pressed the trigger. The bear went limp and I recall seeing a faint tinge of blue smoke in the air. The little bear scrambled and was gone in an instant while I chambered a new round catching the expended round in my hand. The bear lay very still. I thought it was completely dead but about 15 seconds or so later it made several feeble attempts to raise its head and move its off-side front leg. It was straight up 6:00 PM so I stayed up the tree and waited.
I was a little upset that I hadn’t turned on the video camera but after filming the little bear for a while I had turned the thing off and opted to not turn it on while the larger bear was so close and spooked. I didn’t want to loose the bear because of the little chime and tape take-up motor noise. About 30 minutes later another bear approached the site from the far side of the bait; it was out of sight for a long while apparently upset because the now dead bear would not relinquish bait rights. The new arrival made many false charges on the dead bear and knocked over two small saplings during these same charges. It was quite a spectacle and eventually I got a look at the now very upset new bear. It, too, had a fairly rough hide with lots of rubs, the tell-tale brown fuzzy spots and appeared to be no larger than the bear I had recently killed. The snubbed bear eventually left having given up trying to get the second bear to leave the bait. I saw no more bear that evening. Ron came back to get me at about 10:15 PM and we looked over the bear I had bagged. Ron was very good about it; joking that there were larger bears around and that I could have waited for a 7’ or better. He said it was probably a 5 ½ foot bear but he’d had a couple clients do worse. Gotta love that Ron, he’s got a refreshingly dry sense of humor.
Back at Ron’s place we encountered Charly. He had his recently acquired bear strapped to the back basket of his 4-wheeler. It was a ‘proper’ sized bear, a boar, that when skinned turned out to square 6’ 9”. Charly had to run through his evening’s hunt story. It was a short story until we got to the part about the 4-wheeler ride out of the bush. Seems the bait Charly was originally scheduled to watch was recently drained of oats. He and Ron felt that they should try bait a little further into the bush. Well, Ron, being a native of the area and not a novice on 4-wheelers, had a little different reference point as far as ‘a little further’ into the bush than Charly had. Turns out, the new bait was about 6km further through some pretty significant muck, hills and downed trees. Anyway, a little later than anticipated, Charly was at his stand and got settled in for the wait.
Now, Charly is not new to hunting black bears and came completely prepared. He had his heavy camo coveralls strapped to his fanny pack, inside of which he had his book, a knife and several spare 45-70 rounds. He arrived at his stand at about 6:00 PM and was setup and reading his book by 6:15 PM. He said he read until about 8:15 PM when he heard the noise of twigs breaking just a short distance to his right. He put the book away and straightened up getting ready for whatever was coming. He first saw only the pads and lower legs of the bear but soon had a complete view. He did a quick fur check looking for rubbed areas. The boar never made it to the bait as Charly recognized it as a good big bear and shot it double-lung. The boar didn’t go far after being hit and much to Charly’s surprise it treed, but in several seconds came crashing back to earth making several additional attempts to leave the area. Charly bundled up his gear, checked the bear for signs of life then proceeded to load the bear onto the 4-wheeler. At that point all was going very well. Charly was quite happy to have his bear and be motoring out of the bush before nightfall. There was one problem Charly was quite unprepared for. You recall, I mentioned hills as an obstacle to the 4-wheeler trip into the stand. Well, these hills were quite steep and one in particular, which Charly later showed me, was a real obstacle.
Charly had loaded the 220 pound bear into the rear basket of the 4-wheeler. The basket overhung the rear of the 4-wheeler a little and wasn’t a problem until one adds a very steep hill and a load of bear. Charly relayed he had no problems in the muck and over the logs but on the very top of the very steep hill the 4-wheeler did one of those picturesque rear-wheel stands and came to rest in a three-point fashion, on two rear wheels and the basket full of tied-in bear. Charly had no problems getting off the 4-wheeler and getting around to the front of the now very tall vehicle, the problem came when he decided to try to pull the front two wheels of the 4-wheeler back down to the ground. Just as soon as he pulled hard enough to lift the rear basket clear of the ground he became aware that he had forgot to set the brakes. At that point the 4-wheeler was balanced to flop back onto all 4 wheels and was now on a backward trip down the very steep hill, bear included. Charly re-told the story with Ron present (owner of the 4-wheeler) and just to liven up the tale Charly mentioned that Ron shouldn’t worry too much because the 4-wheeler didn’t roll unmanned all the way down that steep hill. It managed to turn abruptly and roll over several times before coming to a stop in some saplings thereby saving Charly the walk all the way down the hill. Anyway, after completing the hunting stories and hanging the bears we went into the house and retired for the evening. We had some Italian delight Charly had prepared earlier and washed it down with a few beers and some rye whiskey, of course.
Next morning we’re up early, delighted to have coffee and some Honey-Nut Cheerios, looking forward to a day of taking pictures, skinning bears and hunting again in the evening. When we get to the workshop, we took a few pictures and made some video in which Charly narrates and embellishes. The bears were weighed, mine was 148 pounds, the boar was 220 pounds, and mine squared 5’ 8” and Charly’s squared 6’9”. I’d never skinned a bear before but found it remarkably like doing a deer. The major difference is on the deer we tube skin the cape for a shoulder mount but the bears were destined to be rugs so we slit them from anus to jaw on the belly side. Then doing legs, rear leg from the rear of the pad down the natural hair line to the anus and the front legs from the rear of the pad straight across to a point just above center on the sternum. There wasn’t much fat on the bears, being spring, but they appeared to be in good health and had the look of being powerful, well muscled animals. The hides rolled with the carcass tag readily exposed and placed in cardboard boxes for storage in the freezer. We spend an additional hour cleaning the skulls and they were also placed in the freezer.
We chatted most of the day, puttering and helping Ron around the place. The empty bait was refilled. Charly decided to stay out of the woods for the evening and I planned to return to the stand I had the previous night. Ron mentioned there were plenty of baits to sit on but Charly wanted to sit around and relax. I felt no need to run Ron all over the country when all I desired was a quiet vacation with a chance of seeing bears, which I had already done. Ron let us suit ourselves and we were quite happy to have a relaxing day. I eventually ended up back on the stand from the previous night and watched the scruffy bears feed and play. I had a great time, sitting in the bush with no other folks around, listening to and watching the bears. But, if a huge, jet black boar with enormous feet had come in and dwarfed the barrel I’d have filled my second bear tag, but that was not in the cards.
Wednesday we decided to try bait further out into the bush. Charly asked if I had much 4-wheeler experience as the bait we were going to sit on was ‘a bit’ further out than where he had been on the first evening. I assured him I’d be fine and that all my 4-wheeler experience could be encompassed by a review of the past 3 days. Charly gave me a sideways look and a little shrug. Once it was time to pack up for the evening we decided to both sit on the same bait and Charly would video. He’d done this in the past on other bear hunts and I’d seen his videos so I agreed. I packed a little lighter for this hunt following Charly’s lead opting for a set of heavy camo coveralls and as little other gear as possible, still way too much for Charly but I tried. We had very specific instructions on how to find this ‘you can’t miss it spot’ from the point where we finally convinced Ron that we’d be fine if he left us on our own.
Well, how many different places on a 4-wheeler trail do you figure someone would stuff a limbed 6” spruce tree into a beaver log float path that had a large pond on the right and a beaver dam on the left, a large hill just on the other side and pieces of pink marker tape tied to a tree? I was sure we’d only encounter one of these in this remote area but that just goes to show that plans can get screwed up. After spending about 45 minutes looking around at the first ‘this must be it’ spot we loaded back up and went another 2.6km further down the trail to another stop that matched the description EXACTLY. We got setup with plenty of time to spare and knew Ron was probably having a good hoot back at the house knowing that we city folks were in for an adventure.
All-in-all everything was going very well. Ron was letting us have our way and keeping us pointed in the right direction remembering this was a vacation and not a big-money bear hunt for us.
Now, back to the evening’s adventure. The 4-wheeler ride was much as Charly had tried to explain. I am sure I’m now a seasoned 4-wheeler rider. We went over logs and through streams and mire/muck that I felt sure would stop the 4-wheelers, then up hills (past the now famous ‘bear ride hill') and across swamp flats. In the course of the 11km trip I had gone from being clean and dry to being mud-caked from the knees down to dust and dirt covered from the knees up. I had more dirt and dust in my nose and on my teeth than what is required to pot a houseplant. I even had dust caked into the inner corners of my eyes and several times I was tempted to stop and dunk my face into the ponds and streams to clear my vision. But, we’re finally in the right spot and unload our gear. We remove the seat cushions from the 4-wheelers and stow them high up in the limbs of some nearby spruce trees. (I wouldn’t have believed it but Ron said “bears eat foam seats”.)
The bait was well used and had a few gallons of oats left. We found the appropriate tree and began putting up both our stands into the same tree, Charly on the far side and me on the near side. Once everything was ready to go we settled in for the wait, it was about 6:10 PM. I wear the Peltor 6S tactical earmuffs and can hear everything very well so at each new crack and snap I’m peering around looking for the bear that’s sure to drop in any moment. Charly busied himself reading and was situated behind and above me in a smallish White Birch. He’d take note of the louder noises but didn’t hear the faint sounds too well. We’d been on stand for a couple of hours before anything important happened and it wasn’t what I’d expected. I noticed the tree moving a little and caught a glimpse of Charly moving around in the seat a little. I naturally turned in his direction a little and about that time there was this tremendously loud blast from Charly’s seat. The Italian delight was finding its way out. Charly was holding back the sounds but he was laughing so hard the tree was shaking. This, of course, gets me laughing and we sat up there chuckling, laughing and venting for several long minutes.
We were sure we’d ended all possibilities of any bear, even with the worst olfactory capabilities from ever coming near this bait but this later proved to be wrong. At about 9:00 PM, both Charly and I were paying particular attention to the happenings around the bait and general area as it was getting busy with small animals and other sounds. Just a few minutes past nine, out from under a large spruce tree walked a blond bear. I’d never seen a blond bear before and, in fact, didn’t know that particular color phase existed and was quite shocked at the sight. Charly spotted the bear at the same time and stated the camera was on. I was already aware of the filming because of the noise of the camera. The bear padded right up to the bait and plopped down and began licking up oats that were on the ground from previous feeding sessions. Charly whispers that he’s ready anytime I am, so shoot the bear. I wanted the bear to be broadside for the shot and it insisted on lying directly facing us. We waited several minutes until the bear lapped up the little pile of oats and turned a little to the side to get at another pile before I settled the crosshairs on its shoulder and spine. Once again, I’m pressing the trigger and the bear drops, right on the spot, just a few twitches and that’s all there is. I’ve just killed my second bear and, for me, the hunt is over. Of course, Charly reminded me I was now ‘Camera Man” for the remainder of the hunts.
Well, life is full of little reminders and we were about to come face-to-face with another one. With blond bear on the ground, and convinced it was dead, we got out of the tree to continue filming and packing for the trip out. As we approached the bear it became very apparent that in our surprise and excitement we didn’t consider the size of the bear. Oh, it had a beautiful hide, no rubs, long and clean but it was attached to a pretty small bear. We looked at it for a while and decided it looked proper sized on the video and we didn’t want to change that opinion by filming a person in close proximity to the little blond bear. We were in quite a tizzy formulating a story for Ron once he got a look at this blond ‘monster’. It didn’t take long to pack up our gear and there was going to be no problem getting this bear INTO the rear basket on the 4-wheeler. We also had no doubts that the weight wouldn’t cause a repeat of the unmanned 4-wheeler bear ride Charly experienced.
Ron was waiting for us at the end of the trail. Charly was leading the way and I heard Ron ask about the wolf we bagged. Charly didn’t say anything in reply to the wolf comment and I was faced with having Ron pawing his way into the 4-wheeler basket to examine our ‘wolf’ or blurting out that it was a BEAR. Ron was once again very nice about it. He said he was joking and really didn’t think it was a wolf because it was TOO SMALL to be a wolf so it had to be a bear. We made the trip back to the house and hung the ‘bear’. Later we watched the video and recounted the tale of the Italian delight experience. The blond bear waited until morning and when we finished skinning, it squared 5’ exactly and we had a good video too!!!
Thursday, Charly and I did the normal puttering around in the morning and shot long-range with Ron. Ron has a large field just in front of his house and we easily measured off 880 yards with plenty of room to spare. We painted a 12”x12” white square onto a 4’x4’ piece of plywood, this was the target. I brought out the plinking rounds for the 308 and we lined up and shot. Ron didn’t want to start close and work his way back. He wanted to start right at 880 yards to see what happened. It was a little breezy and we did well for the terrain, wind on the order of 7 to 20 mph according to the Dwyer wind gauge and full value from 9:00. Ron’s first 5-round volley (no spotting scope) went into about an 8 inch group with one in the white at 7:00, he was hooked!! We shot a bunch more and although he could make small groups we had trouble getting the wind correct and he didn’t get any more in the white. I explained we needed a spotting scope for proper wind calling and corrected fire spotting but he was having WAY too much fun shooting those free bullets.
Later that evening Charly and I were on the bait Ron first tried placing Charly on, the bait we refilled. We setup in separate trees about 50 yards from the bait across a pipeline clearing. Charly had a repeat of the Italian delight gaseous events and despite this we had several bears on the bait before nightfall. One of the bears gave us quite a performance with a little walk straight toward our position and then a full height standing pose. Charly was waiting for a large bear as he didn’t want to add any more bears less than 6’ to our collection. Night came and we motored back to Ron’s place for some beer and rye spent a few minutes reviewing the video I had shot and slept well.
Friday was a fine day, Ron rummaged around and came up with a Brno rifle in 375 H&H he had around and some bullets for the thing. He asked Charly if he wanted to give it a try. Charly agreed and made the stipulation that if he could hit a milk jug at 40 yards with the unfired Brno using the 100 yard express sight, Ron must let him shoot the 5 ½ foot ‘dancing’ bear we had on the bait the evening before. Ron agreed and the challenge was on. I ran the video as Charly sighted on the water-filled gallon milk jug. The 375 roared and the milk jug blew to pieces. Charly was pretty pleased and stated he’d bring that bear home for a rug or wall mount.
Later that evening we made it to the bait. I had the video camera and Charly was sure he’d get at least the 5 ½ foot bear if nothing larger came in. We were down to 8 minutes of tape left and needed to conserve so we filmed very little and when it appeared that nothing larger was going to show up Charly decided to take the now familiar 5 ½ foot bear. The bear was on the bait and I had the camera rolling. Charly motioned that he was ready to take the shot. The round struck the bear squarely center chest on the near side with the bear quartering toward us slightly. It immediately spun around and ran into the bush angling away to our right. There was no ‘death bawl’ or sound of crashing brush, no noises of a treeing bear, just silence. We sat a long while and Charly motioned to me for an opinion of the quality of the shot.
I replied that it was good placement and we waited for some minutes before leaving the trees to search for the bear. At the bait barrel there was significant evidence the bear was hit and about 10 feet into the escape route we saw the first indications of the amount of blood the bear was loosing. It was pretty obvious that this bear was not going very far as the ground was soaked every few feet and we were quickly rewarded with the sight of the bear. He was lying awkwardly, obviously dead, but caution required throwing several sticks onto the critter to confirm death. We ran some additional video to finish out the tape and loaded up the final bear of the hunt. Back at Ron’s place the skinning and squaring confirmed a 5’ 5” bear.
Charly and I had great time; we bagged four bears and had a real hoot swapping stories with Ron. I’m going back in the fall for trophy whitetail and probably again for spring black bear sometime.
The flight back to D.C. was as uneventful as the flight out. Checking into the airport in Edmonton was an experience. There were a lot of hunters that were very pleased and some that had a miserable time. It seems further north and west in Alberta there was still snow on the ground and some hunters in the area didn’t even see a bear. I had no difficulty believing that because when Ron took me on the short bait check flight we flew over creeks that were still frozen over and the nightly temps were only a couple of degrees above freezing.
Charly has my bears over at his taxidermy shop and I expect I’ll have two fine bear rugs late this year or early next spring. I’ll keep bugging him for ‘rug’ updates; he gets into everything and sometimes gets delayed. He has a Brown Bear hunt scheduled in Kamchatka this September and another spring black bear hunt in Alberta in 2002.
I’ve made several copies of the Alberta Spring Black Bear video, which includes some fine examples of Alberta whitetail and mule deer mounts and shed antlers. The segment with the blond bear always draws comments, none of which are related to its apparently unnoticeable smaller stature. The other most talked about segment is Charly’s Italian delight venting exhibition while on his bear stand. Another of my local hunting partners, who is just crazy about trophy whitetail, has already confirmed and scheduled a whitetail hunt with Ron this fall.
Dave has been coached and trained in precision shooting since early 1960 and began his long range shooting endeavors in early 1982 while stationed at Camp Pendleton, CA, winning the 1000 yard Service Rifle Onslow Trophy in mid 1983. He has been through several civilian long range rifle schools and attended an FBI sniper school. Dave took first place at the Canadian Forces Small Arms Championship (CFSAC) 600 meter One-Shot One-Kill competition in early 2000. He enjoys ballistics and is a programmer by trade.
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