The Lead Up
Bear is usually not my first choice as a dedicated hunt. Bear is usually an after thought, with a tag that is most often left unpunched in my pocket after the season is over. But 2020 was me turning over a new leaf. This year I was the most dedicated I’ve ever been hunting bear. It was time for something new, an opportunity to hunt more year round, which meant I was as committed to hunting this spring as I usually am in fall.
I’ve hunted bear more so in the fall, like I said, when I’m also hunting other animals like elk and moose. So my plan this spring was to hit a few places that have had good bear in the fall; in the spring. Living in an area with large agriculture opportunity, the bear are plentiful and with the utilization of trail cameras late fall and early spring, patterning bears into and out of hibernation to increase spring bear hunting opportunity.
The Initial Pursuit
Spring bear 2020 launched out of the gates, and with COVID 19 forcing me to be less at work, I had plenty of time to hunt. It was nice getting out with camera and with my daughters and even getting onto a couple bears with them! But nothing, in my judgement, worth shooting. Even some nice colour phase ones showing up on camera, but too young. I was after an old mature bear, or I was okay with pocketing my bear tags until the fall. That’s the nice thing about hunting bear in the spring, you can be picky. And with the no baiting law in BC, its easy to convince yourself to shoot the first legal bear you see, because you may not see another. You can’t be “choosy” like you can in Alberta or Saskatchewan when you’re baiting. Nevertheless, I looked forward to the chase.
I was hitting the agricultural fields, where I had permission, pretty hard and just coming up with the same young bears. Realizing that I needed to expand my hunting area and being a lover of the mountains, I decided to throw out the idea of doing a Rocky Mountain Backcountry hunt for black bear!
On short notice, I contacted a long time friend, and asked if he would run camera for me and come along on a 3 day black bear hunt in a familiar area. We both had not hunted this area in the spring, but looked forward to the opportunity to hang out and I don’t need much of a reason to hunting the mountains ha ha.
This was going to be a 2.5 day weekend hunt due to work time constraints. But I was confident that would be enough time as I had seen plenty of bears in this area in the fall. I packed my bow and rifle because you can find yourself in a variety of situations in the mountains, and as it turned out, I was glad I did. Black bear hunts are a different animal; literally. The way you mentally prepare for a hunt, the accessories you pack, and the strategy you choose is all different. Hunting an animal that hunts other animals is a special task that requires a willingness to come face to face with something that kills for a living. Bags are packed and we are good to go.
Base camp was about 2.75 hours from town, with a few backroads that we hoped would be dry. We had had a couple days of rain prior to our trip, which always much for more of an adventure. Arriving at basecamp late afternoon, we quickly set up camp, unload the quads, and set out for some scout and evening hunt. My buddy Mike had hauled the quads in his cover-all trailer, which turned into a nice covered sleeping and eating area out of the bugs and weather. We intentionally set up basecamp somewhat central to a number of trails that we could access to cutblocks for covering more ground by glassing.
By evening, we had covered about 6 cutblocks and winched through a few streams. But no bears. Nothing but a few old tracks. We were a little stumped as we knew there had to be bears here. We got back to base camp with a little light left, but it was already 10:30pm, light hangs around a little longer in Northern BC. The next day was an early one.
A Long Road and Old Trail
We hit the trail at the crack of dawn, trying to catch the bears in the cool of the morning, we set out down a new road. We had no idea that we would end up 3 mountain ranges deeper than we expected that ended us on an old hunting trail. We had travelled on the quads for about 2.5 hours and had covered about 20miles of road before the trail ended. We had came up on a mid sized boar, however, he split and couldn’t get eyes on him again.
We reached the end of the trail, realizing we could hike further, decided getting off the quads and stretching our legs. Plus, typically I’ve seen more game off the quad. We started hiking along what looked like an old horse trail. Meanwhile thinking that I had recently told my buddy Mike that we would most likely shoot something at the furthest point from basecamp. I didn’t want to be right but things have a funny way of working out. We crossed a stream and began our way through thick alders, with Grizzly digs everywhere. I mean everywhere. It was time to get serious and alert. About a half kilometre from the quads we spotted a smaller sow, she had winded us and took off up the mountain.
It was at this point, with the alders getting thicker, we felt best to turn around and head back to the quads and try a different area. As we turned around, heading back on the same trail not 5 minutes before, there came a black bear headed up the exact trail we had just walked on. The alders were thick but we had the wind in our face. Through the alders I was frantically searching for cubs and to make sure this was a boar. No cubs? Check. Now the face. He was looking around trying to catch our wind or movement, which was giving me enough time to make sure this bear was mature. He turned it face. Ears on the side of his head? Check. Trigger Pulled. Bear cartwheeling and darting down the ravine. Silence.
This was a little concerning. Usually bear make a “death moan” sound when they expire. Not hearing that meant the hunt was still on and now we had to track a wounded predator. I knew I made a solid initial shot with my .270 win, but we had to put the animal down for good. Mike and I split up about 50 feet apart and started down the ravine where we last saw the bear. It wasn’t long before we spotted the bear sitting, slumped beside a tree. I lined up the vitals once again and hammered him one last time.
The Walk Up
Usually “animal shrinkage” is a thing. The animal always looks bigger when you’re pulling the trigger and as you walk up to the animal, it gets smaller. Well this had the opposite effect. The body size and length on this bear was amazing. The largest bear I had shot to date. Walking up to the bear, it was slightly daunting. Was it dead for sure? Poking it in the eye is the easiest way to to tell, but you still have to be close enough to the animal to do that.
Yes the bear was expired. Tag punched! Mike and I spent the next few minutes taking pictures and just soaking in what had just transpired. Successfully completing our objective, while hunting a new area in the spring, inside of a short hunt window of just 2.5 days was a lot to take in. But so worth it. This bear was one for the ages. Broken canines, scares under eyes, and a beautiful coat with no rubs, showed just how mature this bear really was.
After caping, quartering and packing the bear out, we headed back to camp. The ride back to basecamp was bittersweet. The weather was gorgeous, the air was mountain fresh, and the hum of the quad made the time almost seem surreal. Rocky Mountain backcountry black bear hunting is not for the faint of heart, but rather the determined and strategically sound in your approach. There are also many factors to consider within your environment that do not have anything to do with the game you are pursuing. Hunting in the mountains requires respect for the elements. There is no forgiveness. If you respect the mountains, they will bring you a level of enjoyment that is not able to be replicated. If you disrespect the mountains, they will chew you up and spit you out.