Black Bear: The Other Spring Meat

In 2009, I enjoyed my first taste of spring bear hunting north of the border with a two-bear adventure in upper Alberta. After hammering this nearly 7-foot bruin on a brief spot-and-stalk adventure in which the bear's sidekick, another hefty bruin, took a sudden interest in me and my guide forcing us to run it off, I was thrilled to get the chance to visit the Canadian province again. This year, I'm about five miles farther south than I was last year, hunting with Red Willow Outfitters in Valleyview. For the past three years in a row, the outfit has won the Outfitters Award for the largest black bear taken by a nonresident hunter, and our group is hoping to help owner Todd Loewen make it four.
Day 1: Outfitter Todd Loewen (far right) discusses the rules of the hunt and guide assignments for each hunter in the hunting lodge's main room at Red Willow Outfitters. We have a mix of hunters sitting stands over bait and others hunting spot-and-stalk. I brought both a bow and a rifle with the hopes to do both--bow for sitting bait and rifle (a Browning X-Bolt in .30-06) for stalking. I will start my hunt with the rifle.
Kevin Howard, who runs an outdoor industry public relations firm, and outdoor TV show host and writer, Curt Wells, are suited up in their Under Armour and ready to hunt. While they don't quite fit the visual image of the big muscular dude on all of the old Under Armour ads, the Mossy Oak-patterned clothing will do the job keeping them concealed during the hunt. Wells is hoping to get the chance to stalk one with his bow. All of the hunters in camp were raring to go after sitting around much of the day. In Alberta, hunts mostly take place beginning in the late afternoon. Hunters typically depart to hunt between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. and go until sunset around 11 p.m. This is the perfect hunt for the person who hates waking up early!
Have ATV will travel. Nobody wants to drag a dead bear out by hand, so every guide's truck is loaded down with an ATV. The four-wheelers are also often a necessary tool to transport hunters to their stands in the muddy, boggy terrain. A spring snowstorm buried the area in nearly a foot of snow just days before our arrival, bringing down leafed out trees across many of the back roads and trails we would be traveling down in search of bears.
Some hides from a previous hunt hang salted and drying. We hope to add to the number considerably before the week is up.
My guide, Mike Rogers, unloads the ATV so we can navigate tree-strewn pipeline roads to where we'll spot and stalk bears. Not five minutes into the hunt, while helping push down a fallen aspen tree so that Mike could hop the four-wheeler over it, I took a plunge in a shallow ditch filled with icy, running water. Not exactly how I planned on things starting out. With one side of my body soaked, I would push on in the chilly air, which wasn't too bad until just before dark. Before the evening was up, we would spot four bears--one cinnamon and all too small--as well as a moose. Maybe tomorrow…
While bear hunting from a stand at a bait site, it is not uncommon for curious bears to check out or even attempt to climb up into the stand. Right after Under Armour's Jason Hart took this picture of a bear under his stand, the bruin attempted to climb into the tree and check him out. Hart used a water bottle to scare the young bruin back down the tree.
Young bears begin practicing for local dominance early by play fighting…
…while others start early at something else.
Outdoor writer and former wildlife officer Mike Faw went in early and before the evening was up, would see at least a dozen bears from his stand. He would draw first blood of the hunt with this nice sow that sported a patch of white blaze on her chest.
Anton Jurasovic, an engineer for a mining equipment company from Tasmania, Australia, capped off a North American business trip with a week in bear camp at Red Willow.
He would be the only other hunter on the first day of the hunt to take a bear--his first ever, after stalking to within 70 yards of the animal.
Anton's wife, Clare, joined him on the hunt, following behind on his successful stalk of this black bear sow and joining in on the photos.
A black bears teeth remind us of the potential for danger these animals hold when angered. Large incisors are designed to tear and crush. Check back tomorrow for how Day 2 goes.