Tim Anderson, who didn't make it to camp until two days after everyone else due to meetings, made short work of the day by taking two big bears inside an hour of each other. The first bear (on his right) had him absolutely pumped, yet despite how nice it was, he never dreamed of the fat-headed monster that would stroll in an hour later. Guides are certain Tim's second trophy will make Pope & Young.
It’s Day 4 of my bear hunt with Red Willow Outfitters in northwestern Alberta and while a successful previous afternoon of hunting still has me pumped, the realization that today is my last day in camp and I still have a tag to fill has put a little pressure on me and my guide Mike Rogers. It’s been a tough week for our camp’s spot-and-stalk hunters and bait hunters alike. Not because there is any shortage of bear sightings. We’ve seen plenty. But getting shots at the big ones we seek has been tougher than we anticipated. Swirling winds and skittish bears have created more close calls than filled tags and after three days of hunting, the camp has collectively only brought in four bears. Still confident that the big boys are out there, UnderArmour’s Jason Hart and I declare today to be “Big Bear Thursday,” a slogan more suited for a chain restaurant marketing campaign than a hunt where anything can, and usually will, happen. Nevertheless, we’re committed and optimistic. We know good things are about to happen. Mike Faw, who started the week off with the first tag filled after having a ridiculous dozen bears roll into his bait the first day of our hunt followed by two fruitless evenings, kicks Big Bear Thursdays off right by taking this big bruin early in the afternoon. Not quite the 8-footer that inspired us the day before (See Day 3), it was an impressive bear that should square at least 7 feet.
Mossy Oak’s Tim Anderson, who didn’t make it to camp until two days after everyone else due to meetings, made short work of the day by taking two big bears inside an hour of each other. The first bear (on his right) had him absolutely pumped, yet despite how nice it was, he never dreamed of the fat-headed monster that would stroll in an hour later. Guides are certain Tim’s second trophy will make Pope & Young.
I am antsy to get out there and start hunting as are the rest of the hunters after Mike and Tim return with the bears Hart and I declare we prophesied. My guide and I depart to hit the pipelines and remote roadways in search of one more big bear. Riding on the back rack, I’m still sporting outfitter Todd Loewen’s sofa cushions to ease the ride.
Easing up for a peak over a hill where the wind foiled a stalk on a big bear the evening before, Mike and I immediately spot a BIG bear standing in the middle of the road not 200 yards away! The wind is to our backs, so we immediately back out of the area and head around the block to slip in from the other end.
Clover lines the right-of-way bordering the remote dirt road, which is a huge draw to the area’s hungry bears. We’ve seen bears in the patch nearly every day. Quietly, we slip in from the West, with the wind in our face and covering the sound of our footsteps. Kevin Howard follows us to capture the hunt on camera. We ease up the hill and along the edge of the clover before spotting our bear–along with two yearlings. Sows with yearlings are legal in Alberta as they will soon run their previous year’s offspring off in order to breed again, so I am left with a choice: to take her or not. Trying to decide, we continue to ease forward moving to within 129 yards of the trio. It’s a chip shot and this sow is one of the biggest bears I’ve seen on the trip. I have a tough choice to make. What would you do?
We watch the bears for a little while as I weigh the options in my mind. There is no biological or legal reason not to take the sow. Mike, Kevin and I discuss it, but the choice is ultimately mine. In the end, I decide to hold off. I reason that I have already filled one tag on a beautiful cinnamon-colored bear and there is still an hour of shooting light left. Anything can still happen. Eventually the yearlings wander off, leaving the heavy sow to feed alone in the clover. Two more bears eventually show up, one that is probably “average or better,” my guide says. We laugh because that is his way of saying, “it’s not all that huge, but if you want to take it, there’s nothing wrong with the choice.” I’m into the last minutes of the hunt, but hold the trigger. I’m a hunter and I’d love to fill my last tag, but I’ve taken bigger and in the end, while I wouldn’t fault anyone for making a different choice, I stand by my decision not to shoot. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to come back one day. We hit the truck and head back to camp in the fading light wondering if Big Bear Thursday’s paid off for anyone else.
No sooner do we roll back into cell coverage than the light on my Blackberry start’s blinking. The message from Jason Hart reads simply, “Bear Down! I took the brown phase bear that I spotted. Not a big bear, but the nicest coat I have seen!” It is Hart’s first bear ever and he is ecstatic. The bear’s coat indeed made it a true trophy.
Magazine editor David Maas rounded out the 5-bear success of Big Bear Thursdays when he arrowed another huge bruin that rivaled in size Faw’s bigger bear earlier that afternoon. In one great day, our team brought in more bears than we did the previous three days combined. And it could have been six had I decided to shoot. For me the hunt is over, but the rest of the guys with tags remaining still have another day. Storms are rolling in, perhaps one reason so many bears were on the move this evening. I have to admit, I’d love to have one more day to get out there, but there’s a holiday weekend ahead and I have some little ones of my own that keep wondering when Daddy is going to come pick them up. It’s time to go.
As the days wind down on some tough black bear hunting, our group rallies with the declaration that today will be the start of “Big Bear Thursdays.”
HERE to see the Day 3 gallery