Once a bowhunter has tasted success on the huge bears of eastern Canada, he has to do it again ... and again.
VEE-BEAR SWAGGERED OUT of the woods just after sundown, rolled back his lips, snarled, and charged. Bears scattered everywhere -- all but one fat, glossy sow. The broad-chested male sidled up to the female, rubbed his snout across hers, and started to gobble chocolate cake. It was a typical evening on a Danny Dyer black bear bait.
During the first three days of stand sitting, I had seen 16 bears. It was late May, and the rut was just beginning. Males of various sizes were strutting their stuff for the girls, popping out to feed at the bait barrel as early as 5 p.m. But the boss bear was old Vee. When he showed up, the would-be competition fled.
Watching Vee-Bear for the second time in three nights, I debated my sanity. Here was a long-bodied, well-furred animal whose back was only three inches below the top of the 34-inch bait barrel. His head was massive, with a crease down the top and bulging muscle mounds on either side. The ears looked small, the belly hung low, and the animal rolled along on wide, pigeon-toed paws. He would weigh 350 pounds for sure -- probably more -- and the hide would measure over six feet. But that was not the best part. Across his chest, like a bold artist's design, was a wide, pure-white "V" that stretched to each rippling shoulder blade. Above that were two bold white stripes across the throat. I had never seen a jet-black bear with such dramatic and beautiful markings.
But before the hunt, I had set my mind on a seven-foot black bear or nothing. Such a bear would stand as tall as the bait barrel, and in Danny Dyer's vast New Brunswick hunting concession, a fair number of black bears meet that standard. Vee-Bear was special, but I wanted extra-special.
Night fell, and soon the headlights of Danny's 4WD pickup stabbed the darkness. I could hear bears galloping away as the engine noise grew louder. This was a great bear stand.
From left, Chris, Danny, and Lawrence Dyer run a hunting camp that spans three generations and more than 50 years.
THIS WAS MY SECOND spring bowhunt with Lawrence Dyer & Sons Outfitters. During three generations and more than 50 years of hosting clients, Danny's dad, Lawrence, along with Danny and Danny's son Chris have made dreams come true for thousands of black bear hunters. In 2002, my buddy Doyle Shipp and I shared this magic.
Now we were back in 2004 with two more friends. My brother-in-law Randall True is a great pal and avid archer, but he had never hunted bears. He's a psychiatrist by trade, and a good one. When he's along, I joke about taking my personal therapist.
My friend Gene Arneson had arrowed deer, elk, and antelope, but never a black bear. As a member of a helicopter medical rescue team, Gene has nerves of steel. But he admitted to being slightly shaky in anticipation of taking a bruin. Hunting will do that to you.
After a full day of flying to Presque Isle, Maine, followed by 1 1/2 hours of driving to Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, we were tired but excited. We settled into Danny's plush lodge, got halfway organized, and hit the sack. For-tunately, we didn't need to get up early. Departure for bait sites would occur about 2 p.m.
To the uninitiate, spring black bear baiting might not seem esthetically pleasing or fair, but I'm here to tell you the experience is terrific. Baited bears are not pushovers. Older trophy males visit baits infrequently and often after dark. They circle to test the wind, watch smaller feeding bears with a wary eye, and ease in with senses revved to the max. Big, bait-wise black bears are anything but easy.
While you wait for a shooter, you often get quite a show, too, as smaller bears feed, fight, and posture in front of you -- your own private zoo without fences. I love to photograph bears from my stand.
Doyle Shipp's bear had a distinctive golden snout and a large head.
Bait barrels don't bother me, either. Without a standard gauge of size, black bears can be almost impossible to judge, but with a barrel you can make a proper harvest decision. A bear with a back line below the second (top) ring on the barrel is less than 23 inches tall and less than 200 pounds. A bear as tall as a standard 34-inch U.S. 50-gallon drum normally is two and a half to three times that heavy, with a trophy hide and a record-book skull to match. Bears standing between 23 and 34 inches are nice. What you shoot depends on how many bears you've shot and your personal druthers. A bait barrel at least helps you make an intelligent and deliberate choice.
SOME BAIT SITES are hot, others are not. As luck would have it, the two guys in our group who just wanted a nice bear above the second barrel ring were having fits seeing one. Randall had spent three days on a bait with only one glimpse of a bear, and that bear was tiny.
Meanwhile, Gene had yet to lay eyes on a bruin. Both stand sites he'd hunted showed big bear tracks, but maybe that was the problem. One dominant, night-feeding bear can scare other bears out of an area, and if you don't see Mr. Big, you might not see any bears.
With our six-day hunt half gone, we compared notes late one night. I say "late," because it was well after midnight before we all got back to camp. Danny's hunting area is 250 miles long and 100 miles wide, with more than 150 active baits scattered all over the map. In late May, shooting light lingers until 10 p.m. We were driving 75 to 150 miles to and from baits, so we usually ate supper between 12:30 and 1 a.m. Randall and Gene expressed concern.
"Don't worry, boys," Danny said over chicken noodle soup and toasted cheese sandwiches. "We have a lot of hot baits, and a lot can happen in three days."
Doyle, on the other hand, wasn't worried. The first night, two 250-pound boars had a tooth-and-toenail fight only six yards below him. The second night a tall, big-headed bear with a golden snout had fed, then bedded at the foot of Doyle's ladder platform. In all that time, the bear never once presented a broadside shot. And when it left, it galloped away after a female.
Doyle's Big Boy showed again on night number three but not until alm
ost dead dark. Doyle could clearly see the bear through his 10x42 Swarovski binoculars but could not see his sight pins to shoot.
AS DO ALL GREAT bear outfitters, Danny monitors his baits and gives bruins what they want. Unlike his hunters, who sleep in and eat a leisurely breakfast before heading to their stands in midafternoon, Danny and his guides work 20 hours a day, collecting bait scraps from every butcher shop and doughnut store within hundreds of miles. And while clients are relaxing on roomy ladder platforms and watching bears, guides are checking baits, refilling barrels, and scouting for new bait sites. Between mid-spring and late June, it's a never-ending process. But it's worth it. Danny's clients bat over 95-percent on spring bears, some of which weigh more than 500 pounds and have skulls measuring 19 to 22 inches.
Almost all of Danny's bears are black, although some have white spots or blazes on their chests. And the spring hides are almost never rubbed. All the bears I saw in 2004 had long, thick, glossy coats.
On the fourth night, the wind whipped up about 5 o'clock, and rain started pattering down. Only two bears showed at my bait before dark, both small sows with the telltale narrow faces, rounded heads, and dainty forelegs. Black bears don't like wind or rain, and they tend to hole up because they cannot easily hear danger or keep track of other bears near a bait. Contrary to what you might think, these furry animals move best in hot, still, and buggy conditions.
This is Randall True's first-ever bear, a well-furred 200-pounder.
In contrast to mine, Doyle's stand was in a wind-protected canyon, and just after sundown the golden-nosed bear with the pumpkin-sized head suddenly appeared behind the bait. Seconds later, my partner buried a three-blade broadhead deep in the bruin's chest from 14 yards. The 450-pound animal galloped 100 yards and dropped.
As we admired Doyle's massive, thick-furred bear late that night in the skinning shed, Randall and Gene were happy. But not quite as happy as they might have been. Neither had seen a thing.
"I'm going to move those boys," Danny said. "We've got a couple of hot baits nobody's hunted this year. It's time."
For Randall, the fifth evening was a charm. Thirty minutes after Danny drove away from the bait, a twig cracked in the forest. Seconds later, a burly black animal stepped between two trees. When Randall saw that the top of the bear's back was even with the second barrel ring, he scarcely waited for the bear's lips to connect with maple bars before he sent Easton aluminum sizzling through the air. The Thunderhead 100 broadhead severed spinal cord, and skewered lungs and heart for a near-instant kill.
Gene saw nothing that night, and I saw two sows and one small boar. Even immature males are blockier in the head and body than females. Vee-Bear had quit coming in, and now, in my mind's eye, he was starting to look really good. Still, Danny had seen huge bears in this area, so I remained adamant about holding out.
Gene Arneson put in six long days to take this bruin and earn that smile.
Around Gene's new bait were tracks galore, including one front pad that measured over five inches wide, which could mean a six-and-a-half to seven-foot bear. But such animals usually show up late in the day, as smaller and less-wary bears appear first. Gene wasn't about to pass up any "two-ringer" at this point, and who could blame him for that?
EVENING NUMBER SIX was perfect. Seventy-five degrees, calm, and buggy as heck. I pulled down my headnet, slipped on my gloves, and started to read my John Grisham novel.
Then, just before sundown, a black blob appeared on a logging road 100 yards to my left. I'd barely got the binoculars to my eyes before he disappeared, but my heart leaped during that one quick look. I'd never seen this bear before. He had an odd, coal-black snout. And he was big.
I put down the book and grabbed my bow. Minutes later, a patch of black appeared behind the bait. I gulped...and then relaxed. It was a small bear I had seen the night before -- a male with a light-colored nose. He trotted to the bait, snatched a scrap of beef, and ran like crazy. My fingers curled tighter around the bowstring.
Light began to fade. Still no black-nosed bear. And then it happened. The bruin looked as big as a Mack truck when he stepped from behind a pile of logs barely 20 yards away. He froze, swiveled his heavy head, and sniffed the air. Then he shuffled slowly and carefully toward the bait. In seconds, he was in front of the barrel. I sucked in my breath. The barrel had disappeared!
As the bear dropped his head to feed, I began to draw slowly, and in a flash the bear galloped away. He had heard the rustle of my clothes. I swung my 20-yard sight after the animal, and when he paused briefly at the forest edge I released. The distance was 22 yards.
The Super Slam shaft hit with a plunk!, and the bear vanished like smoke. Seconds later, I heard his death moan deep in the trees.
My bear had a coal-black muzzle and a seven-foot hide.
LATE THAT NIGHT we were admiring not one but two fine animals in the skinning shed. Gene was all grins over his 225-pound New Brunswick black bear, and for good reason. The hide was magnificent -- a perfect first archery bear.
My own bruin was awesome and well worth the wait, and he took away any of my self-doubts about passing up Vee-Bear. This animal weighed a touch over 500 pounds, the hide squared exactly seven feet, and the skull later green-scored between 19 and 20 inches.
"Well, boys, not bad for a quartet of arrow flingers," Danny teased during our after-midnight meal. "But you've got to come back next year. Old Vee-Bear should be taller and heavier then, and I'll have some new baits where nobody's ever hunted. I'll bet you all see monsters."
With arm-twisting like that, who wouldn't revisit black bear heaven -- at least one more time?
Author's Notes: For details on your own New Brunswick black bear adventure, contact: Lawrence Dyer & Sons Outfitters, PO Box 1094, Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, Canada E7G 4G9; (506) 356-2854; ww
w.anglefire.com/biz2/dyerscamps. Maybe I'll see you there next spring!
We were all shooting Hoyt or Reflex compound bows in the 65 to 75-pound range, XX78 aluminum arrows, and fixed-blade broadheads from New Archery Products -- either Thunderheads or Razorbaks. Danny Dyer prefers that hunters not use open-on-impact heads on bears because they often do not pass completely through big, heavily furred spring bears. In the thick bear habitat of New Brunswick, a blood trail can be hard to follow unless an arrow makes an exit hole.
Equipment Notes: Bear Lures
By Brian Fortenbaugh, Assistant Editor
Bears will eat just about anything -- donuts, bread, meat, grease. However, such "delicacies" aren't the only things that will draw bruins into bow range. The following companies make artificial lures specifically for attracting bears. As always, check state regulations to make sure these products are legal.
1) Tink's Smokin' Sticks-Bear put out a wild berry scented smoke for about two hours. Each stick contains three bear-attracting odors, and these odors cling to everything the smoke touches, which keeps bears coming long after the stick burns out (Tink's, 1-800-624-5988, www.tinks69.com).
2) Wildlife Research Center's Ultimate Bear Lure is a sweet-smelling liquid bears can't resist. It contains no filler material to weaken its concentration, and its oily consistency lasts well even in wet conditions (Wildlife Research Center, Inc., 1-800-655-7898, www.wildlife.com).
3) Buck Stop Lure Company's Bear Bate contains a potent blend of bear-attracting foods, and the paste will stick to just about anything for easy application. Also, this company's Bear Sow-In-Heat (3a) contains sow estrus urine that will drive big boars nuts in the spring (Buck Stop Lure Company, Inc., 1-800-477-2368, www.buckstopscents.com).
4) Xtreme Scents' Deer Candy is designed to attract deer, but the folks at Xtreme say it works equally well on bears. The liquid gel is available in Molasses, Corn, and Apple flavors. Also, try this company's Bear Lure (4a) (Xtreme Scents, 810/220-9392, www.xtremescents.com).