Words written more than 20 years ago come to life today in this bear hunter's amazing story.
WATCHING THE FIFTH BEAR of the evening finish off the cache of goodies my guide, Todd Rawlake, had left behind, I thought, He must be the dominant boar at this bait site. He was a big bear, somewhere in the 300-pound range, and surely big enough to make the Pope and Young record book. But I wasn't ready to drop the string just yet.
This was my first night of the hunt, and with such an active bait, I wanted to see what else the Saskatchewan wilderness had to offer. Besides, I probably could get another crack at this same bear later in the week.
Little did I know that later would come much sooner than later.
FOR SOME 20-PLUS years now, I have been hooked on learning about and hunting black bears. Whether watching bear videos, reading about bears, or sitting on stand, I can't get enough. In my early years, I read stories written by M. R. James, Dr. Dave Samuel, and other talented writers who made me feel as though I were in the treestand or ground blind with them. They had infected me with an incurable bug, and I had to test the bear-hunting waters myself.
And test them I did. After investigating several bowhunting camps, I decided on an outfit in Ontario that had everything -- nice cabins, active baits, a great guide, and plenty of bear action. The only trouble was, group after group of my arrow-flinging friends and I always ended up three for four, two for three, and so on, with yours truly always being the odd man out. I saw the occasional bear, but just never got a good shot on one.
After yet another unsuccessful spring -- at the time, Ontario still allowed spring hunting -- my guide insisted that I come back for a fall hunt, and that was when I finally closed the deal.
I remember it clearly. I was sitting in a ground blind set up for this particular bait when a giant bruin came strolling in. The bear, which I'm sure was as big as a Volkswagen, came within a few yards of me and looked me square in the eyes. With my heart beating like crazy and my stomach rising into my throat, I managed to pull off a perfect quartering-away shot. When I found the downed bruin at the end of a short, 40-yard trail, he had suffered some serious ground shrinkage. He went from Volkswagen to lawnmower. He weighed maybe 150 pounds. Nonetheless, I was ecstatic. Finally, I had joined the ranks of the same guys I had been reading about for all those years.
STILL, I HAD A LOT to learn about bear hunting. Wanting to become better at judging the size of bears, I began using little tricks I had learned from others, like laying a six-foot length of tree limb or log near the bait so I could judge the bear's body length. And following the advice of some guides, I began gauging the size of bears in relation to the 55-gallon bait barrel. Bears that were as tall as a barrel on-end or longer than the barrel on its side were shooters.
Over the course of the next few years, I became more successful, and my bears progressively got larger on each hunt. One thing I can't stress enough is that you can't shoot trophy bruins if you always shoot the first bear you see. Every rule has exceptions, of course, but generally speaking, the biggest bears will come in later in the evening after smaller bears have already visited the bait.
Most obviously, to take big bears, you have to hunt areas with big bears. Saskatchewan had been on my dream list for years, and through the friend of a friend, I learned about a young and ambitious bear guide by the name of Todd Rawlake, out of Pierceland, Saskatchewan. He had a reputation of putting his clients on some dandy bears, and his color-phase bears were known to be exceptional as well. Truth be known, he had some of the best bear country around, primarily ranch land with a lot of rich food for the bears.
The first year I went to Todd's camp, I killed a beautiful blonde phase that made the record book. Later that season, Todd shot a great chocolate from the same bait where I killed the blonde. His bear weighed 525 pounds and measured an amazing seven feet, four inches from nose to tail. That same spring, his hunters also took a few other 400-pounders with great heads.
Over the next couple of years, I stayed in contact with Todd and finally got the chance to hunt with him again this past spring. I couldn't wait to get back to camp and enjoy the camaraderie and great food provided by his parents, Rob and Bev.
THAT BRINGS US BACK to the beginning of the story. It was my first night on stand, and the action started quickly. Todd's quad wasn't even out of earshot yet when the first bear appeared at the base of my tree, letting me know he was the boss. I sure wasn't going to argue with the aggressive little fellow. Before long, another little bear came in, and the two spent time bluffing one another. This made for great pictures and video until a 200-pound cinnamon bear came in and chased them off.
The parade of bears continued for most of the evening until the 300-pounder I described in the opening paragraph showed up and staked his claim to the bait. This bear, with a nice white blaze on his chest, seemed to have no intention of leaving until he had his fill of beaver and oats. For a good 30 or 40 minutes he periodically rolled the barrel over a time or two and then cleaned up the goodies that spilled onto the ground. Finally satisfied that he had gotten all there was to offer, he strolled off into the bush.
I was beginning to regret my decision to not take him when I caught movement right under my stand. At first, I thought the bear with the blaze had returned, but as this new bear walked out from under me, I knew he was much larger.
At that point, my instincts took over as I grabbed my bow from the hanger, flipped on my video camera, and waited for the bear to give me a shot. After about a minute, the bear presented a good angle, and I drew and released. The big bruin disappeared into the bush, and then I heard a crash. I sat for a few minutes, listening to the silence and trying to take in what had just happened.
Everything happened so quickly that the shakes and tremors that so often accompany a shot were delayed. About an hour later, after being swallowed up by t
he darkness, I could hear a quad. When Todd arrived, I shared the news with him and we took a quick look around before deciding we should return in the morning to trail the bear.
However, as Todd turned the quad around, the headlights flashed across the bear lying not 35 yards from the bait. As we approached, the bear seemed to grow bigger with each step we took. Todd and I had to muster all our strength just to roll the giant bruin onto a sled behind the quad, and it later took six of us to load him into the back of the truck.
The next day we measured the bear and took photos. The bruin weighed 500 pounds and squared an even seven feet. Back home I took the bear to my taxidermist, Mark Lodzinski, of Artistic Touch Taxidermy in Oregon, Ohio, who did a beautiful job of cleaning the skull and mounting the bear for me. After the required 60-day drying period, I then had Pope and Young scorer Mark Buehrer measure the skull. He came up with an official P&Y measurement of 216„16.
This bear turned out to be the bear of many lifetimes, and for this I owe many thanks to Todd Rawlake. Perhaps I owe even more to M.R. James, Dr. Dave, and all those writers who inspired me years ago. After all, they're the ones who gave me the incurable bug that drives me to hunt these beautiful beasts of the great north woods.
Author's Notes: For an excellent bear hunt, contact Todd Rawlake at (403) 519-4147, or visit his website at truenorthtrophyhunts.com . He also offers hunts for whitetails and other game.
For other North American bowhunting adventures, contact Mark Buehrer of Bowhunting Safari Consultants at (419) 943-3743, bowhuntingsafari.com .
For world-class taxidermy, contact Mark Lodzinski's Artistic Touch Taxidermy in Oregon, Ohio, at (419) 693-3845.
The author is an avid spring bear hunter from Payne, Ohio.