April 25, 2023
The bait station was located above a rocky bend in the river, just a stone’s throw from the border of Northwest Territories. Getting there from our Northern Saskatchewan camp was a chore. First, there was a one-mile ATV ride to access an aluminum boat stashed along the river’s edge. Then a five-plus-mile boat ride upriver through some of the North Country’s most pristine wilderness. In total, the process took over an hour.
Two things struck me as I followed our host, Kent Wolowski, up to the bear bait. First, the smell of popcorn covered in caramel sauce filled the air, which made me hungry. I could see why bears were attracted to it. The second thing I noticed was how low the treestand was hung — maybe 6½ feet off the ground. I could literally pull myself up onto the platform if needed. It reminded me of a lesson learned years ago.
My mentor in the bowhunting industry was former Bowhunter Equipment Editor, Bill Krenz. Bill wrote for Bowhunter for years but relinquished his position in the early 2000s to start a new publication, at which point Bill then hired me as an eager young ad salesman.
Eventually, I developed an interest in writing and Bill gave me a chance. Shortly after submitting what I now realize was a dreadful first manuscript, Bill called me into his office and handed me a story he had recently written called “The Lesson Bear.” This was the article he used to teach me the basics of writing.
“The Lesson Bear” was the story of a Saskatchewan bear hunt Bill shared with Bowhunter Founder M.R. James. On that trip, he hunted from a relatively high treestand that was placed too close to the bait. When his opportunity came, the steep-angled shot led to a single-lung hit and a lengthy tracking job. Bill was lucky to find that bear.
Bears have a unique anatomy that can be difficult to visualize under all that hide and hair. Their chests are wide from side to side, and narrower from top to bottom, which can make hitting both lungs a challenge from elevated positions. Standing under this treestand, I remembered “The Lesson Bear” and realized Kent knew exactly what he was doing: Shot angles would not be a problem on this hunt.
Reflecting on that article also made me realize how special this hunt really was to me. The story of my mentor’s Saskatchewan bear hunt with the Bowhunter crew had been a lesson in far more than just bears. Now, 20 years later, here I was in Saskatchewan, hunting bears with Bowhunter Publisher Jeff Waring and Editor Curt Wells. To me, this hunt represented a journey that was coming full circle.
The trip was an adventure before the hunt even started. Kent’s bear camp is located on Fontaine Lake, approximately 40 miles north of the end of civilization in Saskatchewan. To say it’s remote is an understatement, and as each plane we boarded got smaller and smaller, I couldn’t help but wonder how primitive a facility we would eventually arrive to find. I was in for a surprise.
As our floatplane taxied into a cove on the lake, we looked out the window to see a roomy bunkhouse on a beautiful beach. We were greeted by Kent, along with camp cook Tim Fehr, guide Greg Sikorski, and renowned Saskatchewan bear guide, Rob Nye.
After stepping ashore and having a look around, we couldn’t help but wonder how all the equipment, boats, and building materials for the bunkhouse arrived in such a secluded location. Kent explained that everything was brought in during the winter on sleds behind snow machines. Considering the nearest road is nearly 40 miles away, it must have been quite a task, but the work paid off with an incredible backcountry camp.
Curt, Jeff, and I were accompanied by cameramen Matt Young and Jake Hansen. They would be documenting the hunt for an upcoming episode of Bowhunter TV. I was excited to have Matt accompanying me in the stand for the week. Matt and I work well together. He is just as good of a hunter as he is a videographer, he’s typically up for whatever it takes to get the job done, and he has been by my side on some of my most memorable hunts.
Our first sit in the stand resulted in a young bear visiting the bait, but Kent had a big boar on camera that I was determined to hold out for. Baited bear hunts are fun, specifically because you can often observe bears at close range for extended amounts of time. This bear hung around the bait for more than an hour, and it was a great way to get our hunt started.
Good news was waiting for us back at camp. Curt had punched his tag on a Pope and Young-caliber bear and was now looking forward to a week of world-class northern pike and lake trout fishing! I must admit I was a bit jealous, as I was looking forward to the fishing almost as much as I was the bear hunting. So, I decided right then and there to put some serious time in on the bait in hopes that I might tag the big boar sooner rather than later.
June days are long in Northern Saskatchewan. The sun rises at 3:50 a.m. and sets at 10:20 p.m. Most of the action on the bait seemed to be happening in the afternoon, and many hunters do a bit of fishing before heading to the stand. Not me. Kent took Matt and I on the hourlong trip to the stand fairly early, in hopes that I’d fill my tag quickly and be able to spend the rest of the week fishing.
After an 11-hour sit, my target bear hadn’t shown. Upon climbing down from the stand, I checked our Browning trail camera and discovered why: The boar and a sow had hit the bait at first light and departed before I arrived.
The next day, we set out earlier in hopes the boar would repeat his pattern. He didn’t, and Matt and I put in another long day in the stand — 12 hours this time. We had some action, but the boar I was after never showed, and I figured he was probably preoccupied with that sow he had been with the day before.
The following morning, we experienced some bad luck. An equipment issue caused us to be a bit late getting to the stand, and when we arrived, we found something that added insult to injury: I had accidently left my seat cushion in the stand overnight, and it now lay shredded at the base of the tree.
I checked the camera and was disgusted to see that our big boar was the culprit. Once again, he had come in at first light, and this time, he had crawled up into the tree, shredded my seat, and urinated all over my treestand — it was still wet!
Enough was enough. This bear was dancing circles around us, and with time starting to dwindle on our hunt, I was no longer even concerned with fishing. This bear made it personal, and I was determined to even the score!
We arrived early again the next day and were relieved to see that the bear hadn’t been back while we were gone. We climbed into the stand that morning with renewed determination. When the bear still hadn’t shown by late that afternoon, Matt and I had a decision to make.
Based on our experience with this bear, he seemed to prefer the early mornings, and because he had not been there, I was confident that he would make an appearance early the following morning. The problem was, if Kent came to pick us up around 9 p.m. like we had planned, we wouldn’t be back to camp until 10 p.m., and most likely wouldn’t be in bed until at least 11. To be in the stand a half-hour before sunrise, we would need to leave camp again by 2 a.m. That didn’t leave much time to sleep, and if the bear happened to be on the bait when we arrived, we would have gone to a lot of trouble just to spook him off.
Now, I haven’t ever done this before, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The best way to insure we would be ready and waiting if this bear showed up at first light again the next morning, was to sleep in the tree.
Over the years, I have hunted with lots of cameramen, and I only know of one who might be willing to sleep in a low-hanging treestand over a bear bait with me, and that’s Matt. He didn’t hesitate. He did, however, suggest that I text Kent on the inReach and ask him to bring us some bear spray, which I was more than happy to do.
When Kent arrived with some extra food and our bear spray, he snuck to the base of the tree and said, “I’ve seen some crazy bowhunters in my day, but you two take the cake!” With that, he handed me the bear spray and said, “Text me when he’s dead!”
We soon found out that sleeping in a treestand takes some ingenuity. Matt folded his seat up and sat with his legs crossed on his platform, leaning back against the tree. My stand was a bit lower than his though, and our bear had just crawled into it the day before! I wasn’t about to sit all the way down on the platform where the bear could stand flat-footed on the ground and still reach me! I’d have to stay in the seat, keeping me a little bit higher off the ground.
Matt and I were both using Hunter Safety System harnesses, and we raised the tree straps high enough to remove all the slack from our tethers. Now we were basically hanging in our harnesses and couldn’t fall out. We just had to hope this bear didn’t try to climb back into the tree.
To my surprise, we both slept fairly well. But make no mistake, I had my hand wrapped firmly around that can of bear spray the entire night.
I nudged Matt as the darkness began to fade and told him we needed to get up and get ready. We quickly ate a protein bar for breakfast, and then readied our gear. If this bear was going to show up, now would be the time.
It didn’t take long. In the calm just after sunrise, we caught movement coming toward the bait from the right. It was our boy. He stopped on the way in to stand up against a tree, then bobbed up and down scratching his back for a few minutes. His hesitation before approaching the bait made me little nervous. After spending close to 24 hours straight in that treestand, I had absolutely no intention of sitting there and watching him put on a show. I was going to take the first good shot he gave me.
When he was finally done scratching his itch, he approached the bait and turned fully broadside. I wasted no time in drawing my bow, and as soon as Matt confirmed that he had him in frame, I let my arrow go. It was a solid double-lung hit, and the bear only made it 10 yards before pausing and then going down.
When Kent arrived, he simply said, “Unbelievable job, guys. Good Grit!”
We loaded my bear into the front of the aluminum boat and made our way back to camp. Once there, I got a kick out of Curt’s reaction. I have shared quite a few camps with Mr. Wells, and he is typically composed when you roll in with an animal. But this time he got excited.
Everyone was still asleep when Kent left to pick us up, so no one else knew we had been successful. When Curt saw us coming on the ATVs with that bear, he pumped his fist in the air and started hollering. I knew then that Matt and I had really done something.
That afternoon, Jeff Waring was able to arrow a nice bear — making our trip a complete success. I didn’t get to do as much fishing as I would have liked, but reaping the rewards after putting in extra effort to get the job done, and then getting to celebrate the success with some of my best friends, made this hunt one that I’ll never forget. The hunts that require a little grit always seem to be the ones I remember most fondly.
On this hunt I was shooting a Hoyt RX-7 Ultra with Easton Sonic 6.0 arrows tipped with Rage Trypan NC broadheads. Other pertinent equipment included Leupold optics, Browning Ovix apparel, Browning Trail Cameras, and Hunter Safety System tree harnesses. Kent Wolowski’s Rock Ridge Outfitting offers topnotch fishing and wilderness bear hunting in Northern Saskatchewan. To book a hunt with Kent, contact him at (306) 768-2617, or visit him online at RockRidgeOutfitting.com.