By Brian Fortenbaugh
My introduction to Buck Country Outfitters in Goodsoil, Saskatchewan, came courtesy of Mossy Oak Director of Marketing Dustin "Shed" Whitacre, who invited me to hunt whitetails there with him in October 2015. It was during that successful hunt that I became friends with Buck Country owners, Brandon Schreiber and Dean Kuypers, as well as a few of their guides.
Buck Country has a reputation for big whitetail bucks, and big black bears. It had been several years since I'd hunted the latter, so before I left Brandon and Dean's beyond-impressive camp, I decided a return trip in May 2016 for bears was in order.
I arrived in Edmonton on Sunday, May 22. Joining me on this trip was my buddy Terry Rohm, Bowhunter TV cameraman Mike Emery, and my good friend and cameraman Brian Rusk. Traveling outside the U.S., especially with hunting equipment, is never easy. Fortunately, all of our bags made it to Edmonton without incident, and we soon found ourselves on the road for the four-hour drive north to bear camp.
As mentioned earlier, Buck Country's lodge is second to none. Brandon and Dean designed and built the place themselves, and they made sure they did everything right. The place is large, with both inside and outside access to every bedroom. Speaking of bedrooms, each one has two ridiculously comfortable beds, a flat-screen TV, and a private bathroom and shower. In addition, the kitchen and dining area is spacious, as is the great room. Bottom line: You will not be "roughing it" by any stretch of the imagination during your hunt with Buck Country.
Hunting bears over bait is a relaxing affair, mostly because you typically don't start hunting until midafternoon —” in our case we left camp to head to our stands around 2 p.m. each day. On Monday afternoon, cameraman Brian Rusk and I headed to a double-stand set approximately 17 yards off the bait. My guide, Skip, had already shown us trail-camera pictures of some of the bears frequenting this particular bait, including two really good boars.
We hadn't been on stand very long when the first bears showed up. It was a sow with cubs, but mama didn't like our presence and they never committed to the bait. Soon after, a young boar came in and staked claim to the goodies Skip had served up, and for the next hour that bear laid down next to the bait and gorged himself.
Despite not seeing any of the shooter boars we'd seen pictures of, we hunted that same bait the next night. The only bears we saw were young boars, including the furry glutton from the night before.
Back at camp that night, Brandon asked how we felt about moving to a different bait the next afternoon. More importantly, Brandon wanted to know if we were still comfortable with hunting from a ground blind like we'd talked about prior to the hunt. I'd never killed a bear off the ground before, and figured it would make for some pretty cool video for TV.
My thoughts on being on the ground changed a little bit the next day when during the drive to the bait site, Brandon fired up his tablet and started showing me pictures of the bears that were hitting this bait. There were several good boars on camera, but the one bear that instantly got my attention, and Brian's, was an enormous sow with three very young cubs. She made the mature boars Brandon had photos of look very small by comparison.
"Brian, I've been doing this a long time, and that sow is hands down the biggest I've ever seen," Brandon said. "If I had to guess, she's probably pushing 500 pounds."
"Ok," I said, with obvious hesitation in my voice. "And, how close are we going to be sitting to the bait?"
"About 14 yards," Brandon said with a smile.
It was too late to change plans now, so we unloaded the ATV and tub trailer filled with bait, hopped on, and weaved our way down a narrow path for several minutes until we reached the bait site. While Brandon replenished the bait, Brian and I set up the ground blind and brushed it in the best we could.
Once settled in, Brandon wished us good luck and sped away. It was then that I turned to Brian and whispered, "I'm not going to lie to you buddy. That sow he showed us pictures of has me a little on edge."
"I know what you mean," Brian said. "We're also in pretty tight to the bait, so if she doesn't take a liking to our being here and gets a little cranky, things could get pretty interesting in short order."
Less than an hour after Brandon had left us, I spotted something black in the timber, about 100 yards beyond the bait. Looking through my binoculars, I could tell it was a pretty good bear, but I'd need a closer look to determine whether it was a boar and one that was worth picking up my bow for.
As the bear moved in closer, it became apparent that it was in fact a good-sized boar. I slowly picked up my bow while Brian manned his video camera. It had also become apparent that the bear had noticed the blind, and as a result he started circling us, trying to catch our scent. Fortunately, we had an Ozonics unit running from the moment we crawled in the blind, and it did what it always does — completely eliminated our scent.
Still unsure of the blind itself but confident enough that it didn't pose an immediate threat, the boar plodded toward the bait from our right. When I got the nod from Brian that he was on the bear and I could shoot, I clipped on my release and came to full draw. When the boar paused broadside to take another look at the blind, I touched off the release and my arrow flashed out of the blind and buried halfway up to the fletching in the bear's side.
The bear growled and snapped at the arrow, and then raced off in the direction of the swamp to our left. Brian and I sat there quietly, listening for the sound most dying bears make after being shot with an arrow. After several minutes of hearing nothing but the birds, I started to get nervous about my shot. My arrow had hit the bear maybe three inches forward of where I had been aiming, and given that it didn't completely pass through his chest, I knew I had probably clipped his shoulder.
I immediately texted Brandon to let him know what had happened, and that we might have a wounded bear on our hands instead of a dead one. While waiting for Brandon to show up, Brian and I reviewed the video and shot more footage of other bears that had come to the bait.
When Brandon pulled up next to the blind on his ATV, the first thing I told him I wanted to do was have him look at the footage of the shot. When he did, he said he was confident the bear was dead. Still, I let him take the lead with his shotgun as we started blood-trailing the bear into the swamp.
We hadn't gone more than 60 yards from the point of impact when Brandon said, "Brian, there's your bear and he's a good boar!"
"He is a very good bear," I said, breathing a sigh of relief as I knelt next to my bear and admired his noggin and beautiful hide.
Getting the bear out of the muck took a little "finessing" on Brandon's part with his ATV, but eventually we got him out and headed back to camp.
Back at camp, I mentioned to Brandon that I didn't know why I had waited so many years to hunt bears again. "I don't know either, Brian," Brandon said. "It's way too much fun! What do you say to coming back up here this same week next year?"
He didn't have to ask me twice.
Fast-forward almost exactly one year to the date, and I was once again making the drive from Edmonton to Goodsoil with Brian Rusk and Mike Emery, as well as industry colleague Teri Quinn. Arriving in camp, it was good to see the familiar faces of the Buck Country crew again, many of whom I'd kept in regular contact with over the course of the past year.
Brandon told me that Skip would be my guide again, and that I would be hunting from a ground blind again. "Fine by me," I said. "Unless of course it's at that same bait and that big sow is still around!"
We saw several bears the first two days — just none that I wanted to shoot. Like the previous year, Brandon and Skip decided it was time to move to a different bait site, if for no other reason than to give Brian and I a change of scenery.
So, on the third afternoon, Skip took us to a bait that was in a pretty open area so we could get good footage of any bears that approached the bait from in front of the blind. Upon reaching the bait, there was already a young boar on it. The bear stood his ground for as long as he could before eventually beating a hasty retreat into the bush.
Once again, we set the blind up pretty darn close to the bait — 15 yards to be exact — and brushed it in. The sun was shining, it was getting warm, and the mosquitoes were ravenous until our Thermacell started working its magic.
It wasn't long before the bear we'd run off returned to continue eating, but not before walking up to the blind to see what was inside. With the Ozonics running and Brian and I wearing black shirts, gloves, and headcovers, the bear had no clue we were there and promptly plopped himself down next to the bait and started chowing down.
Suddenly the bear picked his head up and stared into the brush to our right. It was another young boar, and it became obvious pretty quick that the two didn't care for each other's company. Popping their teeth, snarling and growling, the two squared off briefly in front of the blind. Eventually the newcomer backed off and walked behind the blind and out of sight — or so we thought.
The original bear started walking toward us, and that's when Brian whispered that he thought he had heard something behind us. He peeked out the back window of the blind, turned and motioned to me that the other bear was RIGHT THERE! And he wasn't kidding. The bear that we thought had left was literally pushing his nose into the backside of our blind.
With one bear four yards in front of our blind and the other practically trying to crawl into the blind with us from behind, Brian and I suddenly found ourselves in a rather uncomfortable situation. Fortunately, the potential bear-wrestling "cage match" that Brian and I envisioned happening inside our blind never did, as the young bear eventually wised up and walked off hungry and dejected.
Less than an hour later, and with the "victorious" boar still feeding, I spotted a large, black blob 75 yards beyond the bait, slowly working its way toward us. Even before I looked through my binoculars, I knew that this was a good-sized bear. A quick glance through my optics resulted in my reaching even faster for my bow. This was a big bear, for sure!
When the young boar noticed the approaching bear, he immediately stood up and walked away to give the much bigger bear a wide berth. Upon reaching the bait, the big bear did what a lot of big bears do at baits — fed facing us head on.
This went on for several minutes, as I sat patiently waiting for the bear to turn and give me a good shot. Brian had already given me the green light to shoot, so when the bear finally started to turn broadside, I quickly came to full draw and settled my top pin on the "middle of the bear's middle."
Squeezing my release, my arrow covered the 15 yards to the bear in the blink of an eye, blowing right through its thick chest. The bear roared, and then bolted down over the hill to our left. Seconds later, Brian and I heard the sound we had been hoping for, the death moan, which left no doubt that my broadhead had done its job well.
I had a strong enough signal to get a text out to Skip, who said he would be there in about an hour. After Skip showed up, it didn't take us long to find my bear at the bottom of a very steep hill. Apparently gravity had turned a 50 yard blood trail into a 100 yard tracking job, but no matter. I had myself another big, beautiful Buck Country bear, and I'll be trying for my third bear in as many years by the time you folks are reading this!
My equipment on both my 2016 and 2017 bear hunts included a Mathews Halon bow set at 60 pounds, Easton FMJ 400 arrows, Rage Hypodermic (2016) and Trypan (2017) broadheads, Lumenok HD Orange lighted nocks, Bohning Blazer Vanes and Wraps, Spot Hogg sight, Trophy Taker rest, Scott release, Nikon rangefinder and binoculars, Browning Hell's Canyon clothing in Mossy Oak camo, Kenetrek boots and an ALPS OutdoorZ backpack.
I can't say enough good things about Brandon, Dean, and the rest of the boys (and girls) at Buck Country Outfitters. They work together like a well-oiled machine to make sure you have a good hunt. They are great guides, and more importantly, they are great human beings. To book a top-notch bear or whitetail hunt, contact Brandon Schreiber at (780) 870-6510 or email@example.com, visit their website or check out their Facebook page.