One of the most alluring aspects of bowhunting is that an off-the-wall-radical adventure is always waiting on deck. Virtually any one of us, at most any time, has the potential to experience something that transcends a run-of-the-mill bowhunt—to morph suddenly into something a good deal more. As long as you’re outdoors with bow in hand, strange things can simply, well, happen.
Maybe it’s a sudden deluge of backcountry sleet and snow—after a stretch of sun-baked daytime 70s—that forces you and your meager backpack camp into full-on survival mode. Or maybe your gear-laden canoe slipping quietly along a familiar, mostly featureless river gets hooked by an unseen sweeper—and an ordinary crossing goes horribly awry.
Extreme can also work the other way. Such as when that 45-minute “sneak it in” urban bowhunt produces a 198-inch, double-drop Booner that neither the lucky bowhunter, nor anyone else, had knowingly glimpsed before. Or you might stalk in on a weak, mousy bugle that you just know belongs to a rambunctious spike—only to stumble into a massive, wide-beamed 7×7 monarch…just as surprised to see the whites of your eyes.
Some of my all-time favorite bowhunts combine both aforementioned components: a flirt with the edges of danger as well as an unexpected jaw-dropping trophy. One of my most memorable? A run-in with a burly northern Saskatchewan black bear behaving more like a cantankerous mountain grizzly.
Hunting bears over bait is an exciting endeavor that can produce its share of “in your face” encounters. Typically, in the form of younger, inquisitive bruins that might scale your stand tree a bit to check you out. Some make it all the way up and need some coaxing—a branch, rock, even booted foot—to back them down. After numerous bear hunts over nearly 20 years I’ve seen these and more. And while I’ve always respected a black bear’s speed and power, I’d never been truly frightened in their presence. That would change one blue-bird, early June morning in Saskatchewan.
The remote fly-in adventure had begun with a few idyllic days of angling for lake trout and aggressive post-spawn pike that ranged to some 25 pounds—the wonderful byproducts of a sprawling 50-some-mile-long lake dotted with literally hundreds of islands and shallow bays. Days 1 and 2 saw me and another bowhunter help our native guide bait several lakeside stands—using a boat and several of the pike—and we were back in a wide, shallow bay the third morning to rebait and check for bear activity. After boating a few 10-pounders, things escalated quickly.
“There’s a big bear,” our soft-spoken guide casually mentioned, pointing across the bay.
Sure enough, my 10-power Swarovskis revealed a giant of a black bear ambling our way on a steady mission. Although a good quarter-mile distant, it was obvious the bruin was headed for the bait. Time for action. Knowing we hadn’t yet broached the topic, I quickly spoke up as the guide cranked the motor.
“Flip you for it,” I offered to my bowhunting boat mate.
“Go for it, man, he’s all yours,” he shot back. Things were looking up. I dearly wanted that bear.
A minute later we beached and I leapt from the boat, bow in hand, literally running to the hidden black spruce-rimmed clearing that held both stand and bait. I’ll never forget dodging the impressive pile of fresh bear dung at the ladder stand base—large enough to have been left by a Clydesdale. Two days earlier there had been neither bear sign nor bait.
I’d barely gotten settled when the huge bruin emerged from the brush 30 yards out. Immediately, we locked eyes. Then the behemoth promptly sat back on its beefy haunches and pointed its wide nose skyward, slowly waving its bloated pumpkin head back and forth. Checking the wind. A slight breeze on my face signaled my advantage; I relaxed. Wrong move.
With a blood-curdling ROAR, the huge bear suddenly leapt to its feet and raced straight for me—right to the base of my treestand, pounding and shaking the ground with its impressive bulk for more emphasis. It needed none. The dash took maybe two seconds; then in one fluid motion, the bear raised up on its hind legs and swiped its massive paws at me, first one, then the other, slashing the air within mere inches of the stand platform. Somewhat in shock—with knees seriously knocking— I simultaneously white-knuckled the tiny tree and my bow, and prayed. Maybe 9 feet up, I was inches from an enraged trophy-class black bear weighing some 400 pounds. Conservatively. And let me tell you: Inches away, an angry bear that big is impressive as hell.
Thirty very long seconds later the bruiser seemed puzzled. It turned, then simply sat at the tree base. I had no shot—not that it mattered. I hadn’t yet regained full control of my extremities. What next? The bear knew. The hulking brute began popping its jaws in agitation—and sprinted hard to my right. What the? Another bear had arrived.
I could only watch as the huge boar bird-dogged around the bait site behind this second bruiser bear—an impressive cubless sow—which at one point grabbed a 12-pound pike from the now-meager bait pile, as a dog would a bone. The boar remained back in the brush. It was peak mating season; the huge boar hadn’t been haunting the bait for the food. When I heard both bears move off, I knew I’d been witness to a rare encounter.
In retrospect it’s likely that large boar in that very remote camp had grown up with little if any contact with humans, and that it simply considered me another rival boar doing the unthinkable: monitoring “his” bait site being used by a sow in heat. In other words, just a standard early June bear hunt…that took an unexpected turn toward the extreme.