“Right here,” said my Canadian bear guide, Justin Clark. “This is where I want to build the blind. Don’t worry about the pad trail coming in. I know this bear; he’ll come down that more established pad trail about 20 yards up toward the bait.”
Justin’s advice was good enough for me. At the time, I knew as much about hunting black bears in the Canadian north as I do about physics — so, nothing. The two of us went to work, snipping down pine saplings with a pair of heavy lobbers in an effort to construct a natural bear blind. It all looked good. I had a pair of openings to shoot through, and though the set was tight and my vision was limited, I felt good about it. The wind, a stiff westerly breeze carrying the scent of rain, was hitting me square in the face.
I could still hear the hum of Justin’s quad buzzing in my ears when the first cold drop smacked me in the face. More followed and before I knew it — and before I had time to prepare for it — rain was falling from the sky. Luckily, my Mossy Oak Country rain gear was close at hand and I was able to slip it over my ScentLok clothing before it was completely drenched. This rain, rain that went from sheets to a drizzle back to sheets again, went on for over an hour. I just pulled my hood up and put my face down.
Finally, the heavens cleared and the sun reemerged. I hadn’t even lifted my head and turned my face toward the warm glow when I heard it. It sounded just like a wet dog shaking violently. You know the sound. Only this wasn’t a dog. This was a 175-pound black bear, and he was coming down the pad trail my natural blind was all but sitting on.
I had the wind. I wasn’t worried about that. What I was worried about — what raised the hairs on the back of my neck — was the gorgeous bruin spying me as he walked by my blind at less than 2 yards. I sat like a statue, scared to breathe and scared to twitch.
His coal-black fur rubbed against the small saplings that made up my blind. He paid me no mind. His gaze was locked on the rotting beaver carcass tied off 20 yards down the old gas-line road. I let out a sigh of relief as he passed by.
When he hit the revegetated road, the wind changed. I felt it on my face. He felt it in his nostrils. He didn’t run. Instead, the bruin lowered his head, turned his paws inward to make himself look as big as possible, stared into my blind and popped his jaws. The sound was deafening.
He kept coming closer an inch or two at a time, popping and huffing. I was trembling. I decided to stand up and make myself look bigger. If I did this he would run, right? Wrong. When I stood, he stood. Then he went back down on all fours and kept coming.
North Alberta Outfitters’ lodge is breathtaking, tucked back into the pines off a nowhere road in the gorgeous backcountry of Alberta. Owners Troy and Lisa Foster have deep roots in hunting and hockey. They’re also as tough as they come. Perhaps the only thing more apparent than their grit is their concern for their hunters’ experiences. Both want their hunters to have a positive experience both at the lodge and while roaming the dense bush of the Canadian north. They work tirelessly to make your hunt the best possible.
Troy has lived off the land his entire life and still runs a trap line to this day. He has successfully guided hunters for moose, deer, wolves and bears for years. Lisa keeps the operation running squeaky clean — when she’s not dominating the competition in her ladies hockey league, that is.
After tossing my gear in my room and taking a few practice shots, I sat down with Troy to get more information on his setups.
“I don’t use treestands,” Troy told me. “We run too many bait sites to have stands at all of them. I don’t run trail cameras either. A good bear guide, one really worth his salt, can tell by the size of track and scat in the area if a good bear is hitting. A good guide should also be able to tell if a color-phase bear is in the area. I always keep an eye out for colored fur that gets caught in the bait barrel. Other good places to look for fur are on the vegetation lining the pad trail. I can be at a bait site for just a few minutes and get a good idea for how many bears are visiting it, the size of the bears and their color. I love it. I feel like a detective. For me, it’s all about putting my woodsmanship skills to the test every time I head out. I never get tired of messing with bears.
“Now, this bait, the one I’m having Justin take you to, can be a bit sketchy. There is a boar that comes in from time to time and is very aggressive. He isn’t huge, but he has an attitude problem. When I’m at that particular site I have to leave my quad running to keep him at a distance. Pay attention when you’re in there, but don’t worry. He’ll head right for the bait. Part of the excitement is being on the ground with them.”
When Troy talks about bears, he’s very serious. After our first conversation, I was shaking with excitement. With a slap on the back that nearly knocked me from my chair, Troy suggested we head outside. He wanted to show me the bait barrels and where a good bear would measure when standing next to a barrel. He also took the time to show me what he used to bring the bears in: oats, vegetable oil and a freezer full (though they were not frozen) of rotting, stinking beaver carcasses he had trapped the winter before. He made me part of the hunt. I appreciated that.
Back to the Woods
I kept replaying Troy’s words in my head over and over again:
“There is a boar that comes in from time to time that is very aggressive.”
Was this the bear? Was he about to enter my little makeshift blind? Was he going to snap the saplings that separated us like toothpicks? My knees were knocking and my mind was racing.
He was 5 yards away, facing me head-on and inching closer by the second. Finally, something — I’m not sure what, but I still thank the man upstairs for it — grabbed his attention by the bait barrel. He didn’t walk toward it, but he did quarter toward it enough to give me a small window in which to slide an arrow. He saw me draw. He clacked his jaws again, but it was too late. The Rage Hypodermic blew through him like butter. He showed his displeasure by letting out a loud woof before staggering off the revegetated road. That’s as far as he made it. He collapsed right there on the road, a mere 10 yards from the blind. I was speechless. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t pump my fist. I couldn’t swallow. All I could do was stand there trembling.
Later that night at the lodge, I was asked to retell my tale over and over again. I felt like I was in the blockbuster hit Dances With Wolves. You know, the part where Costner shoots the charging buffalo and it skids to a stop at the young boy’s feet? I was, no doubt, on quite a high.
I spent the next morning shooting arrows and running on some back roads around the lodge. The country was so beautiful and I wanted to experience it to the fullest. By 3 p.m. it was time to load up and make the drive — this time a three-hour trek — to my next bear hunting destination. That’s the great thing about Alberta: you get two bear tags.
I got a little nervous when the hum of Justin’s quad no longer registered in my ears. The previous night’s experience, one of the most exciting and downright scary in my bowhunting career, was as fresh as the morning dew in my mind. To say I was on edge was an understatement. Every noise in the woods put me on alert.
Hours passed and I began to relax. The woods grew quiet and the sinking Alberta sun cast shadows across the land. My setup was perfect. I was in a stand of poplar trees and could see roughly 200 yards in every direction.
Then it happened. It was so surreal. I’d read about it hundreds of times and even watched it on TV. Yesterday, the bear was just on me, but this time I caught a glimpse of black slinking through the underbrush. My Meopta optics confirmed it was a bear, but the second I had the bruin in focus, it disappeared. Then, like magic, I would catch another glimpse of this ghost. This is what I had come to Canada to experience. My lifelong dream of seeing a coal-black hide against a brilliantly green backdrop was happening before my eyes.
That bear never came in. I think it was a big boar scent-checking the bait. Once his olfactory system told him no willing sow was in the area, he moved on. Troy, when I spoke to him later, agreed with my hypothesis.
The wind had changed and was blowing right at the bait. I didn’t care. I was having a ball. I figured my evening was over, but I wasn’t about to radio Justin and call it quits. With the wind blowing toward the bait, I adjusted my seat to get a better view of the landscape behind me. I figured a bear could still come from this direction and I could, if he was a bear I wanted, skewer him before he caught my scent.
I hadn’t been in my repositioned chair more than two minutes when he showed. He was a decent-sized boar, and I planned to press my Hoyt Nitrum 34 into action if given the opportunity. Gosh, is there anything better than bowhunting? Even just writing about the experience floods my mind with memories. My hands shake and my heart races.
I planned to shoot from a sitting position, but the boar had other plans. Like the bruin the evening before, this bear was going to come right by my blind. When he did, he stood on his front legs and actually pushed in the front of my fort. He was less than 3 yards but showed no aggression. He just wanted to see who had invaded his favorite restaurant. Gathering my composure, I stood and drew on the bear as he walked away. He paused for a moment and offered me a perfect quartering-away shot. My CX Maxima Red arrow was true and it wasn’t long before I heard the death moan. Two bears in two nights and both shot at less than 10 yards. Does it get any better?
I still had several days left in the Alberta backcountry and with two tags notched, I decided to become a bear guide. I spent the next several nights with Troy. He taught me so much about baiting bears — information I will use on future DIY bear hunts. By the second night, he had me running other hunters out on a quad and baiting sites on my own. It was the perfect way to end a perfect trip.
This was just one of those special bowhunts — one of those bowhunts you replay over and over again in your mind. I will be back in Alberta, and when I do, it will be with Troy and Lisa.