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Around the Campfire with Alberta Wilderness Adventures
Read this exciting hunting story about harvesting a trophy black bear!

'Just the Way I Always Imagined'

"Have you ever sat around the fire and not had smoke in your eyes?" The shadowy face across the campfire asked, with a hint of humor in his voice. I blinked, trying to clear away the tears that blurred my vision. A swirl of smoke circled the campfire, then again drifted in my direction. Once again I moved to the other side, trying to avoid the eye-burning residue of scorched wood.This time throw on some dry wood so the fire will burn instead of smoke, and then I'll tell you how he got his bear.

The calm night air was warm, but we kept the fire burning high anyway. Embers were glowing bright red as the flames fought their way upward, struggling to spread their light into the darkened night. We had no need of a lantern. The reddish glow illuminated the faces of the strangers near the fire. Each hunter had brought out his favorite bottle of bush juice, so the camp table was well stocked with refreshments. It rested in the shadows behind someone, I didn't know who. I was still putting names to the faces of our new hunters.

I popped the top off a beer and found a chair on the upwind side. I could see the hesitation in their eyes as these new hunters questioned bear hunting techniques. Many hunters unfamiliar with the habits of bear believe that baiting is the only recourse for a successful hunt. When asked, it took me only a moment to think of a story that would describe a past hunter's success.

We were on an early May hunt, and before the end of the first day I was faced with an unsettling reality. My guide, Heather, had produced two black bears, one a chocolate brown weighing 350 lbs., and the other a black, about 250 lbs., (while I, the omniscient outfitter, still had four bear to produce.) Her hunter Bo Andersson, from Sweden, had finished his hunt two hours into the first day, taking both bears off legumes on an old oil lease.

Hans Andersson, no relation to Bo, shot a raggy yellow bear of 200 lbs. on his second day, after sitting on a stand until his butt was sore. Not being particular about killing a second bear, his ambition dwindled when he thought of his calloused behind, but at the mention of driving back trails, spotting and stalking, he was sitting on the truck seat before I could pack a lunch. We loaded our gear and set off to fill his second tag, herding the pickup down an old pot-hole-filled road that led us into a chain of logging blocks.

Almost slipping the clutch in first gear trying to sneak even more slowly up the small hill that emptied onto the side of another logging block, we crept forward. Straining every vertebra in our spines, we stretched forward over the dash trying to see the other side of the hill before the pickup reached it. We held our breaths as we silently reached the apex of the ridge. In one glance I caught sight of a monster bear feeding on grass on the opposite bank.

"There's a bear" I blurted out in a rush of words, and pointed out its direction to Hans, using my index finger as a guide. I had no doubt it was well over 300 pounds, a mature bear that made few, if any, mistakes. I hit the brakes, stopping all movement toward the unwary animal. The black bear hadn't seen us. Hans, taking one look at the huge bear, reached for his rifle and a handful of shells.

Hans's eyes twinkled at the prospect of bagging this large black. With a rush of adrenalin he shifted his look from the moving animal, to his ammunition, to me, then again back to his trophy. "What are we going to do? What are we going to do?" he questioned in a subconscious voice, barely hearing his own words.

By now the time was nearing noon and the sun poured down its spring heat . A swirl of dust spiraled along the road in our direction, telling us that the bear was upwind. We were lucky. The wind gave us a great advantage. It covered any sounds the truck may have made, and since the bear was upwind, it would not smell us. I considered visual contact between the bear and the pickup equally important so I did not wish to discuss strategy until we were out of sight of the unsuspecting animal. Almost without thinking my foot came off the gas pedal and I slipped the pickup into reverse. As silently as we climbed the ridge, the truck reversed it's direction and retreated from the bear's sight.

I had barely parked the pickup when Hans sprang from the vehicle, his rifle in one hand and his monopod in the other. Excitement had truly overcome Hans, and he fumbled, trying to load his rifle with ammunition. I scooped up my binoculars and camera off the truck seat and leapt out to join my hunter. In only a few seconds we reached the crest of the hill, where we could again see the bear and plan a stalk with some degree of strategy. The bear was a pleasant sight to see, and for a short time we studied the animal's movements and the terrain we would have to traverse.

In a methodically slow manner, the black bear walked away from us, heading up the embankment toward the tree line bordering the far side of the logged block. It seemed that, at every other step, a tender shoot of young vegetation caught it's attention, and the dark figure stopped to nibble. The bear seemed in no hurry, yet I knew time was of the essence. Eventually this trophy would leave, and I needed to get my hunter into a position close enough for a clean kill before this happened.

When the bear reached the treeline we held our breath, expecting Hans's trophy to vanish in the darkness of the forest forever. To our surprise, the bruin browsed along the edge of the timber for a short time, then slowly turned and walked in our direction. Each step brought this bruin closer to us. As if suddenly tired, the black bear stopped beside a large stump and sat on its haunches facing us. Like the many black stumps that dotted the vastness of the clearing, this bear looked like just another remnant of the logging industry. Camouflaged against the backdrop of evergreens and stumps, we marked the location at the base of a lone pine, then carefully began our stalk.

This was the break we needed. It had been feeding on this hillside the entire spring, and this terrain seemed to be home. There was shelter and protection in the nearby forest whenever it was needed, and this omnivorous animal had a smorgasbord of vegetables in the openness of the logged valley. Contented, it sat on its rump, perhaps planning on sun-bathing for an hour or two. This would only be a short break from its feeding, and we needed to take advantage of our good fortune.

Hans had set up his monopod and had his rifle resting over it, waiting for the word to fire. In the past I have seen many bears missed or, even worse, merely wounded, and I wanted to take no chances with this one. Although I had full confidence in his shooting, I felt a 250 yard shot was just too far for that type of shooting stance. Tension had peaked in my hunter and he was tempted to take the shot anyway, but the wiser decision to move closer overruled.

In a half squatting, half stooped position, trying to stay out of sight of the bear, we worked our way down the dry washed-out ditch toward his trophy. Even the slightest movement from us would arouse the senses of this aged bear and perhaps put an end to our stalk.

Carefully we picked our way closer, avoiding the tangle of dead willows that sometimes layered the floor of the ditch. One snap from these tinder-dry sticks and this hunt could be over. Finally we reached the last embankment that offered a clear shot for Hans. Ever so carefully, I peeked over the wind-blown bank to double-check our position with the black bear. We were dead-on with the bruin. The distance was near one hundred yards, and I felt more comfortable about Hans taking his shot.

With his eyes fixed on his trophy, Hans set up his monopod, rested his rifle over it, and took careful aim. The bear took a 180 grain bullet in the chest at little more that 150 yards. The animal instantly bolted downhill, throwing dirt and grass in the air in an effort to gain more speed. In less than a moment the animal disappeared in the willows. Whether he was dead under a shrub, or was wounded and escaping through the undercover of willows, I couldn't tell. We were too low in the valley to see into the shrubs. In a desperate attempt to spot the fleeing bear, I ran as fast as I could back up the hill to where we had started our stalk. Still, I could see no sign of this powerful animal.

Puffing from the climb, Hans caught up to me on the ridge. "It was a good shot!" he said, in his Swedish accent "The cross hairs were right on the middle." and he pointed to the center of his chest, indicating where the bullet should have hit.

I needed to double check, to be certain of what happened, so I asked, "Are you sure, you didn't pull the rifle when you fired?"

With little to no thought, he answered sharply, "Absolutely not".

Not knowing if the black bear was dead or wounded, I thought it would be wise to let some time lapse before tracking what could now be a very dangerous animal. If the animal was wounded, extra time would allow the bear to stiffen, and perhaps increase our chances of tagging this trophy. An hour passed as we anxiously walked back and forth on the road. As it always is, the wait was painstakingly long. Suspense was gnawing at us, and finally we could wait no longer. I left Hans on the ridge to watch for movement while I worked my way to where the bear had been sitting.

The evidence that I found told me that the animal had not gone far. The tracking time was short, and I found Hans's trophy piled against the first group of willows that lay in it's path. The bear's last efforts had been in vain, and he had collapsed within 30 yards.

An array of photos were taken, and then the work began. I had planned to move the animal toward the truck, but after taking one look at the bruin lying on the ground at my feet, I knew I had seriously underestimated the female's weight. The truck would definitely have to be moved toward the bear! Hans and I could do little more than turn her onto her stomach so we could take the photos we wanted.

Flames burst higher and sparks twisted their way upward, eventually disappearing in the blackened sky. The red glow illuminated the relaxed expressions on the faces of the new hunters. Someone slowly stood and stretched his tired traveling muscles. "Did you see any other bear?", he said. He turned as I began to answer, and made his way through the shadows to the refreshment table.

"We lost count of the number of bears spotted, but between the four hunters and two guides we saw 25 to 30 bears in six days. Most were decent sized bears that the average bear hunter would be happy to tag. Hans was looking for something special. He already had a yellowish-coloured bear and was satisfied, so unless the animal had some special characteristic, it would be left alone. The other group of hunters had seen their fair share of bear too, but they were more concerned about tagging a wolf."

The hunters smiled as they mentally visualized the game they might see on their hunt.

Read 'Richot'- Trophy Moose Hunting Story
Read 'Never Give Up! The Black Wolf'

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-Louis Shilka, Owner & Outfitter
Telephone: 780-772-7200

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