Black bear are a major predator of calf moose, elk and caribou. In the area I hunted in the province of Manitoba, they even had to close the general moose and Indigenous moose hunting seasons. In western Manitoba, hunting with the use of bait is just about the only way to see bears. In June of 2012, I hunted bears with five friends from the Midwest for six days.
I hunted a treestand setup called Determination that I never got to hunt in previous years, but the guys that did saw dozens of bears. This year there was a report of multiple bears, but at least two were sows with three cubs each. At first I was excited to hunt this stand, but knowing that sows with cubs can be protective and run other receptive sows off the bait made me apprehensive. I only saw one cinnamon bear during the first 3 days, but that's hunting to me. The challenge was to take a mature boar, and the rut was on.
On day four, the sow finally came in with her three cubs so I had something to watch and film. She ran the juvenile cinnamon boar off of the bait every chance she could. Then at about 7:45 p.m. I saw a big boar coming in from behind the bait. The problem was I set a second tree stand behind the bait as well to have a more favorable wind. He was coming in at a steep angle through the brush, but I never had a good shot. He was long and very tall!!! As he got within 15 yards from the tree, an ATV drove by on a nearby trail and spooked him.
The following day I saw the same sow and cubs along with the cinnamon boar, a younger sow, and another boar that would have squared around six feet, but rubbed. The big sow was again adamant about keeping other bears away from the bait station and her cubs, so every time she walked underneath my tree I poured sow-in-heat lure on the ground. One of her male cubs even rolled around in the lure that missed her and pooled on the ground. Now I had a couple of bears spreading scent all around the bait station and up into the nearby tress. I hoped that the mature male I saw the day before would get curious enough to come investigate the new scent.
At 10:20 p.m. (about 15 minutes before last legal shooting light) the rubbed boar who had worked his way into the bait area ran off. The cubs were already up a tree 25 yards away on my left due to the presence of the boar, and their mother was on the right side of the bait about 20 yards in the brush. I knew something else was coming. The cubs huffed a little, but went silent when the new bear was under them. At first I saw legs, then a massive form moving steadily through the back of the bait station in the direction of the sow.
As the big boar cleared two trees behind the bait, I made a perfect shot and he stopped after a short 20 yards. The 67-pound Tall Tines recurve just felt good that evening. I was lucky to take the bear on the fifth day, 10 minutes before the end of legal shooting on the stand called Determination.
I had a choice to hunt another stand that I knew had at least five other bears on it, but I stuck with my original plan, much to the joy of my guide David. Ryan Derlago of Stickflingers has a good spot, but is an even better host.
Back at camp we found out that my bear weighed 432 pounds, the hide squared 8 feet, and the skull measured 20 6/16 green. I also found out that two of my friends, Steve Osminski, (Sitka pro-staffer) and Matt Smith (prints the Sitka catalog) also had taken huge bears. I will let them tell their stories.
Hunting bears can be more challenging if you use traditional equipment and focus on only taking a mature animal. If you hunt in late spring or early summer, the rut is on and the big males are cruising the bait stations looking for receptive sows. I prune out a few more shooting lanes and try to be able to shoot in all directions not just at the bait. The boars will often come in only to scent-check the area, or wait in the perimeter for the sow they are with to finish eating. We sat in the trees for up to ten hours per day to maximize our chances of seeing bears during the daylight.
Bear hunting is not for everyone, but we don’t have them in Illinois so they are a special treat for me in the spring… all it takes is a little Determination.