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Wilderness Black Bear Therapy

The rhythmic thumping of a propeller about to pull a floatplane skyward is an excellent audible signal to start a spring black bear adventure. With water rooster-tailing off the pontoons, it only takes seconds to get above the trees. Northern Saskatchewan is a mosaic of spruce, pine, and aspen with lakes, rivers, and muskegs interwoven throughout the wilderness. The lack of roads is noticeable. The Canadian Shield appears as enormous granite outcroppings to let you know you have reached the north country.

Mark Belchamber with Big Spruce Outfitting met us on the dock to unload the plane. The ice had only been off the lake for a few days, but the bears were out of hibernation and roaming wild. In the spring a northern bear hunt means the bears are hungry, but more importantly, the rut is in full swing. Big boars put on lots of miles in June looking for receptive sows, and the parade of bruins can be awe-inspiring.

Active bait sites draw bears and usually provide a firsthand, real-life documentary into the social aspects of bear behavior. With no other access but the lake, Mark has his hunting sites close to shore for ease of maintenance and to get hunters in and out quickly and quietly.

I sat at a site called Red Rock. All bear hunting sites end up with a name and some are obvious while others have unique stories. Red Rock was like sitting in a postcard surrounded by rocky ridges, a narrow lake channel, and a mature pine forest. The tremolo of loons in the background melded with the powerful wingbeats of a ruffed grouse on its drumming log. A plethora of songbirds bounced on the ground and through the trees making the adventure more a type of therapy that is good for the soul. Caribou swam across the lake and moose appeared along the shoreline.  

It is easy to forget that black bears are the focus. However, with healthy populations, it did not take long for the cautious creatures to show up. A mature sow sauntered under my stand and glanced up for a second. I could hear the boar coming behind her, grunting and talking with each step. These bears had likely never seen a human before, but instinct comes naturally. The old bruin sensed something was not right and angled back up the ridge and lay down to watch the sow. The vocalizations were intriguing to hear. Grunts, clucks, and clicking tongues meant something in the bear world, and the old boar was not going to let the sow out of his sight.

Time and patience paid off, and after an hour the bear decided to creep down the ridge and join his lady friend. The black hide had a blue tinge of colour that showed up when backlit by the sun. The hide rolled with each step as the big bruin snuck through the spruce. Knowing there may only be one chance for success, I was ready. When the bear presented the right angle, an arrow launched off the rail of the Wicked Ridge crossbow. 

I often joke and say, "the best way to ruin a bear hunt is to shoot a bear." There is some truth to that statement, as a spring black bear hunt in the north is much more than a hunt. It is a true adventure with sights, sounds, and smells to be discovered.


Author: Brad Fenson


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