Go Remote For Bigger Bears

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The Cessna Caravan’s left wing tipped down as the pilot guided the plane into a turn over the lodge and down the sandy air strip cut through the boreal forest. I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear as I looked out into the expanse of wilderness, unable to detect any indication of humans for as far as my eyes could see. There were no roads, cut lines, communication towers or distant communities. There was simply green forest and blue-water lakes stretching to the horizon.

I tried to penetrate the forest with my eyes, hoping to locate a bear, moose or other wildlife, but we were simply moving too fast. The small plane was incredibly efficient and whisked us to our destination like a race car at Indy.

I’ve hunted bears for years and taken some great animals, but getting a chance to fly into a remote region of northern Saskatchewan, and hunt bears that have never seen people before, was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. To top things off, my brother Dave would be coming along to watch the action and take photographs and my good buddy Sam, who has never taken a black bear, would be along for the adventure.

We were met at the airstrip by the lodge staff and showed to our cabin to organize our gear and talk strategy. We were finally at Lloyd Lake Lodge and hosts Derrick, and his dad, Don, seemed very excited to have us arrive. We had plenty of time and needed to get our licences, look at maps, consider our options and ensure our bows were properly sighted in.

Derrick, one of the Uniat brothers that own Lloyd Lake Lodge, was bubbling with excitement and anxious to see us get out hunting. He had been watching bears for over a week and wanted to sit with Sam to ensure he didn’t miss any action. Lawrence, one of the long-time lodge guides, would take Dave and me to a distant site, clear across the lake.

The only way to reach our hunting area was to load the boat with gear and head out across the open water. Dave and I loaded packs, snacks, cameras and archery gear into the boat as our guide, Lawrence, smiled with excited anticipation. He’d been running freshly popped corn to the site for several weeks and bubbled with enthusiasm, telling us what he thought was in store. The lake had only been ice free for a week and was dead calm when we left the dock. The sun was beating down on us and the cool breeze coming off the water was refreshing.

It took about half an hour to motor across the lake and Lawrence slowed to describe how he set up the site for hunting. It looked perfect, with tree stands set on a big pine, out on a peninsula into the lake. The bait was on the main shore of the lake, about 10 metres from the base of the tree. There was basically no way for a bear to approach downwind without coming out into the lake. We were well hidden, with stunted birch trees growing up along the shoreline in front of us. It was an ideal bow shot, angling back across a small corner of water into the peninsula where we got out of the boat. We wasted little time, going right up our tree and into the stands. We had put our safety harnesses on in the boat so we’d be ready to climb as soon as we hit shore. Lawrence headed across the bay to wait for us on an island, instead of running all the way back to camp. I’m sure if we had room for three people in that tree, he would have been there to join us.

It was a beautiful spring evening and the lake shore and forest were alive with an assortment of wildlife. I put the long lens on my camera and photographed a pair of wigeon showing that love was in the air. I had a mallard drake cut across the peninsula and before I could get my camera focused on his green head, he almost flew right into me. I could see the panic in his eyes when he realized he was less than a metre from me. There were shorebirds, eagles, ducks, geese and pelicans all displaying and courting to keep us entertained. It was like watching a nature documentary on television, but being right in the picture.

Dave and I had discussed waiting for a big bear and simply enjoying the time to take pictures and watch wildlife. I had prepared him for watching smaller, sub-dominant bears that would come and go, and act nervous when sneaking in for a meal. I re-iterated the fact that a mature, dominant bear would strut in like he owned the place and not have a care in the world. When a bear showed up displaying the fact he was king of the area, I was going to draw my bow.

Truth be known, Dave was secretly hoping I’d shoot a bear the first night so we could spend the rest of the week taking advantage of the incredible fishing for walleye, pike and lake trout.

We had only been in the tree stands a couple of hours when I caught movement through the trees. I whispered to Dave that a bear was coming and I could feel the tree move as he bristled in anticipation. Having been an RCMP officer for many years, he has dealt with lots of problem bears in northern communities, leaving him never having the desire to hunt one. This was a whole new experience and I could tell by his initial reaction there was a certain level of excitement.

The bear strolled straight in without a worry in the world. He owned the place and he knew it. The bear grabbed the 45-gallon steel drum and flipped it up in the air using just one claw. The barrel jumped a metre off the ground and the popcorn from within spilled out. Dave was busy taking pictures and the bear heard the shutter clicking away. Instead of running, he walked over to the base of the peninsula and stared up at the strange camouflaged forms hiding in the tree. I doubt he had ever seen or encountered a person before and simply went back to his Orville Redenbacher with full butter flavour.

The bear stood taller than the barrel, wasn’t afraid of anything, had ears sloping off the side of his head and had the longest legs I’d ever seen on a bruin. I had no doubt he was the dominant bear in the area and made the decision to take a shot when it presented itself.

The bear headed back down the shore and turned broadside. I came to full draw, leveled my sight pin just behind the front shoulder and gently squeezed my release. The arrow flew so fast we couldn’t see it fly. However, we did see it hit the bear, as the broadhead cut straight through and lodged in a fallen tree directly behind the bear. It zipped through him so quick that he didn’t have a clue what happened. He didn’t even jump. The bear simply pulled free of the arrow, which had him pinned to the downed log, breaking the broadhead off in the log. He then walked into the forest, making a loop to see what caused the minor disturbance. The bear then walked right back towards the bait and expired just before reaching it.

It was an exciting encounter, with the bear acting differently than anything I’ve seen or experienced in the past. I’ve hunted bears for decades and been fortunate to take some great colour phases and big boars, but I had never witnessed anything like the bear I just shot. He really didn’t have a care in the world and showed the signs one would expect from a remote, wilderness bear never having encountered a hunter before. Dave and I were both anxious to get down and check out the big boar.  I could tell Dave had a new respect for bears and a keen interest in the pointy sticks I had used to take a true northern Saskatchewan trophy.

We put up our signal tarp and it didn’t take long for Lawrence to come motoring across the bay to pick us up. We took a few more pictures and loaded the big bear into the boat for a ride back to camp. We bubbled with excitement and couldn’t help but wonder how Sam made out. He had never taken a bear and Derrick took him to a spot where there were at least four bruins practically living on the site. Ironically, we all showed up back at camp at the same time and there was no way Sam could conceal his excitement or success. He had shot his first bear.

We took pictures, told stories and watched the sun set on the incredible shores of Lloyd Lake. I’ve never been on a bear hunt where everyone was done on the first night. It left all of us wanting more. Derrick teased us with the fact that one of the sites had a big blonde phase bear and they had several new spots that had never been hunted. We were fortunate, as the area hadn’t seen a bear hunter in at least six years, making it pristine territory just waiting to be explored. Derrick started listing off spots where he could expand to and with a plethora of lakes in the area, all accessible off Lloyd, there could be decades of hunting bear that have never encountered people.

For a second we felt sorry for ourselves, that our hunt ended so quickly, but when we looked at the comforts of our cabin and the hot shower to end the day, we actually felt spoiled. With meals rating five-star quality in any restaurant and fishing that people come from around the world to experience, there was no way I would find sympathy from anyone. We’d just have to start our morning catching walleye and move onto the big pike by noon. We’d have to make time for some trophy lakers, and if all went well, we could always go sit and watch bears to take pictures and video. We knew nobody was going to bother us in our remote location and would simply force ourselves to make the best of it – wink wink.

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