WILD HARVEST: Monster Manitoba Bears

Manitoba is known internationally for the famous polar bears of Churchill, in the extreme northeast corner of the province. As well, increased eastern barren ground grizzly bear encounters are being documented across suitable habitats north of the tree line. To round it off, the geographical centre of North America is also home to a healthy population of large black bears, and they come in a variety of colours.

Between all four of its borders, Manitoba has black bears inhabiting the majority of the landscape. No doubt lower densities occur in the north compared to agricultural or prairie regions in the south, linked to habitat limitations such as food or cover, respectively. It’s safe to say that Manitoba boasts black bear densities and average body sizes that rival anywhere in the world. Typically, the further north or west, the more colour variation – ranging from chocolate, brown, cinnamon, blond, bi or even tri-colours.

Spring and fall seasons accommodate most hunters’ schedules and tags are available to both local and non-residents. It is also permitted to hunt over bait, which has many advantages. First, the undergrowth can be so dense that 50 yards is usually all the visibility you have, making spot and stalk hunting nearly impossible. Second, black bears are notoriously difficult to judge for trophy quality and sex. Size comparison to the bait barrel and prolonged observation by the hunter helps eliminate accidentally shooting a sow with cubs or smaller, immature animals.

Regarding hotspots, the western Parkland region encompassing the Duck, Porcupine and Riding Mountain National Park has long produced many big bears, as well as a number of colour phase animals.

The expansive northern Boreal forest offers great potential for huge bears and some of the highest percentages for colour phase animals. The trade-off is the less productive environment. Due to less food and long winters, bear densities are lower and individual animals take longer to attain large, trophy sizes. Less access in this remote region helps promote this, however. Anywhere between Flin Flon, Thompson and Gilliam are all great areas.

Some of Manitoba’s biggest bears are turning up where you wouldn’t quite expect, however. I’d say that within a three-hour drive of Winnipeg you can find some of the province’s best bear hunting, near places such as Nopaming and the Whiteshell provincial parks. Southeastern Manitoba offers both expansive swamps and dense forests, but unlike the Boreal ecosystem, this area is complimented by productive agriculture like corn or sugar beets. Bear densities are higher, and they grow larger faster.

I feel that where a combination of both northern and southern environments exist offers the best chances at exciting hunts and large and potentially colour phase bears. The Interlake Region, specifically between Grand Rapids and Lundar, meets these requirements. Excellent animals are harvested here annually, including Manitoba’s new No. 5 all-time black bear, taken June 2012 by Bradley Desjarlais, a lucky resident hunter. This bear weighed almost 550 spring pounds and put up a score of 22 7/16 Boon & Crockett inches. To top it off, Bradley shot the bear at less than 20 yards with his bow (also landing it as Manitoba’s new No. 1 Pope & Young bear) and managed to self-film and capture the record-breaking hunt on video!

If you are considering a trophy spring or fall bear hunt, give Manitoba a second look!

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