As a hunter, I consider myself to be fairly lucky in the fact I’ve never had a close encounter….in person. It’s the phantom bear I worry about. Those dark patches in the early or late sunlit times when everything looks menacing. One time I thought I saw something moving my way and in the end it was only a bush that had an indescribable shape that could have looked like a bear or a cheerleader depending on how the light struck it. My heart raced on both but in the end I could have taken it down with a pair of pruning shears or a well planned cross body block.
What does this have to do with bear hunting? Well, actually a lot. This spring I was in Manitoba with Agassiz Outfitters hunting bear. Now I have to tell you this wasn’t my first prom. I hunted with them two years ago and took a very nice 7’2” bruin. When Bob Kaleta with Remington called I jumped at the chance to go back.
Rick and Colleen Liske have a rustic camp on the border of a wilderness where the big guys live.
It sits on the edge of Tan Lake which is loaded with northern pike and yellow perch. So, if by chance, you get your bear early you can always fish. Thirty inch northerns are common with a few larger on good days. Their camp is extremely relaxed with good cabins, food and great company which is the norm not the exception.
Two years ago I hunted with Gerry Liske, Rick’s dad who I took an immediate liking to. He’s knowledgeable in the ways of the woods and has seen his fair share of mistakes many hunters make when they’re not familiar with judging a trophy black bear. Gerry had picked me up after being in the elevated blind for eight hours at quarter past dark thirty and asked if I had seen anything. My reply was: “Yeah, but I’m not sure I took the right bear.” He immediately started to console me on the fact that ground shrinkage can be enormous until he saw the one I took. He looked at me, grinned and said we’re going to need some help getting this guy into the truck. In the end it took five of us to load him. That same evening Bob Kaleta had taken a chocolate phase black bear that squared 7’3” about 50 miles to my north, just to give you an idea of how large their hunting area is.
Fast forward two years and I’m back hunting with Canadian hockey great Jordan Liske, Rick’s youngest son. I decided to go old school and take one with open sights. Since most shots are less than 100 yards I figured it should be fairly easy with the old buckhorns. Marlin had sent me their new 1895 GBL chambered in 45.70 and I really liked its feel. I practiced before I left and was able to consistently group shots at 100 yards with pinpoint accuracy. The week we were there we had hunters from Pennsylvania, Iowa, Virginia and Kansas. The word has spread about Agassiz Outfitters because their success rate is in the 90% with an opportunity to take a good bear.
Hunting spring black bear is over bait. Rick and the crew scout areas that hold big bruins, set baits, trail cams and install elevated blinds long before you make it to camp. Their job is to offer the hunter an opportunity to take one; it’s the hunters’ responsibility to shoot it. The hunt consists of going out to the designated blind and being there by 3 pm. Since, while I was there, it was warm with lots of bugs and mosquitoes Cabela's bug proof parka was the ticket. I just needed to get used to the buzzing in front of my face and ears and not try to brush them away. I’m told that a bear’s eyesight is not all that good but waving my arms like a screaming banshee might just get their attention. So being still was the order of the day.
On the last day, Jordan and I were walking to the blind. I had passed up several bear by this time, hoping for a bigger one. It was rumored there was a big one in the area and I needed to remain as quiet as possible because they normally don’t move early on. As the evening shadows came down so did feeding bear. It was the shadows that got to me. There were shapes that I swore looked like bear, moose, Cape buffalo and a myriad of other scary things. Isn’t it strange how your mind can play tricks on you? On our way in as we neared the bait and blind, Jordan stopped me and said there was a good bear on the bait. As we watched him, he sensed it and got up and started our way intent on finding out what had interrupted his meal. As he got up the hackles on his neck raised, his head was down and swaying from side to side and clicking his teeth in a very aggressive way. I thought he’s going to have me for dessert since I knew I couldn’t out run Jordan or his pickup. When he got close he stopped and backed up and then turned around; I thought I had dodged that bullet. Then he started to circle us with that same aggressive pose; his hackles up, head swaying and teeth clicking. I sized up the situation and decided once he had gotten into a clearing I would drop him with that Marlin 1895 GBL. He squared 6 foot.
When hunting bear it’s good to know that you have an extremely favorable chance to be successful. When hunting with Agassiz Outfitters it’s a given. All those years I hunted near bear country I prayed I wouldn’t see one for fear of what might happen. Now that I look back on it, I kind of wished I would have.