Last year, Gregg says that his daughter, then 11, did an apprenticeship with an outfitter, learning the ropes at bear camp. She mixed bait, put out barrels, learned how to put treestands up, skin bears, track bears and more. She didn’t learn alongside her dad, but rather straight from the outfitter. Gregg says that he wanted Savanna to work, learn and earn her right to hunt. With that apprenticeship under her belt, Gregg says that he took her on her first bear hunt this year as a reward. Based on the experience, she had a good idea of what to expect as the hunter this time around. Gregg says she had a better understanding of the philosophy of where you set the baits, where the drainages are, where the beaver dams are, how the bears naturally move, their behavior and more. There is more to it than just putting some doughnuts in a barrel, he says. There is real world logic and strategy involved in choosing and setting up a productive bait site and she was able to take her knowledge about that from the previous year into the hunt.
She was hunting over bait which is often misunderstood. Many people assume that a bait site means that your hunt is an automatic easy, guaranteed score. That could possibly be true if you weren’t at all discriminating in the bear you tag. However, if you want to get a nice mature boar, you have to put in some serious time. Gregg says with 20 hours a day of daylight, Savanna spent a lot of time on the stand, 7 to 8 hours a day, or more. Plus, big boars know what that bait site is all about, he says, so they check the wind and that requires the hunter to be scent conscious at all times.
In Alberta, a hunter can tag two bears and Gregg says at South Peace Outfitters, where they were hunting, they saw a lot of them. Each night they would see 5 to 10 bears, making for action packed hunts. Gregg says Savanna hunted from both treestands and ground blinds, however on the night of her successful muzzleloader hunt, she was in a ground blind only 20 yards away from the bear. With her Thompson Center Impact SB muzzleloader, she was selective in the bear she shot, shooting a boar, the 8th bear to come in to the bait site that night. Switching up weapons, Savanna then set out to fill her second tag with a Mission Crossbows SUB-1. Gregg says that one hunter in their camp shot a bear just shy of Boone and Crockett status, and another hunter took a big chocolate. They had thought those would be the biggest bears in camp. However, with the number of bears they were seeing and the big bears coming in to camp, he had high hopes his daughter would see a big boar. In an exciting and unexpected turn of events, Savanna ended up tagging a world class bear, 400+ pounds with a skull that scored right at Boone & Crockett standards. Gregg notes she made a great shot and says that he has taught his kids not to freehand anything. He encourages them to use shooting sticks or some kind of rest and in this case, he brought along a Caldwell TreePod. While it might be a pain to lug around extra gear, Gregg says it was worth it because it gave her the confidence with the crossbow to swing into position, have a steady hold and platform and ultimately make a perfect shot. Gregg says that he has taken more than 30 bears over the years with various forms of weaponry, but only one of them have been bigger than his daughter’s Alberta black bear. He talks about how proud he was of her after watching her put in the time and effort and have her be able to pull it all together in one consequential moment. It’s a moment and a memory they will share and reflect on forever, and that is priceless.
If you are looking for ways to introduce your kids to hunting and shooting sports, Gregg says that crossbows are a great place to start. He gives his kids the opportunity to try everything – handguns, rifles, muzzleloaders, vertical bows, crossbows and more. However, crossbows offer some distinct advantages. For him, he was able to shoot with his kids every night in his backyard. Unlike a firearm where you most likely have to make a trip to the range, he could shoot with his kids and mentor them on a more frequent basis. Furthermore, not being at the range they didn’t experience the intimidation newbies often feel when shooting in front of crowds. The crossbow also allowed him to draw parallels and teach firearm skills at the same time. Stalks, scopes, triggers, safety, head placement, trigger control, breathing – all of those skills have to be learned and can be done on a crossbow and carried over to firearms. With noise and recoil non-existent, they didn’t have to worry about that and they could instead concentrate on accuracy. If you are looking for hunting opportunities for your kiddo, bear hunts may be something to consider. Gregg says that compared to other big game hunts, bear hunting is relatively inexpensive. You have the opportunity to sit with your kids, teach them about nature, and let them get their feet wet.
Getting kids involved in the outdoors is important. At every opportunity, Gregg encourages parents to get their kids out and do something with them whether it’s target shooting, riding ATV’s, scouting – it all makes a difference. Cultural barriers have been broken and females now occupy a large space in the hunting world. Young or old, male or female, we need new participants in the hunting, fishing, outdoor lifestyle. Kids are eager learners and just need the opportunity.
Listen in as Gregg Ritz, host of “Hunt Masters”, Sundays at 8:30 pm ET on Outdoor Channel, joins The Revolution to talk spring bear hunting with his daughter. Look for a new season of “Hunt Masters” starting this July. You can also catch 10 seasons worth of “Hunt Masters” action by using the MyOutdoorTV app. Be sure to check it out!
Take a kid hunting!