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Saturday, June 12, 2010

If You Want a Bear

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 12, 2010.)

“We baited and hunted our own stands
for two years before we dared take any clients.”
If you want a bear and you’re willing to travel, I can tell you where to go.

Something about bears has gripped me ever since I was a kid. Maybe it was that story I read where Daniel Boone carved “D. Boon kilt a bar on this tree.” Maybe it relates to that little wooden carving of a bear my missionary aunt sent me from Japan so long ago. Maybe it’s because of that guy who stopped by to show off his Pennsylvania black bear, but failed on his promise to give this kid one of its claws.

I’ve always wanted a bear. Black bears in Pennsylvania seem common any time but hunting season. I’ve seen many, and been within a few feet of them several times. I’ve pursued them in Pennsylvania and Alaska and hunted over bait in Canada. I’ve learned that hunting baited bears is not like shooting fish in a barrel.

Many hunters in the northeast go to Ontario for bears. It’s friendly to American tourists, and loaded with bruins. At least that’s what the numbers say.

Ontario does have lots of bears, but other factors must be considered. Ontario is also a very big province, and it extends far north beyond easy driving distance. It also has the longest border with the lower 48 states, so its southern half is within reach of millions of hunters from highly populated states. It has lots of guides that take aim at American dollars, but it offers only fall hunts.

Hoards of hunters invade Ontario every year for bears. But is that the best place?

My first Canadian hunt was in Ontario. “You must not be a very good bear hunter.” The American customs agent flipped that insult at me as I returned with empty coolers and an unfilled tag.

In no mood to argue, I said, “You’re probably right.” Was that a smirk on his face as he waved me on my way?

That was in 2003. In 2004 and 2008 I returned home from Canada, bearless again and again, so I’ve thought a lot about that comment. I’ve wondered what makes a good bear hunter. I’ve wondered whether I made good choices. I even wondered if my attitude might not be positive enough, or if I sweat some mysterious kind of bear repellent, innocuous to humans but intolerable to bears.

Last month I headed for New Brunswick to hunt with P. R. Guides and Outfitters. With only 17,000 bears (a fraction of what Ontario has), New Brunswick is a province hunters often overlook. But New Brunswick has less than 8% of the land area of Ontario, and the bear population is dense. It shares a border with only one state, Maine. It’s a long drive, but an easy drive. Go there, and you’ll likely come home with a bear.

Pierre Roy and his partner Ron Hachey have been guiding for ten years. Pierre recalled, “In the beginning we were a little afraid of American hunters. We thought they’d easily spot any deficiencies in us. So, we baited and hunted our own stands for two years before we dared take any clients. We began with high standards because we felt we would be judged by hunters who really knew their stuff.”

Ron added, “We learned quickly that most hunters aren’t experts, but we didn’t change our approach or lower our standards.”

Smart thinking. Some guides think guiding for bears is easy money, that success is up to the hunters, and that all they have to do is provide the hunter a bait that has been hit, even if it has been hit only once, or it’s getting hit only at night.

Pierre knew I had been on three previous Canadian hunts and hadn’t taken a shot. “I can’t imagine that happening here. When you come here, you need to know how to shoot – because you will shoot.” That’s what he wanted to prove, and he did.


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