The rain had finally subsided and the dark, lush forest was fresh and clean. It was late spring in Western New Brunswick, Canada and the aroma of the spruce, fir, moose maple, alder, and birch trees was very pleasant. The wet morning had been warm with bear sightings non-existent for the first four hours of my tree stand vigil. However, I was happy and absorbing all the splendor of nature. Suddenly I was rudely interrupted by a very large and unconcerned black bear. He waltzed into the bait site like he owned the place. My guide (Wes) had provided a specially prepared elixir that he promised would please the olfactory senses of the biggest male bear. He did not lie! This big boy had his nose in the air and showed every sign of an expectant risqué interlude with a sow. I had misted the magic love potion liberally around my stand and it was this that he seemed to zero in on. The elixir was bringing him right to the base of my stand. The bear’s advancement was straight on and did not provide a clear shot. At three yards the bear became suspicious that the large blob in the leafy outfit at the top of the stand was not the object of his desires and he turned to search elsewhere. At four yards he was at a perfect quartering away angle and I had selected a small white piece of grass on his shiny ebony coat as an aiming spot. It was slightly higher and a bit forward of the “middle of the middle”. I chose this aiming point due to the steep angle of my shot. I focused on the white grass, pulled my Stalker longbow to full draw, hit my anchor point and released the arrow.
I have to be honest and say I’m not a big fan of guided hunts. My general impression is of an overweight and out of shape businessman, with a lot of money, paying someone else to do all the hard work after which the businessman steps in and grabs all the glory. He does the typical “grip and grin” and then posts all over social media his great accomplishment. In reality he was simply the arrow delivery guy.
The person just described was me (except for the part of having a lot of money) on a bear hunt taken in late June of 2014. My friend and guide, Wes, had been inviting me up to bear hunt for several years. We first met at a bear camp in Northern Maine when my daughter was on her inaugural bear hunt. I didn’t hunt that time, nor did I hunt when my daughter and I traveled to New Brunswick (NB) in 2012 to hunt with Wes. I just didn’t think I would enjoy shooting a bear that I had not done any of the work for. My attitude softened after having a great time with my daughter on her successful 2012 hunt and I expressed to Wes that I’d like to come up and hunt with him. I wavered on my decision and could not bring myself to hunt in 2013. I put off the commitment to hunt with Wes in 2014 to the very last minute. In fact, I was so late in my decision that I ended up only being able to hunt the last three days of NB’s season. My work had been very busy, full of the stresses we all encounter, and I needed a break. Due to the late decision, I really had to get in gear to prepare for the hunt. There was a lot I had to do to ensure I was prepared to fulfill my responsibilities on the hunt. This caused me to reflect and contemplate the question: “what were my responsibilities?” After all, this was going to be a “shoot” and not a hunt. I would simply show up, sit in the tree, a bear would show up and I would shoot it. Actually, that’s pretty much what happened, but I think it was because of two factors: 1) Wes did a fantastic job in selecting the site and doing all the hard work of baiting and getting the bears coming to the site; and 2) I did my part in ensuring I did all I could to not scare the bears off the site and to be able to make the shot when it presented itself.
Following are some of the preparation details that I believe increased my chance for success and are factors that we should all pay attention to on any guided hunt.
- Don’t be afraid to go against conventional wisdom and challenge the status quo. I am NOT saying to disregard your guide and his suggestions. That would be very unwise as you are paying him a lot of money for his knowledge and experience and you should listen to it. However, if you have a particular way you would like to hunt or have an idea of a technique that might work, discuss it with your guide. My recent bear hunt is a great example. Most experienced bear hunters would tell you that it is pointless to hunt in the morning and not to bother going to the stand if it is raining or over 70°F. In fact, one of the most trumpeted benefits of a baited bear hunt is the relaxed nature of a leisurely morning wake up, steaming full breakfast, unrushed preparation, and even some fishing before heading out to the stand for the evening hunt. However, I had done my homework and knew the habits of my quarry. I postulated that the mature boar bears, I was targeting, would be active most of the day in their search for love; rain or shine. Many veteran bear hunters and guides will also tell you to wait until the bear settles into the bait before taking a shot. I’ve hunted whitetail deer for way too long and NEVER pass up a good shot opportunity. Again, I did my homework and knew that the time of year I would be hunting meant the big boars would be more interested in love than lunch and stops at the bait barrel might not happen. In the scenario above, I’m not totally sure the bear would’ve stopped and eaten. Had I not taken the shot when I did, I am not sure I would’ve had another chance.
- Stands or blinds are generally pretty generic in nature and many guides and outfitters are not accustomed to the unique needs and requirements of traditional bowhunters. The type of stand, height, shooting clearance, distance from the bait or travel route, and other factors must be considered. It is your responsibility to let the outfitter know of your requirements. On my recent New Brunswick bear hunt, the stand I was to hunt was a homemade wooden ladder stand with a nice comfortable seat with arm rests. While the arm rests were nice and comfortable for sitting and resting they would not allow for shooting from a sitting position with my longbow. My friend Wes is a conscientious outfitter and he hunts with a recurve himself and thus knew the importance of letting me know the setup. He sent me a photo of the stand and upon seeing it I knew it would be difficult to hunt from. To account for this I packed a portable ladder stand and a climbing stand to be used if needed. It turned out that I could stand on the seat and get good clearance from the arm rests. What this meant was that I would have to stand virtually the entire time to have any realistic chance of being successful. There would be no way a bear would allow for the movement of me standing and getting into position for a shot. I had to do my part and make a decision to use the current stand or put up another.
- It is also the hunter’s responsibility to practice from the type of stand or blind that will be utilized. Many Western hunters have never hunted from an elevated stand and often have a hard time adjusting to the necessary nuances for accurate shooting. Bending at the waist, aiming a bit low, and estimating distance can be tricky and many an animal has been lost or wounded due to inexperience. Several years ago I went on a plains game hunt in Africa and the standard practice is to hunt from rondavels (little huts or blinds set at ground level). The inside is dark to prevent the animals from seeing movement and you generally have a few small windows to shoot through. I had never hunted from a blind like this and it created some unique challenges. You have to be very careful of bow limb clearance and the tunnel like views can cause mind tricks that make range estimation very difficult. Often times you are actually shooting up at the animal. My inexperience caused me to shoot high on a beautiful Kudu resulting in a high non-lethal shoulder shot. It is our responsibility to the animal and to ensure success by practicing in the hunting situations that will be encountered.
- For any baited hunt, water hole hunt, or any tree stand hunt it is imperative to be ready and motionless. You should be prepared for long periods of time with very little movement and always have your bow ready for action. Things can happen very fast and there have been numerous missed opportunities because the hunter was relaxed and texting his buddy. I have no doubt in my mind that had I been sitting down with my bow hung up I would not have had 4 of the 5 bears visit the bait site. They don’t see things well, but they see movement extremely well. The big guy mentioned above would’ve been gone if I had to stand and get my bow ready. It was less than a minute from the time I saw him to the time I released the arrow. When things happen, it is often quick and requires preparedness.
- Most of the animals we hunt use their nose as a primary safety mechanism. I firmly believe that there is nothing we can do to eliminate our scent. I do believe that we can significantly reduce the amount that we spread around. Scent control is very important on do-it-yourself hunts and equally important on guided hunts. Follow all the same scent control practices to enhance your success. Don’t show up to bear camp wearing the clothes and shoes you just pumped gas in and expect to wear them to the stand and be successful. That is not doing your part.
- We’ve all heard the stories of the hunter coming back into camp flush with excitement over the “HUGE” trophy book bear he just shot. Bears are notorious for “ground shrinkage” and upon recovery of the “monster” bear we find it to be just an average or even sometimes below average animal. Bears are one of the hardest animals to judge, but in order to shoot any mature trophy animal you have to know what one looks like. You need to know body conformation, horn or antler characteristics, major scoring criteria, or other distinguishing characteristics. It is very difficult to distinguish black bear sows from boars, but there are some indicators. An Eland cow is almost impossible to tell from a bull and it sure seems that all zebras look the same. Do your homework and know what a mature trophy animal looks like.
- I was not mentally prepared for the guided African hunt mentioned above. I had many reservations about hunting in a high fenced area and poor enough to be concerned with the common rule of “if you draw blood you pay the trophy fee”. I let these distractions impact my focus and when the time came for a shot, I wasn’t prepared. I missed a slam dunk shot at an Impala (right over the back) and hit the Kudu noted above high in the shoulder. You need to be fully invested in the hunt and have all unresolved mental issues addressed prior to going afield. I was very fortunate on my recent bear hunt in that I was able to come to grips with my concerns of a guided hunt over bait because I was able to really enjoy three previous bears coming in and giving me time to realize I was having a lot of fun. This allowed me to remove all doubts and issues from my mind and truly focus on the experience and the shot. We owe it to the animal and the outfitter to show up mentally prepared.
- Most guides make the assumption that you will bring your own gear and it will be appropriate for the hunt. Ankle high leather boots on an Alaskan moose hunt will be about as valuable as a steak at a vegan convention. Showing up with the wrong gear for the hunt can almost guarantee failure. Wes was adamant that I bring a ThermaCell for my bear hunt. I really doubt he cared too much about whether I got bit by a mosquito or not. But I’m positive he recognized that without one I’d be flailing around at the mosquitos and scaring any bear within 100 yards away. Again, the bears may not see things well, but they do see movement.
- I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the story about the out of shape hunter who missed an opportunity because they couldn’t climb the mountain or had to stay in camp to recover from a tough day of hunting. Know what the physical requirements are for your hunt and be prepared. Lion hunting is a very good example of a hunt that many must experience with a guide. Very few people have good dogs and lion country right out their backdoor. If you want a lion you likely will need to go with a guide. Showing up ill prepared to climb snow covered mountains all day is a sure fire way to go home empty handed.
The spiraling red fletched arrow hit within a fraction of an inch of the white piece of grass. The bear didn’t travel very far and Wes and I were rewarded; Wes for doing his part and me for doing mine. The bear was a mature boar that easily made Pope and Young.
I still much prefer a non-guided do-it-yourself hunt as it provides a greater level of satisfaction in knowing I contributed to all aspects of the hunt. However, if you choose to go on a guided hunt, don’t think you can just show up and are guaranteed that you will kill an animal. You must do your part. The outfitter and guide have invested untold time and money to ensure you have an enjoyable and successful hunt. Their success and reputation is based on how you perform your part. Don’t let them down and honor the animal by being prepared to deliver a good shot!
For more please go to: Terry Receveur