It was early, just past six and the bush was alive.
Many yards to my left, I could hear a moose splashing in the shallows of a small lake. Two ravens were arguing about something.
A Canada jay was busy ignoring everything. Insects hummed and the fisher, raiding my pastry pile, suddenly decided he badly needed to be somewhere else.
Then, I heard something huff. I don't how else to describe it. It was a quiet, yet loud, "Hough...hough."
A muffled cough and I knew, although I had never heard one before, exactly what it was. I knew I was about to have the chance to fling an arrow, my first ever, at a bear.
We crossed the Canadian border, Glenn Helgeland, Mickey Pope and I at Ft. Francis, Ontario. We were pulling my small boat on the trailer and the back of the truck was loaded with old pastries, candy bars, (for bear bait), our clothes and hunting and fishing equipment. We were headed for Sandy Point Camp, just outside Dryden, Ontario. It was June, 1993.
For the week -- six days, Sunday through Saturday, that first week of June, we had a cabin with two bedrooms, a kitchen and shower, the use of a boat and permission to hunt anywhere we wanted on over 150,000 acres of Canadian bush. The total cost for everything including food, gas, license-everything door to door, roundtrip was less than $700 per person. We were the only hunters there, the rest in camp were all fishing. Catching 100-fish a day, mostly walleye and yellow perch, was no problem.
I slowly turned a little more to my left and brought the bow up.
When the cinnamon-colored bear broke through the brush, he did so at a dead run. A false charge.
When he stopped, he was broadside at 15-yards and I sent a 2216, aluminum arrow, tipped with a 125-grain thunderhead right through his heart. He died within 20-steps. I had just killed my first bear. I was shaking like an aspen leaf in a windstorm.
That trip today, would probably cost $2,500.
For several years, I hunted and guided for bear almost every spring. May 15 through June 15 is prime time.
I hunted them from northern Saskatchewan to Manitoba to New Brunswick. Most years, I at least had a shot opportunity.
The last year I went, my plane fare was more than the entire trip cost in 1993. It is hard to imagine a bear hunt at $100 a day, everything door to door, staying in a furnished cabin, included. That is for everything including travel costs.
Bill and Penny Griffon, owners of Sandy Point, did not guide bear hunters. It was too time consuming and they could make more money guiding anglers. But for $300, they would rent us a cabin and let us DIY through their license, legal in Ontario back then. That is $100 per person for the whole week. Think about that. Less than $17 per person, per day. The three years I hunted there is when I learned the ins and outs of bear hunting. When you do it yourself, you tend to learn quickly.
From there, I moved my bear hunting to Black Bay Camps in Saskatchewan. It was a fly-in camp, way up north. The bear were big, mostly unhunted and they had a nasty attitude. That is where I started carrying an axe for protection. Judd Cooney ran the operation and taught me a lot about bear. Our hunters killed a lot of bear. We had a lot of excitement. The cost of a bear hunt was $1,500 plus travel to and from Saskatoon, plus license, plus tips. Since they had a two bear limit, it was a bargain.
Then I went east to The Bay of Fundy and I worked with Larry and Ida Adair at their luxurious lodge outside Shepody, New Brunswick. Bear that had probably never seen a human save loggers were still cautious. It was there, along with Larry, I co-hosted the first ever, bear hunt for women only. We had 10-attendees, all women from Michigan and it was quite an event. The last I heard, Larry was charging over $2,250 for the week. Plus license, plus travel to and from St. John and plus gratuities. If you wonder why I stress gratuities, it is because that is what many bear guides live on. It is hard work with long hours and they deserve a tip.
My last brush with bear was a different kind.
My friend Bob Shebaylo, despite having a deer camp in the heart of bear country near Russell, Manitoba, had never hunted for them.
One fall, while I was up there deer hunting, he said, "John, do you think you can get a bear to come to a bait site while you are here?"
The next day, I had a bear cubby built and filled with meat and fish scraps, old bread and pastries and burned cooking oil. The next morning, it had been torn up. We quickly hung Bob a stand.
Just before dark that evening, he came roaring into camp on his ATV. "I shot one, he's hit but he ran off."
I suggested we wait until the morning to go look. He was very much in agreement.
The next morning, after a big breakfast, we went looking. There was blood and I started trailing-without my axe. Just spots of blood here and there and dense bush. Visibility was about 12...inches. I moved slowly, eyes on the ground, on hands and knees-a classic mistake.
I was just about to say I had lost the trail when one of those dern "houghs" came from about four feet in front of me.
Had there been an event for the backward crawling bear jump, I would have set a new world mark. Without saying a word or missing a beat, I snatched the shotgun from Bob, spun, aimed and shot the bear which was now less than five feet away.
Until I started totaling up the costs for travel, I considered going back to New Brunswick next month, just to enjoy the company and shoot some pictures.
Truth is, it has gotten just too expensive for me. But if you have never been, you really should go and take a bow, not a gun. It is still exciting
But it sure has changed.
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