The float plane banked sharply to the right and the jack pines looked a little closer than I felt they should. As we leveled out over the lake, Guy Fraker’s voice came clearly over my headset. “Lots good fish down dere, Jawn, some big bears, too.”
The plane sunk and I felt the clear, black water touch the floats. On the bank ahead of us, five tents shimmered in the sun and a trail of smoke drifted up from a central campfire. Judd, Harvey and an unfamiliar Indian stood on the small dock.
Guy brought the plane in close and I stepped on a float to throw the tie line. It was a little like coming home, complete with the always present, drone of insects. I had caught a ride in on a float plane bringsing supplies to the camp. I was in northern Saskatchewan and it was early June, prime time to hunt bear and catch walleye and northern pike. I always felt comfortable and peaceful in that wilderness.
In addition to hunting and fishing, I would also be helping in the guide department-mostly, just running baits. On the next plane coming in, the one due in two days, will be four hunters, two men and their wives from Kansas. Unfortunately, I have long since forgotten their names.
Bear hunting in Tennessee is on the upswing. The population is growing and opening a season in some new counties is being considered. I have never hunted bear in Tennessee and for some reason just can’t equate it with a wilderness camp in Canada. By wilderness, I mean a tent camp on a nameless lake in the middle of a couple hundred square miles of nothing but trees and lakes.
It is mid-morning and starting to warm up. I like the setup. Two clumps of three pines each make it perfect. One will hold the 55-gallon drum with various forms of food. The other will hold the stand. I get to work with the machete, trimming branches off the stand tree. Judd is busy setting the barrel. It would be a 22-yard shot if it works out. I set the stand at 12-feet.
I do not hunt any other animals over bait. I don’t care if anyone else does, it just isn’t my thing. But in the Canadian bush, where dog hunting is not allowed, it would be impossible to hunt bear any other way. Spot and stalk in a land where 30-yards is the limit of your vision is impossible. So, for me, bow hunting over bait is okay for bear. Call me a hypocrite if you wish.
Eighteen baits are now “hot”. That is a term used for a bait which is being hit and hit hard. Sometimes, it hard to tell if the hitting is being done by bears or wolves. The wolves have become somewhat of a problem.
Eighteen “hots” is plenty sufficient for at least three weeks of hunting. The hunters are in and their hunt starts tomorrow. Mine starts this afternoon while the men and women fish.
I have my head net down but the ThermaCell will take care of the bugs in a few minutes. It is one of the few products that is actually better than advertised. The bush hums with life. A squirrel scurries around the base of the bait barrel. Ravens caw and gurgle and talk among themselves. A large splash in the lake, 50-yards away, tells me a moose is having an afternoon snack.
The sun sinks and takes the warm temperature with it. I slip my jacket on and zip it tightly under my chin. It is getting close to stump time, that time when the shadows deepen and stumps begin to look like bears. It is 9:45. The wolves start singing. I love the sound, the wavering howl. I also confess, it makes me slightly nervous. They are in two opposite directions. It will be full dark in an hour.
They come first, the cubs, running and rolling and scrambling for the spilled pastries and meat scraps.
Mother is much more cautious. She stands in the shadows, sniffing and staring myopically around. Bears can see just fine.
They only appear to have poor eyesight. I don’t move. For 10-minutes I enjoy the show.
A stick breaks. I slip the bow off the hook and hold it in my lap. Not always but often, a big bear will break a stick on purpose as they approach a bait. I suspect they do it for two reasons. They announce their arrival and they wait to see what reacts. Then I hear teeth popping.
Not a huge bear, maybe 275-300 pounds but a beautiful coat. He is a prime boar. I pretend I am invisible. He takes two more steps. The bush is quiet now. The deepening cold has driven the insects in and the ravens are gone. The wolves are also silent. He makes one swipe with his right forepaw and lifts the barrel off the ground. It is chained to the pines. He cannot take it with him or turn it over. He reaches in through the hole cut in the side for just that purpose and rakes out some scraps.
He is broadside with his near foreleg forward. Perfect. The string comes back and the green, single pin settles behind the left shoulder. The 125-grain Thunderhead is steady. I open my fingers and the shaft vanishes in the shining, black fur.
With a roar, he jumps completely over the barrel and slams into the jack pines.
Then he is gone, crashing through the bush. Then comes silence. I lay the bow across my knees and replay the last five seconds in my head.
I take two deep breaths and gather my equipment.
Down on the ground, I quickly dig my headlight out of my small pack and pick up the axe. If I stumble across a wounded but still alive bear, I would much rather have an axe than a bow and arrow.
Fifty yards. A trail marked with drops of deep red, leads to my bear. The shot was perfect, death almost immediate. In the distance, I hear the outboard motor. Harvey or Judd coming to pick me up. It will not be a difficult drag, getting the bear to the boat. He will be a good mood builder for the paying hunters.
Maybe . . . just maybe there is a slight chance I might go bear hunting one more time before I go to ashes. Larry Adair in New Brunswick, asks me to come every year. Maybe next year.
Call me captain . . . again
A few years ago, I sold my boat. Bad mistake but at the time, I didn’t think I could ever fish alone again. Well, turns out I can and am getting stronger all the time. So, I bought me a boat. Lemme tell y’all something.
If you are in the market for any kind of boat short of an ocean liner, Marine Sales, five miles south on 231 is the spot. Roger is a super guy and man, did he treat me right.
With over 60-boats on the lot, there is plenty to choose from in all styles and price ranges.
I got exactly what I wanted with more on it than I wanted at a more than reasonable price.
Roger has been in business since 1992 and I can see why. If you want to buy or sell a boat or need some minor repair, give him a call at 615-443-4203 and tell him I sent you.
You’ll be hearing more about his operation later.
Contact John L. Sloan / firstname.lastname@example.org