This is in fact an article by Frax that I took the liberty of moving into the 'Article section'. Great story Frax.
It had been quite a struggle for my friends to persuade me to go. I had hummed and harred for months. Could I afford it? Had I the time? But most importantly, did I really want to kill a black bear?
Eventually, after a flurry of emails and phone calls it was decided and a couple of weeks later I was threading my way from North West Scotland to Gatwick, collecting one of my companions on the way. Needless to say, getting a rifle through Gatwick was a farce of epic proportions. Contrasting sharply with Halifax, Nova Scotia at the other end. Canadian customs officers were polite, efficient, smart and intelligent, the British ones had learned to stand upright. We regained my friends rifle with a minimum off fuss and a cheery ‘have fun in the woods guys’. (Yes, I know!)
It was a long drive in our hired Jeep and we arrived very late at out hosts house. They had waited up and had laid on a hot meal for us. This was to be a recurrent theme – the sheer friendliness and hospitality of the Canadians amazed and delighted us. Then it was up to our bunks. We were billeted above the tack room and next to the hay barn. The evocative fragrances of horse, leather and hay lulled us to sleep very quickly.
The morning saw us back in the Jeep heading down to the Department of Natural Resources for our bear permits. The operation was slick and the application process simple. The staff in the office couldn’t have been more helpful. Then back to base for another 6000 calories and the inevitable steeped tea. The Canadians must be the only people who drink more tea than the Brits. The only difference being they leave it to brew on the heat all day!
After lunch it was rifle time. We headed out in the Jeep to find a suitable spot for a bit of familiarisation. Our guide set out a cardboard box with a few dots on it at 20 yards. Wait a minute, 20 yards? Yes, this was going to be close in stuff. Next he produced a selection of varicose weapons. One of my pals had brought his own Remmy 7 in 308 but for the other two of us there was a combination gun – 12g over 7x57, the Guides new pride and joy 7mm Rem Mag Browning and a venerable old Winchester lever gun in 32 Win Sp. I immediately knew I had to choose the Winchester. So small and neat, it looked like a toy. It was then I noticed the scope…or rather the absence of one. It was iron sights for me. I picked up the little rifle and felt at home with it straight away, stoked it up with a few cartridges which looked about the same vintage as the rifle and proceed to put all of them in the little black dot. I was amazed. It was a real cutey to shoot.
As the September day began to cool it was time to kit up. Earlier we had hung our hunting clothes on the line to blow through and remove a bit of scent. Our guide handed out rubber boots as he maintained our leather ones would allow too much scent through. I got lucky and got a pair of enormous Canadian winter boots…perfect on a day where the mercury was topping 27! We piled into the vast Dodge Ram pick up and headed off.
Now, I knew we would be hunting from tree stands over bait, but I was still a little hazy over what this would actually mean and I would like to say at this point, I really didn’t know whether I actually wanted to kill a bear. We arrived at the first bait, deep the woods. Two of us waited in the truck while our guide took the first victim off to his stand. The tension was building in the truck I can tell you.
A few miles further on and it was my turn. L took me off the track and to an area which looked like the aftermath of an explosion in Tesco’s bakery. The were bits of bread and cake everywhere and a smell of bacon grease hung suggestively in the air. At this point, I felt qualified to answer the age old question ‘do bears **** in the woods?’ Oh yes, they do, and then some!
L showed me to the tree stand. Hmmm. It was a 15’ vertical ladder made from scrap wood with an 18 x 24 square of ply at the top. A bucket was perched precariously on top of this. The whole thing was tied back to a wobbly spruce tree with a bit of frayed cord. Another bit of hairy rope was dangled from slightly higher up the tree – evidently the safety strap! Another piece of cord dangled by the side of the ladder. I tied the rifle on as instructed and ascended to my eyrie. Oh Jesus, the slightest movement set the whole affair swaying terrifyingly. Why is it for someone who has never been good with heights I always seem to end up having to climb into the most frightening places.
I got onto the ply but really couldn’t steel myself to go that last little bit and get my backside on the bucket so I settled with my legs dangling over the front. After a few minutes I began to recall my instructions. I must be utterly still, utterly quiet. I would not hear bear coming, they would just appear. Then, unbidden, my hosts tale of a bear climbing the ladder onto the platform and him killing it with the back of a hatchet cam into mind. I tucked up my legs.
After a quarter of an hour the wood began to settle down. The blue jays were the first to return, they squabbled and squawked over the bread. They were joined by the squirrels, grey jay and snowshoe hares (rabbits as they call them in Nova Scotia and very highly prized they are, apparently). Spruce grouse hung around the outside of the scene. What a fuss the squirrels made over that bread, they were hilarious to watch and time passed quickly. A grey jay perched briefly on the end of my barrel caused me to jump out of my skin.
All this time I still didn’t know whether I wanted to shoot a bear.
‘You won’t hear him, in thirty years of bear hunting, I’ve never once heard one coming in to the bait’ This quote was always in my mind as I sat there. Another tens minutes passed, I was feeling vaguely nauseas from the swaying of the tree when I suddenly became aware of a presence. I didn’t hear anything, I don’t recall seeing anything but I looked down to my left and there looking up at me was bear. From just fifteen feet away. Check sphincter.
We continued to look at each other for some seconds. It seemed an awful long time. Bear slowly turned to make his escape. I watched him put each foot down so softly, he placed the outside of his foot first and then lowered the sole so carefully and within a few moments had made his silent exit. I hadn’t managed to move.
I sat still and silent for some time. I could tell from the other wildlife he was still around and ten minutes later he slowly made his way towards the bait, this time down a perfect alley for the shot. Did I want to shoot this creature, what right had I. This was no cull deer, this was a black bear in his prime. Another piece of advice came to mind…look at his ears. If they look small, he’s a big bear, if they look big, he’s a small bear. Did they look big or small? I just couldn’t decide. He ambled closer. Slowly, so slowly I put up the little Winchester and settled the front pip comfortably in the notch and made a three point line to his heart.
As I began to take up the slack there was a rumbling whine from the track 100 yards away and bear turned tail and vanished. As the noise of the passing quad vanished I sat stunned, the decision had been taken from me.
I sat as instructed until after dark when L turned up in the Dodge. I made my way back to the track to find a grinning A…his bear was in the bag.
A meal of bear steak and mash was some compensation. Eating bear is almost as incredible experience and hunting them.
I sat up that tree for another 5 nights and saw not a hair of that bear. So, he’s still out there and I still don’t know whether I want to kill him.