Fifteen feet below me a large Canadian black bear sat, actually leaning against the ladder-stand I was sitting on, now and then leaning over to munch a small sapling. Every so often he seemed like he might turn his head just enough to catch a look up at me.Got your attention yet?
This story will not end in blood and gore, but if you’re squeamish or think hunting and/or fishing is horrid, stop reading now and I won’t judge you harshly for it in the least.A swarm of mosquitoes smacked off my camo head-net and hat though it was mostly cloudy and perhaps forty-four degrees.The woods were in their spring glory. Varied shades of green, white poplars kissing the sky, the Churchill River some fifty yards from my location.
An occasional red squirrel scampered through on the forest floor. A grouse hopped into the small clearing I was watching and from time to time a bird called.Through the five days we were there eagle nests and their occupants brought my camera out as did a surprising amount of pelicans on the river who flew and landed with light grace.
Very kind friends who were longtime fans of Rez Band had decided to gift myself and my brother-in-law with a combination hunting/fishing trip at Black Bear Island Lodge.
BBIL is reached by a twenty-five minute float plane flight out of Laronge, Saskatchewan Canada as it’s situated some 30 miles north on the long and beautiful river which runs through many miles of pine and poplar forest, feeding a lake here and tributary there.
John and I practiced up our bow shooting and packed them along with a large bag of hunting clothes and gear each, arrived late Sunday and flew back to Chicago the following Saturday.
We met some very cool, good and fun people, also fishing and/or hunting that week via BBIL and shared a lot of stories, laughs and even a few tears with several.All the guests this week were Americans, from all over the U.S., all avid outdoor sports persons and one a well-known pro. hunter who shot not only the largest bear of the week but video for the tv show he does.A couple families came as well, and all seemed to really enjoy the week together.Tuesday was a wash due to cold wind and rain all day, but Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were beautiful, mostly sunny and amazing with great chat among new friends on staff at the Lodge, great guides, all from a local Cree (First Nations) family group and of course, a lot of northern pike and walleye fishing -and bears. Several bears.
As I considered my options (in the event he decided to upwardly explore the new scent he sniffed at the bottom of my tree stand) and knew for certain he had smelled me due to their incredible sense of smell.Let’s just say it was an adrenaline moment.It was also comical because he never presented a good bow shot so I never took one, just watched him finally get up, lumber to another part of the clearing, sniffing my scent trail and eventually standing (blocked by small trees I couldn’t shoot an arrow through) right in the entrance trail that came up from the river.Rather than turning and offering an opportunity, he nosed the human scent as well as what I later realized was the alpha (dominant) bear in that neck of the woods and then left.Some thirty minutes later just before legal hunting light ended my day and my trip, Mr. Big came for a visit.Black bears can get quite large, but all I can say is that this particular bruin would have made a serious rug!Like the other one- not a chance. He simply faced me, even sitting down to munch, rising to check the trail the other bear had left on, certainly scenting both that bear and yours truly. As my guide came up the trail the bruin ran out of there in a hurry using another bear trail on the opposite side of the clearing.I have never thought of hunting merely as killing. Bringing something home is but one small -and not a guaranteed- part of the entire experience.I won’t use this space to lobby for shooting sports, except to say that at fifty-seven years of age and most of those years hunting small and large game alike, I have rarely met a hunter who only hunts to kill.The quiet (but for the elements and animals in the wild), the weather changes, sky, water, woods and the challenge of getting close enough to see so many of God’s creatures is a huge gift few experience.Slowing down, slowing down a LOT, only moving one’s eyes, silent and considered movement, wind direction, keeping in the shadows and watching, often shooting pictures rather than pellets, arrows, bullets or shot- all of these are part of the experience.As a Christ-follower I spend literally hours praying when I’m in the woods. My mind clears, my cellphone is turned off or at least in vibrate mode, the internet set aside. On the other hand God and all that nature offers is very close.
DJ Ennis, the fine Bear Island Lodge owner/manager kindly offered me a gadget that silently spurts out a mosquito repellent to take to the woods.I would be sitting in a ladder style tree stand for about six-and-a-half hours each day in the midst of the little buzzers so he showed me how to turn this thing on, place a wafer inside and trigger it with a button where to put off a scent bears would not notice but the insects would flee from.As time passed that last night I had decided to try it due to a truly thick swarm coming in, some biting me where my face net was closer near my ears.As I pulled the wafer from my pocket it slipped right through my hand to the forest floor below!I sat there thinking about the wisdom of climbing down, reaching around in the grass and little limbs to find it knowing I’d deposit more human scent right below my stand- and decided I’d rather not risk a bear climbing up to join me because of doing so!Good call because the first black bear to come in leaned right against my stand not thirty minutes later.I guess for some, video games or an adventure movie is enough, but sometimes one has to stretch out a little 🙂
I caught the largest northern pike I had ever caught… ha, well, I had never had the opportunity to fish for them before so… Ditto for a nice walleye.We had several shore lunches where James, our kind and very knowledgeable guide cooked over a wood fire right off the river, grilling various veggies, potatoes and fish we had caught only moments before.Talk about fresh and good food!James knew so many excellent and startlingly beautiful places to fish, to stop for shore lunches where he expertly cooked a meal we’d just taken from the river.Bear Island Lodge exclusively administers fifty-four stands placed all along the magnificent Churchill, nearly all regularly visited by bear.He put us in great spots- and I might add that what I really desired was for John to catch some large pike (he sure did!) as well as take a good bear- a large, beautiful cinnamon-colored black bear as it turned out.Black bears have what are called color phases, so they may be jet-black (those I saw) or cinnamon (John saw two of those and one pure black) but they can have other shades, bits of white or mixed colors also.The one that parked below me had three lighter colored cinnamon blotches on his hindquarters.In any case, the second-last night I just overshot a bear that I should have had, the same one that came in at the very end my last hunt. He was the larger of the two, but I miss-judged the range and had missed him on the second day.Fine, I tried and failed.So we had a wonderful week of fish and game, seeing all sorts of wildlife including James taking a moose, shooting his rifle standing up in the boat no less. He uses all the meat, hide and everything -as one should.I’ll finish this little report with only a few of the many pics I snapped through the week.Our batteries are mostly re-charged after an incredible week in the north woods and waters of Canada.
I think now of the pair of loons sitting in the river right outside our cabin by the lodge some mornings. They made their most unique call to one another as they fished together.The last night there God brought His northern light show to us, directly overhead. Wonderful and amazing artistry in the heavens! But that’s what we get when we put ourselves in a place to see.