CANADA: Saskatchewan Black Bear Hunt May 2024

Green Chile

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I just got back from a great week in bear camp up in Saskatchewan, Canada. I wanted to share a few thoughts and photos with you. I think everyone should experience a good bear hunt sometime in their life. For some, it’s one and done…if they are successful. For others like myself, it kind of gets in the blood. This was my third black bear hunt but my first bear hunt in Canada. Previously, I had taken bears in New Mexico and a record book bear in Arizona on the Apache reservation. That bear taped out at 7.5 feet, which is a great bear. I was kind of hoping for a color phase bear on this hunt as both previous bears were black with no markings or color.

A booking agent friend called me not long ago and said hey, I’ve got a last minute cancellation for 2 guys on this great bear hunt. He said the camp is great, food is great and there are a lot of bears. I called a hunting friend and he had the time to spare so we booked with about 5 weeks notice. An additional plus was it being in Canada. I’ve driven through Canada many times while living in Alaska but had never hunted there.

Black bear hunts are typically one of several variations….with dogs…with bait…or spot and stalk. I haven’t hunted bears with dogs yet but baiting and spot & stalk should give you a decent view of what’s in the area. Anyone can do a bait hunt. You just have to be able to climb into a ladder stand about 15 feet up and sit quietly for a few hours. There’s no physical to it really besides dressing for the weather and being patient. It’s more of a mental game than a physical exercise. More to come on the mental aspect.

So we flew on Delta from DFW to Minneapolis and then switched over to WestJet for the hop into Saskatoon. Going through Customs in Canada was pretty easy...a couple of forms and answer a few questions...very straight forward. We stopped at Wal-Mart and Cabelas (next to each other) to pick up a few supplies like fuel canisters for Thermacells (you can't fly with fuel). From there it was about 4 hours drive to bear camp. It’s a beautiful country with big farms, cattle and even some bison ranches along the way. You will also see endless potholes with ducks, geese and cranes. This is the nesting grounds for millions of waterfowl and this is one of the best places in the world to get a start on your waterfowl season.

One thing I always like to do is find interesting potato chip flavors in other countries and cultures. The varieties are endless and Canada had a few to offer at the fuel stations...

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We got to camp and found a very comfortable setup. It’s one of the standard housing setups for oil patch country…a series of trailers connected with kitchen, bathroom/showers, lounge areas, freezer rooms and individual rooms for guides and clients. It also had wi-fi and a cellular signal booster. We had 4 guides and a cook for 10 clients at a time. I quickly got a feel between the camp setup, the guides and the cook that we were going to have a great week in bear camp. Oh and I can't forget the camp dog! They had a Chessie named Diamond and she loved getting peanut butter cookies from anyone who would pay attention to her.

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So we had 10 or 11 hunters in camp…two couples, a father and son and then a couple groups of friends. I went with a friend of mine who we hunt together once or twice a year. This was our first time to hunt Canada as I mentioned. This camp took 72 black bears last year and even more whitetail deer. They hunt out of the same camp for both species. They also have another camp setup for waterfowl hunts. They had a couple of whiteboards on the wall with all of the stands and bait sites named with notes for each site. They have cameras at each site and those cards are pulled at least every couple of days during season. If they are actively being hunted, the cards are pulled daily. Plans are then made based upon the activity at the sites.

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The general plan is to put everyone where there is good activity and mature bears on camera. Then you hunt that area for at least 2-3 days to get a good view of the area. If you want to change locations after that you can but most guys got plugged into one area and wanted to stay. I saw only a couple of people change their locations over 5 days of hunting. Also of note, the bait sites are generally at least 10 miles from each other. The guides typically left camp in opposite directions and drove up to 1 hour from camp to get to various bait sites.

The general hunt plan is to get to the stand around 2-3pm. Then you sit quietly until after sundown, which is about 9pm this time of year at that latitude. You might see some daytime activity but most of the trophy bears don't come to bait until just before sundown or later.

Most of these bait sites have been maintained for years...some of them for 30 years. That's a lot of time to get bears patterned. My particular site had never been hunted and was a recent addition to the whiteboard. There was a big black bear there with facial scars that had our interest. Here's a couple photos of him...he was definitely an alpha bear.


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Weapons are of some interest here so a few thoughts on that. These baited shots are going to be close…25 yards is typical but I have done baited bear hunts that were 75-100 yard shots to the bait. These baits were setup 20-25 yards from the ladder stands. You can usually see a bear before it gets to the bait as the brush is cleared away from the bait and that can vary quite a bit. I could see back under the trees another 20 yards or so and that’s the direction my bears came into the bait from. Here's a shot of my bait setup and the general feel of my area around the bait...lots of poplars, pines, birch, etc on mostly level or rolling ground. The red thing hanging from the tree is a skinned beaver...more to be said about that soon.

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Archery or rifles are legal for Canada…pistols are not a legal option for non-residents at least. We had an equal split of archery and rifle hunters. There were 3 compound bows, 2 crossbows with scopes and 5 rifles in camp. I’ve taken a couple of black bears in the past and decided in these tight ladder stands and short distances to take an iron sighted lever gun…more to come on that decision later. I took my Bighorn Armory lever gun in .500 S&W with a peep rear sight and no fiber optics. Notice, that is a pistol cartridge but in a rifle. The rule is you have to have an 18” barrel to be legal. My loads were 325 XTPs going about 2000 fps. I was using the only rifle in camp that wasn’t scoped; a handicap but one that I had calculated the risk of using. Here you can see my rifle in the ladder stand with some rain gear wrapped around as a camo curtain and also to allow me to shoot off the safety bar without having metal on metal sounds that are very unnatural in the woods.

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After checking my rifle at the range, we drove out to my bait site for the first day of hunting. Sitting long hours on a bait site takes some patience and preparation to be ready for anything. I always take a pee bottle and I’m amazed that more people don’t think of that. How are you going to sit still for 8 hours without a bathroom break? You surely aren’t going to pee on your bait site! I also take wet wipes as you just never know when those are needed. A thermacell with replacement matts and fuel canisters is essential up north along with a head net. Some water and some snacks are also helpful. Oh one clothing requirement in this province of Canada for gun hunters was orange or red hat and vest. I took all of this along with rain gear in a daypack every day to the ladder stand. I also take a headlamp and a portable small battery to recharge my phone or headlamp as needed.

When we got out to the stand for the first time, I was getting setup in the ladder stand and the guide was attaching a skinned beaver carcass to a tree 7 feet off the ground. We used this as a visual way of checking a bear’s length. That would come in handy at this location. Bears love beaver meat and will usually show signs of preferring it over the bait barrel, particularly larger bears.

As I prepared for a long sit, the guide checked the camera one more time and came over to me with some excitement. He said come down…you have to see this. We were on a new bait site that had never been hunted and we knew about the older black bear with facial scars. What we didn’t know was there was a new bear on camera…a large chocolate color phase! Things are getting interesting already! You can see he's older by the ear position...and the shoulder hump...and the crease in his forehead and general body shape and weight.

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That’s a shooter my friend!
HH
 
There’s your bear.

I used to go bear hunting often. I haven’t in Canada in 20 years now. I drew a Michigan tag and bait hunted a few years ago
 
I archery hunted black bear in northern Saskatchewan years ago up near Lake Athabaska. They have great bears up there for sure.
Best of luck to you on your hunt!
 
Weapons are of some interest here so a few thoughts on that. These baited shots are going to be close…25 yards is typical but I have done baited bear hunts that were 75-100 yard shots to the bait. These baits were setup 20-25 yards from the ladder stands. You can usually see a bear before it gets to the bait as the brush is cleared away from the bait and that can vary quite a bit. I could see back under the trees another 20 yards or so and that’s the direction my bears came into the bait from. Here's a shot of my bait setup and the general feel of my area around the bait...lots of poplars, pines, birch, etc on mostly level or rolling ground. The red thing hanging from the tree is a skinned beaver...more to be said about that soon.

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Archery or rifles are legal for Canada…pistols are not a legal option for non-residents at least. We had an equal split of archery and rifle hunters. There were 3 compound bows, 2 crossbows with scopes and 5 rifles in camp. I’ve taken a couple of black bears in the past and decided in these tight ladder stands and short distances to take an iron sighted lever gun…more to come on that decision later. I took my Bighorn Armory lever gun in .500 S&W with a peep rear sight and no fiber optics. Notice, that is a pistol cartridge but in a rifle. The rule is you have to have an 18” barrel to be legal. My loads were 325 XTPs going about 2000 fps. I was using the only rifle in camp that wasn’t scoped; a handicap but one that I had calculated the risk of using. Here you can see my rifle in the ladder stand with some rain gear wrapped around as a camo curtain and also to allow me to shoot off the safety bar without having metal on metal sounds that are very unnatural in the woods.

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Thats a rifle my friend. For Black Bear that will work all day long, as well for just about anything else!
 
Ok so the first evening on stand, I went in about 3pm and sat till almost 10pm. Not much moved before dark but I was very lucky to see a white wolf pass behind the bait. He paused briefly and looked right at the ladder stand. I wasn't moving but perhaps he caught a scent or was just looking at the new ladder stand in his area. Beautiful to see him at 40 yards for a few seconds. There are wolf tags available but not during this season. No photo of him unfortunately but he was known to the guide. They do shoot some wolves in the fall during deer season.

No bears came out before dark in the first sit but at around 9:30, a dark shape shuffled down the hill to the bait. Looking through my Swaro binos, I could see it was a mature bear but it was difficult to tell in the dark if it was the same chocolate on camera. He didn't look black but it's a little hard to tell between black and brown in the dark! Interestingly, he bypassed the bait barrel and went straight to the beaver in the tree! Then he stood up flat footed with his front legs hanging down and ate the back of the beaver carcass. So at this point, I know he is about 7' tall standing up. He ate half of the beaver and then pulled the rest down and came to stand right under my ladder. He stood there chewing like he had a mouthful of Pringles in the dark...never looking up. I just watched him for about 5 min like that and then the guide's ATV came up the hill to pick me up. The bear stood there quietly until the headlights touched him and he calmly turned and walked back under the trees.

I told the guide, he was just standing right here until 5 seconds ago. We went to check the camera and sure enough, it was the big chocolate bear. So this is where things got interesting for me. If you've hunted a lot as most of us have, you sometimes find an animal that REALLY gets your attention and causes you to focus on it specifically. I've had that happen many times...sometimes it's a certain turkey that catches your eye or a bearded hen...or a monster eland...or a cool looking deer or elk...or a chocolate bear. This "focus thing" has happened often enough for me that it causes me to hunt differently. It's a little hard to describe but I told the guide...look...here's the thing...sometimes I find an animal and I really want to just lock in to get it. There might be other bears show up and I can't tell you that I will shoot them. I might not. I really want this chocolate bear...I don't have any color phase bears and I just like the way he looks.

Of course, this can make a guide nervous. What do you mean you might not shoot another bear? I told him the story of me wanting a black duck really badly on the east coast. I told the guide I will do whatever is needed legally to get one. He said ok...he had me lay down in a mud flat on a tidal area for 4 hours...the tide came up and filled up my waders as I was laying down in this cut bank...after 4 hours 2 black ducks flew over and I got one of them. I couldn't feel my feet for awhile but that's what I mean by focusing on an animal. The guide said ok...let's focus and get this one...but if the big black with scars comes in at least think about it! Hah.

Here's another photo of the chocolate...


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Thats a rifle my friend. For Black Bear that will work all day long, as well for just about anything else!
It's a handy little carbine for sure. This was my first hunt with this particular lever gun but my first black bear was taken with my grandad's Winchester 30-30...and my last bear was taken with a 7 STW.
 
Really appreciate your write up. I have been thinking about bear hunting for awhile now. My son and I have a black bear hunt booked for June 2025 in Idaho w Flying B Ranch. We have never hunted bear. before. Your write up fuels the fire even more. We can actually shoot 2 bears a piece on this hunt and we got wolf tags too. I have zero room in my house for this stuff (says my wife anyway) but we will make it work.
I talked to the guide and he said they use a .243 on up which surprised me. I will bring our 7PRC and 300WM at any rate. I am told they are not that hard to kill really but as you say patience is needed on these hunts. We will go in on horseback each day to the site to sit but sleep each night back at the lodge. Pretty nice set up and kids are 1/2 price.

Cheers
 
We come back in that night around 11pm to camp for dinner...great meals in this camp and always plenty of food and dessert. You don't lose weight in bear camp that's for sure. As everyone gets back for dinner, you start to hear the stories and everyone has seen bears the first night. Two bears were shot (one archery and one rifle) and neither were recovered quickly. So now 2 hunters can't sleep since their bears are wounded or status unknown. The next morning, all guides and several hunters went out to track the wounded bears and after a few hundred yards, the blood trails stopped. Neither bear was recovered sadly and one of them was a real jumbo. The policy in this camp is you can buy back in for $900. Both hunters chose to continue. The archery hunter was very experienced but this outcome can really rattle you. To his credit, he spent several hours at the range that day working on his technique and getting back into the groove. Big respect for that. You have to get back on the horse after it bucks you off and shake the mental heaviness off.
 
That’s a really nice bear. Looking for the conclusion. What outfitter were you hunting with?
 
I hunted with Spirt Creek Outfitters, owned by Dean Silva. I will continue sharing more about them as the story progresses.
 
Thanks for the comments so far. The "lessons learned" is a critical part of every hunt report I post here. I'm an open book and want to share anything I've learned that can help someone else. I spent an hour last night on the phone with an experienced AH forum member sharing details and lessons learned. We both learned something from that conversation and that's what I will offer here as I continue sharing thoughts and memories and lessons learned from Saskatchewan. I learned a lot from my hunt and by watching others on their hunt as usual.
 
Having never hunted bear at all I'm absorbing all information also.
I'll know if I draw Michigan in a few more weeks.
10 preference points for the Newberry unit.
Those are awesome pictures you've posted and definitely more than I'm expecting to see in Michigan.
It will be guided as I live in Colorado now.
 
Great story so far.
Quick note:
I always shoot black bears in the neck when inside 100 yards. clean kills. Will give more details when I land.

HH
 
Since we are getting into the actual hunt and we have seen 2 bears wounded and lost on the first day, let’s get into a critical topic…shot placement on bears. Many of us are deer hunters primarily. Deer are built like deer but bears are VERY different. Their vitals are primarily well behind the shoulder, not in between the shoulders like deer. Bears are also all different shapes…some are long and some are more like a barrel. Bears also have a lot of hair and that can seriously affect your aiming points. I’ve seen bears that had 6 inches of hair hanging down from their belly. It makes their chest look MUCH deeper than it actually is. Because of these issues, you will often hear a bear guide say to aim for the “middle of the middle”.

What does that really mean…middle of the middle? I think everyone that hunts bears should make a study of this subject. I can’t emphasize enough that bears are built different than deer. You may be thinking…of course they are different and we all know that. Ok…then how do you explain a hunt with 10 shooters and by the end of 5 days, there are 4 bears wounded and not recovered. Some of the shooters were on their first bears and some were VERY experienced. Losing a bear can happen to anyone so we are going to talk about this. It’s freaking embarrassing to be the guy that comes in and says I can’t find my bear that I shot at 25 yards. 2 archery guys and 2 rifle guys experienced that last week and they were demoralized. It really can rattle you.

Personally, I think there is more to it than saying middle of the middle but for the sake of simplicity with a huge variety of clients, a guide will say that phrase to help a client remember the basics. Here are a couple of views of bear vitals and a kill shot on a skinned bear for perspective.

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