CANADA: Saskatchewan Black Bear Hunt May 2024

After further discussions with the head guide and the owner/outfitter, they said you are shooting a big gun so break his shoulders and he won't go far...or if you get a frontal shot, shoot in the middle of that below his neck and the recovery will be short. Just don't shoot too far forward as a brisket shot is not fatal. In the meantime, 2 more bears were wounded and lost so camp morale was a little low...no pun intended.
 
The next evening in the blind was uneventful...no bears seen before or after dark. A couple of smaller bears were taken by first time bear hunters. One cool example was an older lady who had never fired a rifle until 2 weeks before. She decided to do a bear hunt for her first big game animal and her bear was recovered quickly and close to the blind. I thought that was fantastic and we really celebrated her accomplishment. I will say that often, ladies make excellent hunters because they LISTEN to advice and don't make it up as they go along. Very cool.

The next evening it rained for about 4 hours of the 8 hours I was in the blind. I was prepared for that and as the sun went down, I was on the rifle and ready to shoot if the chocolate returned. He did come down the hill and kind of hung up behind the bait in the shadows. The game camera went off with a flash and he turned and ran. Some will tell you that bears don't mind the flash but he seemed on edge and bothered by it. That was the end of that day's effort...all that time in the rain for one shot and he spooks at the last minute. Don't kid yourself...bear hunting is very mental at times. Here I am focused on 1 bear and that happens. How many of those do you get? Each one feels like the last time it will happen and you question yourself. However, so many times I have had success in the last minutes of a hunt so I'm going to stay focused and not let it grind me down...and not let the low camp morale affect my goals of staying ready for this bear.

He did show up again early in the morning on camera...so the focus continues!

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3 days into a 5 day hunt with no shot opportunities yet on this focused bear hunt. I asked the head guide who was fully into the focus now with me, what else do we need to do? Do we need to change our approach or do anything different? We considered a very early AM hunt to try to catch the bear in a different pattern. However, the rains were settling in and it seemed like a plan without much chance of success. The guide said let's stick to the plan for as soon as we change it, he will show back up on schedule and we won't be positioned to take him. That's an interesting point as well...the guides said that many times (even the majority of times) when you move, the bear is almost sure to show up again after you have moved locations. So patience is key to being successful in bear baiting. Stay put, stay still (especially in the final 2 hours of daylight) and eventually the big bear will show up again.
 
Let's talk about bear baits for a minute. It's an interesting subject and I have seen many approaches to it. Generally, you have a bulk food item like oats or trail mix or dog food that is supplemented with a variety of scents and flavors to make it pull in the bears from a distance.

What is going on with a bear's nose anyway? To quote from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences..."Bears are thought to have the best sense of smell of any animal on earth. For example, the average dog's sense of smell is 100 times better than a human's. A blood hound's is 300 times better. A bear's sense of smell is 7 times better than a blood hound's or 2,100 times better than a human's."

So you mix a bulk food with some scents like anise/licorice, bacon grease or vegetable oil...add some enticements like jello powder, syrup, molasses, marshmallows, etc...then you might also put out a whole skinned beaver or a bucket of cake frosting or whatever tricks you have learned over the years.

Here is a bucket of marshmallows and skinned beavers heading out to freshen up a bait...
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Here is a bucket of dog food mixed with jello powder, flavored syrup (I think it was sno cone mix) and various secret ingredients. Mmmm....good stuff! Hah.

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Ah, brings back a lot of memories, I went through bear madness, all my brother and I did all over Canada for 4 or 5 years back in the late 90's and early 2000's. Lost track of how many of those buggers we shot but between the two of us, it had to be somewhere around 15-20. Sitting in a stand for bears can be fun, I preferred spot and stalk on either coast. IMO you can't shoot them with something "too big" LOL.
 
I hear you...I've been thinking about doing more bear hunting, especially spring bear. I would like to see more of Canada and you can basically hunt bears all over that country, east to west, south to north. I would definitely like to hunt in Alberta and BC at a minimum. Black bear hunts are also a good bit cheaper than whitetail deer hunts up north with a few exceptions.

I will say one thing I do not like about spring bear hunts are the bugs and ticks. Lots of them nasty buggers but there are chemicals and things to help minimize that. I need to look into some of that tick resistant clothing.
 
Ah, brings back a lot of memories, I went through bear madness, all my brother and I did all over Canada for 4 or 5 years back in the late 90's and early 2000's. Lost track of how many of those buggers we shot but between the two of us, it had to be somewhere around 15-20. Sitting in a stand for bears can be fun, I preferred spot and stalk on either coast. IMO you can't shoot them with something "too big" LOL.

I would be curious to hear which provinces you bear hunted in? Also, your comment on using big guns will be revisited towards the end of this report. I'm in agreement and will explain why.
 
The suspense is killing me!

I am jealous of the baiting rules that the Canadians have. Ours in Wisconsin are much more strict. We are limited to 10 gallons of bait at each bait site, including any liquid scents. Our baits have to be housed in naturally occurring materials, so pretty much just hollow logs and rocks. And we cannot use any animal products, which means no meat, bacon grease, or honey.
 
Don’t rule out Alaska boat hunts for bears.

Some close friends are hunting Alaska coastal black bears from a large fishing boat now. Fishing and hunting shore bears. Eating like kings and hunt all day
 
The suspense is killing me!

I am jealous of the baiting rules that the Canadians have. Ours in Wisconsin are much more strict. We are limited to 10 gallons of bait at each bait site, including any liquid scents. Our baits have to be housed in naturally occurring materials, so pretty much just hollow logs and rocks. And we cannot use any animal products, which means no meat, bacon grease, or honey.
We are close! Stay tuned. I don't purposefully do that but it's just the way the hunt experience rolls out. You should have seen the 2 week hunt report on leopard...that one killed all of us. Hah.
 
Don’t rule out Alaska boat hunts for bears.

Some close friends are hunting Alaska coastal black bears from a large fishing boat now. Fishing and hunting shore bears. Eating like kings and hunt all day
Good point on the boat based bear hunts. That's another strong variation on the spot and stalk but from the water side.
 
waiting.gif
 
Ok, ok...so we are into day 4 of the hunt and the weather has detoriated into cold rain and mud everywhere. Some of the 6 wheel ATVs have gotten stuck and the Gore-Tex and muck boots are regular companions. By the way, you should always take something like crocs or indoor shoes to bear camp. You won't be wearing mud boots into the living areas.

We've also watched as 4 of the 10 hunters have wounded and lost their bears. 3 of the 4 have bought back in at $900 penalty each. There are also 4 bears recovered but nothing large. Every day we are reviewing game cameras and finding mature bears at every bait we are using. Some are seeing 10-15 bears a day but mostly sows or young bears in the daylight. The jumbos are basically nocturnal but are showing up on camera.

One thing that needs mentioned is I have been practicing a repeatable cheek weld all week in the stand with my iron sights. I might have to take a shot in very poor lighting. So I practice that cheek weld with my eyes closed and then open to see if the sights are lined up. I practice that from different positions until I'm repeating consistently with the sights lined up correctly, more by feel than anything.

I go for my 4th evening sit and I'm thinking about how bad the weather is going to be on the last day (tomorrow). I'm really hopeful that tonight the chocolate will give me a chance. By now, the ladder stand is an old friend and I have my routine sorted out. I can get situated quickly and sit quietly for many hours. One thing that helps is knowing that we are getting a little later sunset each day. It's now around 9pm and we have an extra 30 min of legal time after that.

Nothing is moving and it's quiet as the storm clouds gather to dump a good rain that night and the next day. It's 9pm and the sun sets but I'm still watching for the ninja in fur pajamas. Whoa...he starts slipping down the hill at 9:20 and it's dark under the trees. He comes and lays down behind the bait barrel and I can see his ears sticking up through the binos. Come on man...he leaves and circles back...time is running out. Now he stands in front of the bait barrel and I confirm 2x which way he is facing in the dark that is increasing. I raise the rifle and get back into that cheek weld that I've been practicing. I aim at the white bucket on the ground just in front of his nose. I come back to the left past his head and then think, just a little more to the left to get past the neck and into the shoulders. He is standing still and I squeeze the trigger shooting a big flame in the dark. He quickly swaps ends and goes back to my left. I reload and listen to him breaking through the brush. He makes a loud blowing sound and everything stops. I look at my watch and it's 9:30...end of legal time.

At this point, my legs start to shake and I play it back in my mind...it's not ideal but it's the best shot I can make under the circumstances. Did I come back far enough into the body? I know that I didn't go too far but did I cover the shoulders? I call the head guide and tell him to come quickly. He says I know you want to track it but just wait and we will do it together. The next 30 min was difficult but honest to God, I stayed in the stand and waited. I did NOT want to be pushing a wounded bear and losing him like the others in camp.

Blair arrives and we both go to the bait. There is a big splash of blood on the offside where the bait barrel is...so I got an exit wound. We turn the headlamps on and slowly walk to the left...lots of blood...and Blair shouts there he is!!! Dead 20 yards from the bait. Relief washes over me and we slap each other on the back...then we just stand there looking at him for a few minutes. We turn him over and see that I have centered the shoulders and gotten the exit. It looks like the exact shot placement I would have taken in the daylight but I know I'm a little lucky this time. I think about that as we load him into the ATV and make the long drive back to camp.

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Congrats on an awesome bear. I’d love to get a crack at a color phased black bear at some point. I shot a real nice jet black one on Northern Alberta 18 years ago. You got me thinking about looking into another hunt up there in Canada. Thanks for sharing.
 
Ok, ok...so we are into day 4 of the hunt and the weather has detoriated into cold rain and mud everywhere. Some of the 6 wheel ATVs have gotten stuck and the Gore-Tex and muck boots are regular companions. By the way, you should always take something like crocs or indoor shoes to bear camp. You won't be wearing mud boots into the living areas.

We've also watched as 4 of the 10 hunters have wounded and lost their bears. 3 of the 4 have bought back in at $900 penalty each. There are also 4 bears recovered but nothing large. Every day we are reviewing game cameras and finding mature bears at every bait we are using. Some are seeing 10-15 bears a day but mostly sows or young bears in the daylight. The jumbos are basically nocturnal but are showing up on camera.

One thing that needs mentioned is I have been practicing a repeatable cheek weld all week in the stand with my iron sights. I might have to take a shot in very poor lighting. So I practice that cheek weld with my eyes closed and then open to see if the sights are lined up. I practice that from different positions until I'm repeating consistently with the sights lined up correctly, more by feel than anything.

I go for my 4th evening sit and I'm thinking about how bad the weather is going to be on the last day (tomorrow). I'm really hopeful that tonight the chocolate will give me a chance. By now, the ladder stand is an old friend and I have my routine sorted out. I can get situated quickly and sit quietly for many hours. One thing that helps is knowing that we are getting a little later sunset each day. It's now around 9pm and we have an extra 30 min of legal time after that.

Nothing is moving and it's quiet as the storm clouds gather to dump a good rain that night and the next day. It's 9pm and the sun sets but I'm still watching for the ninja in fur pajamas. Whoa...he starts slipping down the hill at 9:20 and it's dark under the trees. He comes and lays down behind the bait barrel and I can see his ears sticking up through the binos. Come on man...he leaves and circles back...time is running out. Now he stands in front of the bait barrel and I confirm 2x which way he is facing in the dark that is increasing. I raise the rifle and get back into that cheek weld that I've been practicing. I aim at the white bucket on the ground just in front of his nose. I come back to the left past his head and then think, just a little more to the left to get past the neck and into the shoulders. He is standing still and I squeeze the trigger shooting a big flame in the dark. He quickly swaps ends and goes back to my left. I reload and listen to him breaking through the brush. He makes a loud blowing sound and everything stops. I look at my watch and it's 9:30...end of legal time.

At this point, my legs start to shake and I play it back in my mind...it's not ideal but it's the best shot I can make under the circumstances. Did I come back far enough into the body? I know that I didn't go too far but did I cover the shoulders? I call the head guide and tell him to come quickly. He says I know you want to track it but just wait and we will do it together. The next 30 min was difficult but honest to God, I stayed in the stand and waited. I did NOT want to be pushing a wounded bear and losing him like the others in camp.

Blair arrives and we both go to the bait. There is a big splash of blood on the offside where the bait barrel is...so I got an exit wound. We turn the headlamps on and slowly walk to the left...lots of blood...and Blair shouts there he is!!! Dead 20 yards from the bait. Relief washes over me and we slap each other on the back...then we just stand there looking at him for a few minutes. We turn him over and see that I have centered the shoulders and gotten the exit. It looks like the exact shot placement I would have taken in the daylight but I know I'm a little lucky this time. I think about that as we load him into the ATV and make the long drive back to camp.

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View attachment 607064

Fantastic bear, congratulations!!!
 
Well thought out shot.
Congratulations.
 
I will share some thoughts on lessons learned on my 3rd bear and on this type of hunt. Bears are not particularly hard to kill unless you wound one and then they can go a LONG ways. They aren't bullet proof or even as strong as a lot of African PG but they deserve respect and a good plan to take them. I've taken 2 of them now with lever guns and iron sights. That works just fine in the daytime but it sure is a challenge in low light.

On these baited hunts, the older trophy sized bears tend to be very wary of visiting the bait during daylight. Anything is possible and they do sometimes come eat in the daylight but the overall pattern is they prefer to visit the bait at last light or in the dark. This was confirmed by talking to these guides who have taken hundreds of bears by baiting.

Low light and dark colored bears are a perfect recipe for using a scope and particularly a lighted reticle. My next bear hunt will be with one of my favorite African scopes...one of the Swaro lighted reticle models. There are similar options out there at lesser price points. Remember that a bear might easily hang up before it gets to the bait at last light and will probably be standing in the shadows under the trees. A black bear in dark shadows is a tough animal to get a good aiming point on.

Another consideration is caliber and bullet weight. Soft expanding bullets of premium quality should be your only choice. I had no issue with the XTP bullets or some of my favorite Africa bullets like Trophy bonded, TSX, A-frames, etc. As to caliber, you can kill any black bear with any rifle appropriate for deer hunting. However, if you're going for a big bear, remember that they can weigh 500 lbs or more and they are built a lot tougher than any deer with large shoulders, heavy bones and a thick hide with a lot more hair than any deer. Consider going a little heavier in caliber than you would for deer. 300 win mag is a good starting point and if you want to exercise that big bore in North America, this is a good opportunity for that. It's not needed in most situations but what if you get a tough angle and you need more penetration? Keep in mind that most of the bears shot in my camp did NOT have exits...not the archery guys and not the deer rifles or 300 win mags. They should have had exits but they did not for various reasons. The only other exit on a bear that week was my friend's 45-70 and he lost his bear also.

When you add up those considerations, my next bear hunt will be with something between .338 and .375 caliber...with a premium bonded or copper bullet...heavy for caliber...with a lighted reticle scope. If I would have had that combination last week, I could have killed that bear 3 out of 4 nights with much less risk and gotten an exit on any angle.
 

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