After only a couple of minutes the big boar lumbered off, and I figured I’d never see it again. Until 10 minutes later when I realized it was watching me again over my right shoulder. This time it stared right at me. It took a couple steps, stared some more, took another couple steps … then it was near the base of my tree. I thought I’d shift so at least I could raise the gun should it actually begin to climb the ladder (yes, they do that). But it must’ve seen or sensed my movement, because it wheeled and ran.
In another tree not far away, Paul Wait, editor of Wildfowl, sat on his first bear stand. He left his camera bag at the base of the tree because there wasn’t enough room for it in the stand with him. Bad move. Not long after he climbed up, a little bear appeared at the base of the tree, sniffed around, zeroed in on Paul’s bag, grabbed it and ran. Hell, thought Paul, my passport’s in there!
The only thing he could think to say was, “Hey, stop!” Which worked, because the bear dropped the bag and continued running. Paul didn’t know whether to climb down and get the bag or sit and hope for another bear to come into the bait. The decision was made for him when a beautifully big boar lumbered up to the barrel, and Paul’s bear hunt ended. Talk about beginner’s luck.
He told me all this in the truck as we drove to pick up Ralph Lermayer, editor of Waterfowl & Retriever. Paul was just finishing his story as Blair disappeared into the darkness on the ATV to pick up Ralph when the phone in the cab rang. Paul picked it up and said, “Uh huh. Okay. Uh huh. I’ll tell him.”
“What was that about?” I asked.
“That was a lady at the lodge. She said some guy named Ralph called and said to come get him.”
“Maybe he got a bear,” I said.
“Doubt it. She said Ralph yelled, ‘Emergency! Emergency!’ before she lost his signal.”
Just then two shots rang out in the darkness. Which prompted visions of the little old lady in the commercial: “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
“Maybe Ralph fell out of the tree,” I said. “I hope he’s okay.”
Moments later Blair returned with Ralph, who was more than a little excited as he climbed into the back seat.
“Wow,” he exclaimed. “Wow.”
“What? What?” Paul and I asked in unison.
Ralph was in a two-person stand amid four trees—one supported the ladder, the others behind him were close enough to touch. At dark, he heard scurrying behind him and figured it was a raccoon or two. Then he heard a bleat, and more scurrying, only this time it sounded like claws on bark. When he turned around two bear cubs stared him in the face at arm’s length. Then he looked down and saw mama glaring up at him. For whatever reason, she’d sent the cubs up the tree into Ralph’s face, and now she obviously realized the error of her ways and wanted them back.
“So what’d ya do?” I asked.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Ralph answered. “I didn’t like seeing those cubs next to my head. And I just knew the sow would figure it out. And I didn’t want her coming up there after me. So I fired a shot over her head. And it did nothing; didn’t phase her a bit. That’s when I got on the phone to the lodge: ‘This is Ralph,’ I shouted. ‘Emergency! Emergency!’ Then the phone went dead.”
“Yeah, that’s when we came in,” offered Paul.
“Yeah,” said Ralph, “so then I fired two more shots, and still, nothing. Then Blair pulled up, and that did it. She coaxed those cubs down and they all hauled butt.”
Now it was time for Paul and I to exclaim, “Wow. Wow.”
And when we returned to the lodge we learned Kevin Howard heard scurrying behind his stand, too. He craned his neck and saw it was a decent bear. He sat still and waited, figuring it would come into the bait. He heard nothing for a long while. Then he heard a thump and felt a push; his stand was shaking. He looked down between his legs to see the bear standing on its hind legs leaning against the ladder and giving it hell.
“I figured if it started up the ladder I could shoot between my legs,” said Kevin, chuckling. “But I didn’t want to, it wasn’t a big bear. So I just sat there until it decided it’d had enough. I figured I had the best story till I heard everyone else’s tales.”
This wasn’t my first trip to Manitoba. I hunted spring black bears there over bait in 2000. But it was clearly the first time I’ve been bitten by the goose-hunting bug. I don’t think it’ll be the last. And I hope it isn’t the last time I hunt Manitoba. Besides geese and bears, the province offers fabulous fishing and hunts for barren ground caribou, moose, whitetails and, believe it or not, elk.
Travel Manitoba, the provincial tourism authority, likes to say it offers “unreal outdoors,” and from what I’ve seen in two trips up there I’d say that’s pretty accurate. The tourism and natural resources departments have made a fresh commitment to get the word out on everything Manitoba has to offer, and their website is the starting point for adventure.
We stayed at Narrows West Lodge, a couple hours north of Winnipeg. Owner and outfitter Blair Olafson does a bang-up job offering just about anything any outdoor-type could want—goose hunting, bear hunting, walleye fishing, boating and more. He has 10 lakefront chalets for rent; six rooms in the main lodge; a campground; restaurant and lounge; marina; gas bar; store with bait and tackle; and more.