The Bear Man’s assistant, Jerry, spends every morning exhaustively checking the previous night’s baits. Based on Jerry’s expert advice, The Bear Man and I hopped on ATVs and headed to a stand on the 3,000-square-mile Bird River property. “Every time we put a guy in a stand, it’s because we know there’s a 6-footer in the area,” Ron told me on the way in. “That bear could be smart, educated and difficult to kill, but we know he’s there. We sell 46 licenses each year, and we fill every one of them except when we get a guy who bangs and clangs in his stand. Seventy percent of our guests kill 6-foot bears or better.”
A beaver slapped the water in disgust as we slowed to a stop. I put on my bug suit and grabbed a ThermaCELL. “What the hell is that?” Ron asked.
“It’s a ThermaCELL. It keeps away black flies and mosquitoes but it doesn’t spook wildlife,” I explained. “What? Do you think this is a game? I don’t want any extra variables!” Fine. No ThermaCELL.
The Bear Man treats your gear much like a father would a young child’s. Anything he considers unnecessary gets tossed aside and, if you forget an essential, he’ll nonchalantly question your manhood and add the appropriate item to your backpack.
We climbed into the stand and I put on my bug suit and leather gloves. The Bear Man was apparently immune to bug bites; he wore neither. I had my .300 WSM, while Ron, still skeptical of my bonded bullets, had his .300 Win. Mag. in case I made a poor shot. Jerry baited the stand and sprayed a strong, sweet attractant into the air. “What was that?” I whispered.
“It’s a secret. I don’t give up all my tricks,” said The Bear Man. “Just tell people it’s Chanel No. 5.” Jerry drove off on his ATV, as if to give the bears a final ollie ollie oxen free—the humans were gone. Dinnertime!
The bait certainly proved an effective bug attractant. My facemask was covered in a swarm of mosquitoes probing its pores in search of blood. Even The Bear Man seemed bothered by the bugs as he squished them on his hands. After about an hour we heard a bear circle to the left. Another hour and one broke branches to the right. But as night fell, none came into the baits.
The next day, The Bear Man checked Jerry’s notes and picked a new stand. When we reached the end of the trail, it looked like the bears had thrown a frat party … bait barrels were scattered like empty beer kegs after homecoming weekend. The place had potential written all over it, and I climbed into the stand and stuck a pillow under my keister. “You’ll see bears here for sure,” The Bear Man said. “There’s gotta be a 6-footer somewhere.” He took a couple steps to leave, since I would be hunting alone on this occasion, but then his sixth sense stopped him. “You know what? I can’t leave you here … this spot’s not right. Let’s go somewhere else.”
Ten minutes later I was climbing into another stand while Jerry doused the area with “Chanel No. 5”. The Bear Man hunched over to look at a pile of bear scat, then turned to me and held up all five fingers on one hand and one finger on the other—this was the 6-footer I was looking for. When The Bear Man was gone, I placed a ThermaCELL between my legs. There’d be no ’skeeters clouding my vision and thoughts tonight. I was surrounded by rows of beautiful birch and pine trees. Grouse drummed in the distance and I felt the reverberations in my chest.
Two hours into the hunt I heard an odd cadence of footsteps approaching from the rear. The commotion sounded more like a school bus with feet than the cautious steps of a hoofed animal. The bear waddled its way directly under my stand, sending the surge of adrenaline to my gut that only hunters know and appreciate. If the bear had performed any earlier reconnaissance, it had done so with complete stealth, and it was now fully committed to the bait. It towered over the barrel and its belly swayed low to the ground—an obvious shooter. The bear sat on its rump, its front arm obscuring the vitals, and began gnawing on a chunk of meat. Bear Man had advised against taking this exact shot during Bear Hunting 101. I tried to exercise patience as bear fever threatened to course my veins. The bruin stood and reached into the barrel with its near arm, exposing its vitals—The Bear Man had said this was the time to shoot, and I punched both lungs. It didn’t go 30 yards. Ron showed up minutes later, having heard the shot. “HA! You done it again Alexander!” he exclaimed. “That skull’s easily over 20 inches! He’s going to make the Manitoba book for sure!”
“Great call to change stands, Ron,” I told him. “You’ve got the shining, my friend!”
For more, check out The Bear Man and Me: Bear Hunting 101.