Owned by Bulgarian natives Val and Vi Popov, Tower Lodge Outfitting sits on the east side of postcard-perfect Dore Lake, easily reached by a four-hour drive north from Saskatoon. In addition to world-class hunting opportunities for black bears and whitetails, the outfit also offers guided and unguided fishing packages for northern pike and walleye.
Encompassing 450 square miles with more than 1,100 miles of shoreline, Dore Lake is a massive freshwater fishery enjoyed by commercial fishing operations and recreational anglers alike. Known for its clean water and sandy bottom, Dore Lake is highly regarded for the mild taste of the fish pulled from its waters. Here Larry Chappell, Wyatt Schearer and Ernie Baydo, left to right, prepare to fish for spawning northern pike in the lake's dense weed beds.
Portions of Dore Lake were still covered with ice when we arrived, but the fishing got better every day as the water warmed. Northern pike were the primary target, and we caught many that exceeded 30 inches. Ernie Baydo of Washington state landed the largest pike of the trip, a 41-inch beauty caught on the serene waters of Dore Lake's "T" Bay.
While we fished by morning, afternoons and evenings were devoted exclusively to bear hunting. We hunted with CVA's Accura V2, a break-action muzzleloader with a thumbhole stock that is so well designed, fun to shoot and easy to maintain that it breaks all of the old stereotypes about muzzleloader hunting. Here Chad Schearer, CVA's director of advertising and media relations, reviews two of the rifle's signature features: a corrosion-resistant, nitride-treated Bergara barrel and a no-tools-required Quick Release Breech Plug.
When a mature, 300-pound bear arrives on the scene, the decision to shoot is made for you, even on the first evening. The pumpkin-headed boar cautiously circled the stand before committing, and even through the smoke it was obvious that the 405-grain PowerBelt had found its mark. The bruin made it 40 yards before piling up in a stand of balsam fir, his death moan confirming the result. Despite sporting a dome with record-book potential, guide Jeff Hollick, left, said that an even larger bear had been captured on camera at the bait site days earlier!
After circling downwind, the boar walked virtually under the tree stand and stopped on a well-worn game trail at 10 yards. Even with the KonusPro 275 3X-10X-44mm IR scope turned down to 3X, black hair filled every inch of glass, making it virtually impossible to make out the crosshair. Luckily, the scope's illuminated red center dot, designed for shooting at darker backgrounds in low light, stood out perfectly, making it easy to establish an aiming point just behind the bear's front shoulder.
A self-made man who settled in Canada after fleeing communist rule in his native Bulgaria, Val Popov has an insatiable work ethic, preferring to do many of the "dirty" jobs of a black bear outfitter himself, such as preparing and setting the baits. His baits consist of the usual spread of bread, pastries and oats, as well as pork, beef, deer, elk and fish scraps, but frozen beaver carcasses, cut with a log splitter, are Val's secret weapon for keeping bears on bait longer.
A 16-year veteran guide, Val has plenty of tricks for maintaining the 20 or more baits he runs in a season. A sticky blend of oats, molasses and used cooking oil, which Val mixes en masse inside a 55-gallon drum with an ice auger, is a scent-spreading bear magnet; branches stuffed inside the bait barrel's hole are a cinch for a bear to remove but keep wolves out; and while trail cameras are the norm today, a strand of hair-grabbing barbed wire stretched around the barrel still provides instant identification of the color of the bear using a bait site.
While in Canada, Wyatt Schearer celebrated his 13th birthday, a milestone that older brother Walker helped commemorate with a dip in Dore Lake. Here Wyatt is helped from the water by Tower Lodge owner Val Popov and his dad, CVA's Chad Schearer, who was also filming the hunt for the family's show on Pursuit Channel, "Shoot Straight TV."
When most hunters think of Saskatchewan, visions of big-bodied, heavy-racked whitetails go prancing through their heads. While the No. 1 typical whitetail of all time, the 213 5/8-inch Milo Hanson buck, indeed hails from Saskatchewan, this province to the north of Montana and North Dakota more than holds its own when it comes to producing record-book-quality black bears.
In mid-May, digital managing editor Justin McDaniel traveled to Dore Lake in northern Saskatchewan to fish its waters and hunt spring black bears on its shores with Tower Lodge Outfitting, CVA Muzzleloaders, Konus Optics, Hodgdon Powder and Realtree. While making the record book is a matter of arithmetic, you don't need a tape measure to know that big bears prowl the boreal forests north of Saskatoon.