By Theodore Verbrugge, Oxford, Ohio
My first bear hunt was in 2009. There were eight hunters in camp that week, and for most of us, it was our first bear hunt. An unexpected cold front came through causing temperatures to plummet. None of us were completely prepared, so warm gear became traded commodities. We all still saw bears and had opportunities, with seven out of eight hunters finding success. We also enjoyed some outstanding northern pike fishing.
My first bear that year was a sow—on the smaller side, but I was thrilled anyway. Anybody who thinks hunting bears over bait is boring has never taken the time to sit back with closed eyes and enjoy the contemplative moments on the stand, or kept their eyes open to watch pine martens, beavers, squirrels, ruffed grouse and fishers run through the bush. I had a sow with three cubs come in one evening, which is why the hunt still ranks as one of the most entertaining I have ever had.
Vance and Maureen Hrechkosy run a great bear operation at Trail End Camp, and I returned in 2011 to hunt again. The economy was struggling then, and that was felt north of the border, as there were only three of us in camp that week. It made for a completely different experience.
I saw many bears, including a few brutes, and ended up taking a boar, but it wasn't even close to the biggest bear I saw. No, this wasn’t a case of ground shrinkage after the shot. When the bear came out, part of my brain knew it wasn’t the biggest bear in the woods, but some other part of my brain didn't care and assumed I was looking at a big bear. Much like my first bear hunt two years before, I was happy.
The coat on this boar was deep black and thick, and I had the perfect spot picked out for the rug before returning home.
In 2014, I was once again in Manitoba. There were five of us hunting bears and two along for the fishing, including my friend Dennis, an avid fisherman. The hunting started out a little slow, but day four brought changes.
The first bear came out early. I could tell it was a very good bear, but held off since it was early. I looked at the bear and thought back to my first hunt. Like that bear, this bear had the tapered head and the uncanny ability to silently walk, seemingly above the forest floor. No, this was a sow and was not the bear to take. After quite some time in front of me, she crouched down like a worried dog, looked around and bolted underneath me and out of the area.
The second bear came in immediately after this. He walked in boldly, sniffing the air. He was shorter than the first, but much bulkier. I thought back to my hunt in 2011; this bear had the same blocky head and confident demeanor as that bear. The part of my brain that told me to shoot on that hunt was this time overridden by another part, telling me “No, this was not my bear."
I had several hours to rethink my decision not to take that second bear as thunderstorms began to build. It got later and the sky grew dark, creating a sense of foreboding that made me glad for waterproof hunting gear. A third bear entered the clearing—this was a truly different bear. He towered over the first two I had seen. Even sitting there with a firearm, it felt intimidating being so close to him. At one point he looked at me, then he looked through me.
The bear bolted at the shot, and the skies unleashed a torrent of water as the thunderstorm passed over. With the rain having washed away any blood trail, I looked for my bear in the remaining daylight. After a few false starts and a guttural woof-woof warning from another bear in the area, I found him only a short distance from the clearing.
I looked at my third bear, his thick black hide and huge paws, and waited to meet my guides. I briefly thought that I had just proved the adage “the third time’s a charm.”
But this is wrong. My first bear hunt was my first bear hunt, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. My second bear hunt allowed me to see many more bears and take a boar while experiencing some of the best fishing of my life. This third hunt had me again hunting with a great group of people, sharing experiences and making new friends—and I had just taken a truly remarkable bear. The third time may be a charm for some, but I’m three times charmed.
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