I thought I would use this forum to document my first bear hunt and thank all of you who contributed your time, ideas, knowledge, and wisdom to make this an unforgettable experience.
My week of opening bear season started on Monday, 8/28, when I drove up to my bait site (3 hours away) with a friend, Nate. Nate was in the Jr. High youth group that I led at the church I was going to during college and we have been friends ever since. As I posted in another forum, this was going to be my last baiting before the opening day of the season on Friday, 9/1, because I couldn’t get back up there the day before. My site is on 50 acres that my dad owns outside of Duluth, MN.
I have been having bears to the site consistently since baiting started on 8/12 but I am not sure how many, what size, or what time they are coming because I don’t have a trail camera (learning: there is a lot of great information you can gather by having a camera at your site). Nate and I re-set up the crib, because it was torn apart, and put in about 120-160 pounds of food.
9/1 - DAY 1:
I woke up about 4:45am, packed up my gun, camo gear (in plastic bags), and other various hunting and site equipment, put them in the car and headed up North (family was still sleeping). I got to my dad’s property around 9:00 and set about the task of getting my bait ready to haul in, all along wondering what the site looked like and was the food all gone.
I wanted to use the two man approach to get into my stand for the days hunt but my dad was on a fishing trip in Canada and wouldn’t get home until 4 or 5 and Nate was already at his site up by Two Harbors, so I called my step-dad and asked him if he would come up and walk in with me around noon. No problem.
Once the bait was ready I hauled it into the woods alone on the sled. (learning: Dr. Nordberg’s sled idea is a great way to haul bait) GREAT NEWS! The bait crib was torn apart and almost all of the food was gone from the Monday baiting. I had too much bait to haul it all in by myself so I left a five gallon pail and a box of meat scraps (40 pounds and a 10 pound burlap hanging bag of meat scraps I made) out at the loading area to bring in with my step-dad.
I got out of the woods around 11:00 and began getting ready for the hunt: changing out of my baiting clothes, washing my entire body with scent free soap, putting on my camo gear, putting on my face paint, and putting the final touches on the back pack I will be taking in. My step-dad showed up around 11:30-11:45 and we started the walk in around noon.
Once at the site, my step-dad began to put the last bait into the crib and hang the burlap sack of meat scraps. He continued to talk the whole time he was baiting. While he finished that, I worked silently on setting up a liquid smoke, fat, and meat scraps burn in a tree by the bait crib. Hotmoon talked about a 6 hour burning sterno (that would have been great!), but I was not able to find one that burned that long. The longest life I could find was a 4 hour burn at Fleet Farm and many places had the 2 or 2.5 hour. I set up the 4 hour burn at the site and then proceeded to climb silently into the stand.
Once in my stand and buckled in, I decided to set up another burn in a tree next to my stand tree that I could reach very easily. I made a mixture of raspberry/cherry tea, sugar, and raspberry preserves (this was an idea that I believe redrider or ADKbear had shared…apologies if it was someone else) and started it burning…..it smelled fantastic! I then settled in for an afternoon and evening of waiting and watching (and hopefully shooting), it was around 12:30-12:45 pm.
The rest of the afternoon held a time of thinking, contemplation, prayer, and enjoying God’s outdoor creation. A little yellow bird landed on a branch about a foot from my face and stared at me. I am thinking some type of eagle or turkey vulture landed in my stand tree. It sounded like a B52 coming in for a landing and taking off. Crows in various tree talked to each other off and on until I wished that they would be quiet. Birds flew by so fast and close that I thought one might hit me in the face. The woods were alive with the sounds of birds and animals getting ready for the winter.
At approximately 7:15 pm I was slouching down in my chair to stretch my back, watching the site through some camo burlap that I had in front of my stand, when I saw a large black blob on the left of my site. Could that be a bear? Slowly I raised myself back to sitting position and had full view of my site and a beautiful mid-night jet black bear (big blackie) VERY cautiously walking over to the bait crib. He looked huge but this was the first bear I have ever seen up close and in the wild! He reached between the logs and grabbed a loaf of bread soaked in cooking oil and ran from the site down his game trail. He was gone for 5-10 minutes when I noticed through the trees and shrubs he was standing in the woods trying to get into the hanging burlap bag of meat scraps that my step-dad had hung on the edge of the site. He must have gotten something out because the bag stopped swinging and he was gone for another 5-10 minutes. This time he came back into the site, slowly, cautiously, walking up to the crib and then circling back around to the hanging meat scraps. He was standing in the site and not the woods. He was on all fours hitting the bag with his front paws. As he was preoccupied with the bag I slowly raised my gun and got him in my sights. There were a few seconds where I had an OK-GOOD shot at him….my mind raced: how cautious he seemed to be?, were there other bears near-by?, was this a PERFECT shot? I think I will hit his shoulder at this angle, Dr. Nordberg’s book talks about being patient and working the site and you will get other good and perfect shots, this is my FIRST day seeing my FIRST bear…..I passed on the shot.
At that moment he stood up on his hind legs with both paws on the hanging meat scraps and looked directly at me! He stood there motionless just staring for what seemed like minutes, but I am guessing that it was 5-10 seconds. He then, with all his weight and both paws, pulled violently down on the hanging bag and ripped it out of the tree, running back down his trail with the contents. It got dark and legal hunting hours passed. He never came back and I climbed out of my stand and walked out of the woods. Should I have taken the shot? Had I passed on the only shot I would have at my first bear?
9/2- DAY 2:
Saturday dawned another beautiful day. I met Nate for breakfast and we talked about the night before. He has had no bears at his site yet. Disappointing! I had gotten up early that morning and done some analysis of the night before that I shared with Nate:
(would love anyone else’s thoughts on these points as well)
- Baiting on hunting day didn’t seem to be a big deal
- Having a new smell at my site maybe was a big deal….the bears were familiar with my scent and my dad’s from the previous three weeks of baiting (I had three sweaty shirts hanging around my site from previous baiting/working visits) BUT they weren’t familiar with my step-dads…..maybe this is why big blackie was so cautious and seemed very apprehensive??
- I put too much weight on having other opportunities….these are wild animals and consequently you never know what they will do…..
- What was the bear looking at when he stared at me? Could he see my outline or sillouette against the setting sun…..did I move and he noticed that…..was it the preserve burn going in the tree next to me…..could he smell something?
- I had used Dr. Nordberg’s idea of a positioning bait and he hadn’t even been to that yet….so thought there would be my perfect shot.
After breakfast I met back up with my dad and we drove to Cloquet to L&M supply to see if they had some longer burning sterno…no luck, only the two hour cans. We then went back to his property and got ready to do the two man approach again. He had gotten some chocolate and other sweets from a friend so as he prepared them I changed into my hunting clothes and we proceeded to the site.
Just as the day before except this time with my dad, as he put the chocolate and other sweets into and around the crib I prepared another burn by the crib, this time a honey burn, and then climbed silently into my stand. It was around 1:00 that I got settled.
At approximately 7:00 pm I leaned over to my right very slowly to look through a hole that I had cut in the burlap (thanks Nate) and see if I could see anything down by big blackie’s game trail. There above the tall grass and shrubs I could see a black ear. HE CAME BACK. I am not sure what he was doing…if he was lying there just waiting, watching, smelling….or, was he eating something he had left from the night before? I very slowly leaned back upright and waited. I could not see him in my normal position. About 5-10 minutes later a bear came into the clearing and slowly walked up to the bait crib. The first thing I noticed was he had some brown around his mouth and muzzle. I didn’t remember big blackie having any brown on him, but maybe I just missed it in the excitement of the night before.
He sniffed around for a little while and then jumped up on the logs of my crib, facing South and completely broadside to me….I could measure him perfectly against my 6 foot logs and he looked to be about 2/3 of the length, maybe a little more. He was probably 4-4.5 feet in length. Not a huge bear but a beautiful bear. Was this the bear I saw the night before….he didn’t seem as nervous, he seems to be smaller (although I never got to see big blackie against my logs), and I don’t remember any brown? As he stood on the crib, looking and sniffing, he put his head down into a space in the logs to get some food. While he was out of sight I slowly raised my gun and sighted him in. Then the questions started coming…..it was still early, maybe more bears will come….should I wait for a bigger bear….the farther into the season the tougher it is to get bears in during shooting hours…..if this wasn’t big blackie maybe he’ll be here soon…..did I scare him last night and he won’t be back…..I passed on a decent shot last night, and decided then that I wasn’t going to do it again, especially my first bear hunt…..I shot…..he jumped 6-8 feet in the air and landed about 8-10 feet from the bait crib…..DEAD…..It was a heart/double lung shot just as I had hoped.
My dad and I got him out of the woods and he gutted him while I read the step-by-step instructions in Dr. Nordberg’s book. We packed his chest cavity with ice and the next morning brought him in to the butcher. He was a male and weighed 110 pounds, so we figured he was probably around 150 pounds or so, alive. He measured 63 inches from back leg to claw. The butcher is making him into breakfast sausages, brats, and spicy Italian sausages. His fur was a very thick dark black with brown around his mouth and muzzle and is at the taxidermist being made into a nice small rug.
I shot him from a distance of between 30-35 yards with a Winchester Model 70 bolt action .300 WSM. I used a Fusion bullet and have a Leupold 3.5 – 10X40 scope.
The time that I have spent over the past couple of months with my dad, planning for this hunt, baiting, talking about the possibilities, and laughing and joking….priceless, the time spent with Nate, learning from his experience, driving to and from Duluth talking about our lives, sharing camaraderie…..priceless. And thanks again, to everyone who contributes their experiences to BIGGAMEHUNTING.NET and spends the time to type in their thoughts and words of wisdom to Newbies like me….I will think about all of this every time I enjoy Browny on my wall……I think I’m hooked.
I don’t regret taking the shot but a couple of questions remain:
- Was this Browny the bear I saw the night before?
- Was the ear that I saw in the grass Big Blackie or Browny?
- Was Big Blackie waiting to see if the coast was clear with Browny before he came into the site?
- I went to the site on Sunday morning and the food was all eaten that we had put out, so another bear(s) had come after we brought Browny out…..how many and how big?
As someone said in one of the forums "Every bear is a nice bear!" I would add "Every FIRST bear is a nice bear!".