This past bear season, was likely my last hunting season for a good long while. As many of you know, Erin and I are engaged and plan on taking a trip after our wedding. This means that I will be busy, then gone, during the fall deer season and may not be back in time for the following spring bear season, there’s even a chance that I will still be gone, or just be busy readjusting, when the next fall season shows up. That means it could be up to two years before I get another chance to go hunting. But I guess that’s the way life goes when you have wanderlust.
I came into this bear season organized and ambitious. Weeks before the season opened I began cleaning out the expired food in my cupboard, fridge, and freezer, I also got several friends to do the same. I then went out to my moms farm and set up my bait. It was a basic blue metal barrel wired to a tree with some holes cut in it just big enough for a bear paw to fit in. I filled it up with old popcorn, pasta, and some ground beef that had overstayed its welcome in the freezer. I was sure to take all the wrappers off of all the food. I then built a basic ground blind about 20 yards away by nailing some old grainery wood to some trees.
My goal was simple, I wanted to shoot a bear with my recurve bow. I was well practiced out to 25 yards and felt more than confident in my abilities at 20. That said, whenever I went out to the bait I would bring a rifle with me and lean it up beside me, in case things did exactly work out for me. Needless to say my mother and my fiancee had some concerns… I guess some people have no sense of adventure these days.
The first few weeks were very uneventful, for the most part winter was still strong so bears were still in hibernation. As the weather warmed up I began to take it more seriously. Almost every weekend I would drive out to my mothers house to sit at the bear bait, I would also practice with my bow everyday I was there. I wanted to be sure I could make full use of any opportunity luck and mother nature gave me. I also made a point of being more prepared to process and save the meat from any bear I was able to shoot. To my everlasting shame; I was ill prepared the first time I shot a bear and was only able to save and eat a very small portion of it. I do take comfort in knowing it taught me a valuable lesson in being prepared, but that wastefulness still bothers me, and likely always will.
Finally the winter broke and the snow melted. There were reports of bear sightings everywhere and there was still just over a month left in the season. That gave me six weekends to get my bear, the race was on. The first of the weekends I mostly saw mosquitoes, lots and lots of them, and a mule deer that ran right passed me and the bait station as though it was being chased.
The following week, a friend of mine from work asked if I wanted all the old expired food out of his freezer, I assumed he knew I wanted bear bait… I gladly accepted the offer and said I would be by in a few days, assuming he would leave a small bag of food in the freezer for a day or two. I was mistaken, he had left a big garbage bag on the floor of his attached garage. His, then 28 weeks pregnant, wife came home to a house that smelt like old thawing meat, he got an angry text and I went straight to his house after work and picked it up. We were all aware of how close he and I had come to facing the wrath of an angry pregnant woman, far more dangerous than any bear if you ask me. The meat then sat in my detached garage for two weeks making a rather impressive stench, I imagine every dog in the neighborhood was on hi-alert that week. The following weekend I wasn’t able to go out, being an adult is terrible, far too much responsibility.
Finally a weekend arrived and I was out at the farm. I tossed the, now slightly rotten, food from my friend into the bait barrel. Its strange how often it comes in handy that I have a strong stomach for smells. The barrel now filled and emitting scent, I had a seat in the blind and waited, the first day nothing came. The second day, a coyote ran up to the bait and then changed his mind at the last second, I think he maybe spotted me shifting in my seat as he was running up. This bait was beginning to look hopeless, did I set it up wrong? was I in the wrong area?
The following weekend Erin came out with me to visit my mom and sister and do some bike riding as both my mom and sister had recently bought new bikes. Erin, not being a hunter, made it very clear that she didn’t want to sit in a mosquito infested swamp and wait for me to shoot a bear (my words not her’s)….. women right? Given how slow the season had been going so far, I felt like a weekend doing something else might be just what I needed. We arrived at the farm Saturday morning and we went to top up the bait quick, I had a little bread bag filled with some old bread, leftovers from a restaurant we went to, and some other odds and ends. We arrived at the bait to find that something had tore the bottom off of the barrel and pretty well licked it clean, there was nothing left in or around it. I folded the bottom of the barrel closed and threw my pint of food in. I knew this was trouble, if a bait goes empty bears will stop coming to it.
I put the half a bread bag worth of food into the barrel knowing it wouldn’t last til the following weekend.
I was upset to find that the trail camera hadn’t taken a single photo throughout the entire incident. So I have no proof of what came there or when, for all I know it could have been Sasquatch. The rest of the weekend was spend mountain biking along the old cow trails through the woods. It was exciting and probably even more dangerous than bear hunting, Erin and I had a blast.
The second last weekend came, and I headed out of the city as fast as I could, on Friday, and stopped at a farm store on the way out. I picked up two bags of oats mixed with molasses, I figured that would be nearly irresistible to a bear… I was tempted to eat some myself on the drive. I filled the bait, it had been emptied again, but there was so little food in it that it could have been birds or coyotes scavenging. I sat for two days and didn’t see anything. The next weekend I went out again, it was the final weekend and I spend most of both Saturday and Sunday sitting in that blind waiting. Again, nothing showed up, and all too soon bear season was over and I had little to show for it.
No bear this season, to me, doesn’t mean a failed season. I learned a few things and came up with a few good ideas to try again next time. In hind sight, when I saw that the bait was empty I should have ran to the farm store that day and gotten something to put in. I also should have set the trail camera up better: fresh batteries and lower to the ground for better detection. I learned that rancid meat makes way better bait than fresh meat, of course that one was kind of obvious.. Like any addicted hunter, I’ll keep trying until I succeed… then I’ll try and do it again.
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