I am still pretty new to bear hunting, I get the basic concept, but its still pretty new and exciting to me. This past week my dads neighbor asked me if I wanted to come with him to his bear bait. I of course said “yes” and promptly headed to his nearby house via my dads side-by-side ATV. As I pulled up I noticed that Ken, the neighbor, had a trailer hooked to his quad which had in it three large pails and a fifty pound sack of oats. I was now starting to have suspicions of why a young guy like me was invited to “come see” the bear bait. Work or not I was still interested. I followed Ken down a long dirt trail, we then hopped off of our ATV’s, he loaded an old defender shotgun and I geared up with my bow just in case I saw something. We first hauled the pails in and Ken filled the drum with old grease and nasty old food. We then walked the short jaunt back to the quads to grab the sack of oats for me to carry in. Ken did offer to carry it if I got tired, but I’m too bull headed to accept help. We filled the barrel and this time remembered the key for the trail camera, only to discover that the camera had failed to take any pictures.
Ken then looked at me and said “Wanna sit for a half hour?” I jumped at that chance. We climbed up the tree stand at about 7:45 pm and sat for about fifteen minuted before we heard some crunching behind us. I slowly looked over my right shoulder and saw a nice black bear walking towards us. Ken saw it too and we gave each other a bit of a grin and looked back at the bear walking towards the bucket left right under our stand then gave each other another smile, but a bit more nervous this time. The bear walked right between the tree and the ladder for our stand and began chewing on and playing with a green bucket we had used to transport old grease for bait, after about five minuted of chewing and playing the bear decided it was his now and promptly took it with him in the wilderness.
Ken and I had a great laugh at watching the lime green bucket disappear into the woods and trust me there are few thing that make as much noise as an empty plastic container brushing against trees. We sat and waited for a bit longer when suddenly an adorable little cinnamon coloured bear appeared at the bait and simply started eating, the cinnamon bear must have been a little smarter since he made it all the way to the bait.
The little cinnamon bear didn’t do much exciting, just had a bit to eat. It was about this time that the bucket thief came back to see what else there was to play with and sure enough he found the rope hanging from our tree stand. He bopped it a few times and then began to climb the tree, I had to think fast to try and remember if bears are good climbers, as best I can recall there are a few pictures online of bears inside tree stands. I opted to let Ken know there was a situation on my side of the stand. We immediately stood up and yelled at him which spooked him back about ten meters for about five minutes then he came back and started batting around branches and logs. He did a half hearted bluff charge towards the tree so Ken decided to show me just how amazingly loud that little defender shotgun is… Once my ears quit ringing I told him how impressed I was with the noise. Sadly the bear was barely phased (haha puns are fun) by the thunderous sound.
The cinnamon bear near the bait had somewhat retreated into the woods and the black bear simply seemed to lose interest in us. The cinnamon bear resumed eating and the black bear slowly worked its way toward the bait and eventually evicted the cinnamon bear. That black bear proceeded to stuff his face at the bait for nearly an hour. It was starting to get dark so Ken and I began yelling at the bear and waving our arms etc. According to Ken, who is quite knowledgeable about bears, they usually get scared and leave once they realize you’re human. This bear.. not so much, we would yell, it would look at us, and then keep eating. We fired some buckshot in its general direction, again to try and scare it off so we could leave, it stood up, looked at us, and resumed eating. We were stuck in a tree with a shotgun and a bow and it was getting dark, yet somehow all we could do was laugh hysterically… or nervously at the situation.
I was debating shooting the bear, I had the tag, it would have been completely legal, but it was a small bear and I wasn’t fully prepped at home to deal with skinning and processing a bear. That said I do think a bear that isn’t afraid of gunfire and yelling might represent a threat to quaders and hikers in the area. We debating the pros and cons of shooting the adorable little bear, and yes the fact that bears are pretty cute came into play. Our eventual plan boiled down to me going first out of the stand while he covered me with the shotgun at which point he would lower it down to me and climb down himself.
Just as we began to execute this plan the bear decided he was full and wandered away… good! Problem solved. I climbed down, knocked an arrow into my bow just in case, and Ken climbed down and loaded his shotgun as fast as he could. Once on the ground I noticed that both the bears we had seen that day were in sight and withing about a forty yard radius, luckily they still seemed pretty disinterested in us. We walked back to the quads and headed for home. By the time it was all said and done we had made it out of the tree stand a little after ten pm, meaning our half hour stretched to the neighborhood of 2.5 hours. But hey… It was totally worth it. I was also very disappointed to find that my video camera hadn’t been recording audio, its still new to me and honestly I dont think it has that function.
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I was debating whether or not I wanted to buy a bow and start getting into bow hunting. Could I afford it? Is it worth the effort? Then I made this shot. Granted it was only at seven yards… It was still enough to make me buy that bow and convince me to take up yet another hobby. I think this year will be the year I finally go big game hunting with my bow. Previously I had stuck to target practice and smaller game, in fact I’v got a few good photos of me bow hunting gophers but I doubt I will ever post them here as they are a bit on the graphic side. (comment and I’ll email them to you if you really want to see.)
I took this photo during the 2012 season in which I got my “Last Chance Buck” on the day I snapped this photo the only deer I saw were well after legal light. At least I have this great photo from the experience, I like it mainly because it shows off my first and favorite hunting rifle, an older .243 with a Mannlicher style stock on it. (I’m not sure if I’m allowed to tell you the brand but it starts with an R and has a Mauser style action if that helps)
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|Me and My Cooey, My First Rifle|
I have been dating my Girlfriend Erin for about four years now, and as best I can tell I am one of the few people in her social circle who owns guns and hunts, in fact as odd as it may seem I got the impression most of them have never shot a gun before. Naturally my love of firearms immediately rubbed off on a few of them such as, my now good friend, Jason who now owns a few guns of his own and on a few occasions has out preformed me at the range. As well as our friend Nikki who went with Erin to get their firearms licenses. The catch to all this is that because we live in the city and all have jobs it’s hard for me to actually take most of these people out shooting.
The Sunday after the Vermillion fair however, the conditions were perfect as many of our friends had come out for the fair and were now spending a portion of the day at my mother and step father’s farm where I had spent my teenage years. I of course took this opportunity to teach anyone who wanted to learn how to shoot a gun. Everyone was willing to try so naturally I ran through the obvious rules: always point in a safe direction, finger off the trigger, action opened, etc. I taught them on my old Cooey .22 single shot but found it was a touch heavy for the ladies of the group and eventually shifted to my much lighter Savage model 29B, A beautifully built pump action .22 but sadly it does not lend itself well to beginners as the action needs to be run hard and tube magazines are not an easy thing to figure out at first. After that I showed a few of our small group how to use my semi automatic Ruger 10/22. I found however that it was kind of hard on my nerves to give beginners a semi automatic. There were no incidences throughout the training and all my pupils did very well however some were much more enthusiastic than others… perhaps as a result of the fair’s late night festivities. After a while of plinking at the trusty ole’ metal gong that so many hours of my youth were spent terrorizing with .22 shells, Jason and I decided it would be a fun idea to take some people gopher hunting. The only ones who took us up on the offer were Dell and Jason’s Girlfriend Shannon, who wanted to come along as a spectator. Everyone else decided to head on home or have a nap, in hind sight maybe I’m a boring teacher or it had something to do with the fact that the fair the evening before had a well stocked beer gardens… Either way the four of us hopped into Dell’s truck and headed toward a patch of field that I knew had a lot of gopher activity. As we pulled up we could see gophers running to their holes and perching up to stare into the distance. We were looking for gophers and we found a lot of them.
Naturally as we pulled up close, got out of the truck, and started loading guns they all started to hide. We had with us four .22s; my Savage 29B pump action, my Ruger 10/22, my trusty Cooey single shot, and Jason’s 10/22 as well as my bow. Naturally I started with my bow, Jason took his gun, Dell took the old Savage, and Shannon armed herself with her sunny disposition. Over the next two hours we had all swapped guns, though I was the only one interested in my bow. Jason and I were getting very few gophers and Dell was getting none at all, we were all having an off day I guess and I think our trading guns was very similar to when I have poor luck fishing and change my hook more often than reasonable. Jason had been out gopher shooting before so he
|Dell and His First Trophy|
was already hooked, he knew how fun it could be on a good day. My fear was that Dell would lose interest with his lack of success, nothing ruins a person’s first exposure to a sport than perceived failure. There seemed to only be a few gophers out and we were having a hard time hitting them. I could see Dells shots were close, I’m sure he gave a few haircuts, I was very impressed given that today was the first time he had shot a firearm. I still think I rushed him into gopher hunting but he was rearing to go so I felt he was ready.
Finally one stood up about 50 yards out, ran, stopped, and stood up again, Dell took his aim, steadied himself, and shot. There it was, Dell’s gopher in the distance, doing the death throws and flails that every gopher hunter has seen. All at once he had gotten his first gopher, I felt the need to get a picture of such a momentous occasion. We stuck around a bit longer with some more success then decided we best get back for some dinner. When my mom cooks nobody wants to miss dinner. The way home from the fields I opened and closed the gates from field to field. At each stop I gathered some wild flowers into a small bouquet for Erin at the house, I’m never too busy to try and score some extra points. The whole wile however I couldn’t help but wonder the finance, logistics, and potential for a gopher safari company… it’s not at all dangerous and everyone who has done it seems to enjoy it. But I suppose there aren’t enough gophers here for it to work. Maybe they already have them in Saskatchewan…
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We came to the field and found a lot of gopher holes as well as evidence that a badger had been doing some real-estate development, it is at this point I’m starting to really appreciate Kyle being there, well more accurately I appreciated the .22 magnum and Kyle’s proven marksmanship. The gopher patch was split in two by a patch of trees so, Kyle and I first walked along the southern patch and saw a bit, but nothing we could take a shot at. I then began to walk the northern patch while Kyle retired himself to keep an eye on his south patch from the comfort of his trucks seat with the radio on. I learned early in my walk that twenty meters is pretty close for a guy like me to be able to get to a skittish gopher. I learned quickly that soft, slow steps and smooth slow movement would help get me closer. Finally! I see a gopher in range… I take aim… Thwunk! And a miss… I walk slowly to my arrow, I was close, and that makes me feel a bit better. I stand quietly watching and sure enough a second appears. I shoot again and miss again, I am thinking more practice is in order. I walk sadly over to my arrow in the dirt only to find I broke my game head. I stick it in the dirt fletching up… no sense carrying it around if it’s broken.
I should mention, at this point in life I was too broke to afford at quiver. A few more minutes pass and I see another gopher, this one I’m not missing, it’s standing looking around, probably wondering what the noise is. I take aim I take a deep breath… I squeeze my release… thwunk and whack… I got him. My feeling of accomplishment rapidly shrinks when I see it’s still barely alive, and crawling down a hole with my arrow. I watch in amazement and disbelief as I witness a 30 inch arrow sink and disappear, like a battleship going down. I walk up slowly only to realize that with its
|The Gopher’s Trap For Me|
dying breath this gopher set a trap for me. It pulled my arrow down a badger hole! I look inside from a distance, about a foot down the tunnel makes a hard turn that I can’t see past. I can, however, see the last few inches of my arrow sitting there. That red and white fletching taunting and tempting me. I run back and grab my broken arrow out of the dirt and use it to try and fish the arrow out of the hole… its stuck and I can feel it vibrating. I can’t help but wonder if my prey is wounded or being eaten. I don’t like the thought of either. With a firm thrust I stick my broken arrow into the ground to mark the hole… I will get this arrow back. I run back to the truck where Kyle is sitting and enjoying the radio. I, with a bit of laughter, explain the situation.
Luckily for me he at least has a single leather glove in his truck for me to borrow, I would however prefer something along the lines of a pair of falconing gloves and some large tongs. I don’t know much about badgers other than they dig big holes, eat gophers, have sharp teeth and claws, and are not generally known for being friendly. Kyle and I walk back to my broken arrow. Me with my bow him with that 22 magnum, he jabs the barrel down the hole and I take a few deep breaths and reach in, I grab the arrow and it shakes violently, as I pull it out I see the gopher is alive barely he slides and falls off the arrow to his death, I don’t feel too good about that. A quick death is always the goal when hunting anything and gophers are no exception.
I did however get my first animal with my bow, it was just a little more difficult than I had hoped. After this I went back to the farm to practice on my target more and on Sunday I went out with my bow and some friends and of five of the gophers I shot my bow at, I killed four quickly and humanely, and missed one by mere inches. I learned with a bow that practice is key and so is slow and quiet movement which, I’m sure, will help me practice for deer season.
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