The Bear Hunt Experience

Both a magnificent animal and a challenge to hunt, Ontario is the destination for black bear hunters.

Bear hunting is one of the most misunderstood and, I believe, most overlooked pursuits in Ontario. That is not to say that bear hunting isn't a popular pastime in Ontario. Many residents and non-residents alike take part in bear hunts every year. However, in comparison to the popularity of deer, moose, and small game, bear hunting lags behind. This is unfortunate as black bear are both a magnificent animal and a challenge to hunt, and Ontario has a bumper crop of bear. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me when I began hunting bear is how high the quality of bear meat is. It makes incredible sausages and the very best burgers. It is like dark pork.

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Here are some thoughts on different ways to hunt these amazing animals.

Stalking

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If you want to hunt black bear in a way that requires the utmost in both stealth and accurate shooting, stalking is for you. The prime time for stalking black bear is in the spring when they feed on grass at the edges of fields and openings like power lines, and early fall when bear feed on blueberries and other wild fruit in cut-overs.

You will need a good set of binoculars, to scan for black shapes. This can be a laborious process, but once you have spotted a bear, the hunt begins. It is vitally important when hunting bear that you have the wind in your face. The black bear has a nose that is able to detect the most minute trace of a human. Despite having savage claws and teeth, bears are generally very nervous about humans. The faintest whiff of a hunter normally sends them running. 

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However, if you play your cards right, pay attention to the wind, and move slowly and deliberately, a feeding bear will carry on, oblivious to the approaching danger. The most exciting and nerve-wracking hunt I ever did had required a stalk on an enormous bear in the last light of a September day. The bear was in a huge cut feeding on blueberries. I spotted it from a bush road and watched it disappear in a dip. Walking into that cut, even with a firearm in hand, was a very strange feeling.

The light was falling, and bumping into that bear in the dark was not my idea of fun. However, with about 10 minutes of light left, the bear appeared 100 yards away, grazing on blueberries. I put the scope on its shoulder, squeezed the trigger and the bear dropped. That bear weighed 400 pounds and had about 20 pounds of blueberries in its throat and stomach. Talk about eating well.      

Tree stands and ground blinds

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The most common way to hunt bear is over some form of bait, usually bread or grains with molasses sweeter, or a consistent food source like a cornfield. This type of hunt requires that you sit and wait for an animal to appear. A tree stand allows you the best vantage point to see a bear approaching. It also generally gives the hunter an opportunity to see if the bear is a sow that has cubs, in which case you don't shoot.

The downside of a tree stand is it can be cold and windy in a tree. And, occasionally, a bear will climb the tree you are in. My oldest son once had two bear cubs run up a tree he was in when a big boar came in. The two cubs popped their jaws and hissed at him, which he found a little disconcerting. He did, however, still have the presence of mind to shoot the boar with his crossbow. That allowed the cubs to go back down the tree to safety. A good ending all around.

ground-blinds

Ground blind hunting puts you on eye level with bruins, which is a bit more of an intense experience, especially if you are bow hunting. Nothing like having a bear 11 yards away as you pull back the string. Yet the ground blind affords you some cover from the elements and is much more forgiving when it comes to allowing for movement.

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Black bears don't have the best vision, but they can see even the slightest movement and generally respond negatively to it. In a ground blind, the motion of lifting a rifle or aiming a crossbow is muted. There is also a certain amount of scent reduction when you hunt in a ground blind, as it is somewhat trapped within the tent. A few commercial ground blinds also have built-in scent reduction in the fabric.

The main difference in hunting from a ground blind as compared to a tree stand is how much you can see. The bird's eye view is gone. However, on a field or cut-over, you still have a good view. In a ground blind in a more confined area, the bear will just appear in front of you, allowing very little time to get ready for the shot. This is about as intense as hunting gets.

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Conclusion

Black bears are amazing creatures and a worthy game to pursue. Ontario has a lot of bear on a variety of different terrain. If you have not tried bear hunting, you are missing a fantastic experience.

About Gord Ellis

Gord Ellis is a lifelong resident of Thunder Bay, Ontario and a full time journalist, broadcaster, professional angler and guide. He is the senior editor of Ontario Out of Doors magazine, Canada's best read fishing and hunting magazine. Gord is a regular on CBC radio's Superior Morning and writes a monthly column on Ontario for the Northern Wilds magazine, in Minnesota. He has written over a thousand feature articles and columns for publications as diverse as Sentier Chasse Peche, in Quebec, the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail. He is a long time member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada and has won better than 25 national awards for his writing and photography. In 2018, Gord was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin.

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