Bears, Bugs and Doctors
We were excited to be landing at the Thunder Bay, Ontario airport, as it would be my third time making the journey north to Ontario in pursuit of spring black bear. Getting to Thunder Bay from south Texas takes almost an entire day, and it was midnight by the time we landed. With a five-hour drive ahead to our final destination, we decided to overnight in Thunder Bay and depart the next morning.
Joining me on the hunt was my daughter Matti, and we were headed for what was our second bear hunt together. We arrived at Hillsport Hillton. This would be base camp for the next five-day bear hunt, and it’s been owned and operated by Gary and Maggie Dorion for 30 years. This is one of the best-run black bear hunting operations in Ontario, with a reputation for a long history of producing high hunter-success and some better-than-average-sized bears.
The drive to our hunting destination was about as scenic as you can imagine. We headed eastbound following the Lake Superior shoreline for hours. It’s amazing when you see just how big this body of water is. Other than the occasional settlements about every 60 miles or so, the countryside was untouched by man and the forest seemed to go on forever. Highway signs warning motorists of moose crossings were common and as a hunter, I spent lots of time trying to get a glance at one. Although we didn’t see any moose from the highway, we did see several black bears, and that is what we were there for.
I’ve hunted bears all over Canada, but until several years ago had never found the right place to hunt them in Ontario. Other provinces have done well for me, but until I found Algoma Country, I didn’t know that Ontario had a good enough place for me to call my “go-to spot in Ontario.”
The weather was beautiful with sunny skies and high temps in the 80s and lows in the lower 40s. One thing I discovered years ago was that bears love to move more in warm sunny weather. It seems to be the best time for me to see action, and it’s also the time when the bugs are bad. I’ve learned that when bugs are out, so are the bears, and it looked like the bugs were out in force. We were excited as we headed to the stand the first afternoon. We sat in a double ladder stand overlooking the bait 16 yards away with the wind directly in our faces. With conditions perfect, we were grateful we’d brought and lit the Thermacels, and they were working to fight off the mosquitos. Bears came and went to the stand and it was entertaining watching them play around. This was the first time Matti has actually ever had the chance to watch bear activity, even though she did take a bear last year.
As darkness approached we filmed three different bears, but the bugs were in full force and we were getting bit badly by black flies, which seemed immune to the Thermacel. For some reason, the black flies really went to work on me and I started to get large red welts from their bites.
Day two resulted in success for Matti as she arrowed a bear at 11 yards. It was about a half-hour before dark and by the time we’d finished dragging the bear to the trail and doing the video recovery, the black flies had continued their feast on me. Matti just didn’t get bit like I did. That night my entire face started to swell from the insect bites. Taking a couple of Benadryl before I went to bed would hopefully cause the itching to stop and the swelling to subside.
It didn’t. The next morning it looked like I had served as a punching bag for Mike Tyson. I felt better than I looked, and as I looked at myself in the mirror I questioned what to do. I didn’t want to startle Matti, but I knew I needed to be driven to the hospital. When I woke her up she handled it better than I thought and rushed me the one-hour drive to the local hospital where they immediately admitted me, put three IVs in, hooked me up to all kinds of machines, and went to work checking my vitals.
Fortunately, my vitals remained good all day long as they pumped fluids in me. I wanted to get out of there and get back in the stand and go bear hunting. That’s what I came for. However, the doctors and Matti both strongly suggested that it may be best to not expose myself to any more bites for a while. They discharged me from the hospital and issued me an Epipen, along with a robust selection of must-take medicine.
I instructed Matti to head to the local sporting goods store and purchase the best head net and bug repellent money could buy. This time, I told her, to get the stuff the Canadians use and not something they sell for insects in Texas. She was beyond mad as she didn’t want me to even go to the bear woods again after this experience. She knows how stubborn I am. I came to Canada to bear hunt, not be in the hospital. I told her that this time would be different and with the new head nets and bug dope, we would be OK.
Matti drove me back to Hillsport Hillton. We quickly changed into our hunting clothes and headed back to the woods. This time, we were well-armed against the onslaught of black flies. We sprayed down and put on our head nets, and it worked! Literally, as we sat in the stand that evening, not a single black fly bit me, which was amazing all things considered.
We had four nice bears come in and out that afternoon, but I chose to not shoot as I had come to do more bear hunting than bear killing. Each of these four bears would have been a shooter for the average black bear hunter. But with only a single bear tag to punch annually in Ontario, unless it was huge boar, I would rather watch and learn more about these amazing creatures.
The next two nights we were covered up with bears, and it’s no wonder why so many Americans call Hillsport Hillton in Algoma Country their go-to place for black bears. With so many bears hitting the bait, there was never a dull moment as so many people find when bait hunting for black bears. But as time ran out on our last evening, a giant bear failed to show up and I went home without punching my Ontario bear tag.
Looking back on this trip I have lots to be thankful for. I’m especially grateful for the time I got to spend with Matti watching her grow in her knowledge and respect for black bears. I’m also grateful to have found an outfitter in Ontario that offers a very modestly priced bear hunt with very good odds. And I’m most grateful to the doctors and staff at the hospital in Manitouwage, Ontario for stabilizing me and getting me back to where I could get back out on the stand and hunt.
All in all, this was another awesome trip. I’m already scheduling a return to Algoma Country. If you’d like to come along on a fantastic very affordable black bear hunt, you can contact Gary Dorion at Hillsport Hillton Hunting and Fishing Resort.