Up Close and Personal Bear Hunting

The challenge of harvesting a bear up close and personal is very rewarding.

Hunting for black bear in Ontario is one of the most exciting, and nerve-wracking, pursuits you can imagine. Although bears are generally quite shy of humans and will turn tail at the slightest whiff of us, they are also built as a predator. The teeth and claws of a bear are formidable, so anyone who is in close proximity to a bear will feel a little extra rush of adrenaline. Our ancient wiring tells us to be careful around them. Yet the challenge of harvesting a bear up close and personal is very rewarding.

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My favourite way to hunt bear is with a ground blind and crossbow. Using a crossbow (or bow and arrow, if you prefer) means the animal will have to be reasonably close to harvest. This past fall, I had one of the most exciting and intense experiences doing this very type of hunt.

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I'd set my ground blind in the bush between two fields. One field was grass, the other was corn. I'd set up a camera earlier in the season on a well-worn trail between these two feeding areas. Several good bears had shown up on the camera, including one large boar with a white triangle of fur on its chest. This was my "target" bear, although I am happy with any decent-sized bear. Bear meat is simply delicious, and when a chance to harvest one of these remarkable creatures comes along, it is usually taken.

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The first evening in the blind, the large bear appeared relatively early on. It came out of the cornfield, padded down the trail in my direction, then stopped about 60 yards out. When hunting with a crossbow, a safe shot for me means within 40 yards, and preferably closer. Hunting with a shotgun or rifle is another story. But bear have a relatively small "firebox," so good placement of a bolt (or arrow) is critical. Anyway, the bear sat back, nose in the air, and took a good sniff. The bear was smelling something it didn't like (me) and it immediately bolted into the woods. Was that my chance? I sat until dark, then quietly snuck out of the blind and back to my truck, a wee bit dejected.

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The next evening, I was back for the evening hunt. It was mild, sunny, and calm. In the dark confines of the ground blind, it was warm and cozy. Every so often, my head would bob down, and I'd be startled awake. As evening approached, I nodded again, caught myself, then looked out the window and saw a lot of black. The bear was 20 yards from me, standing broadside. Slowly and quietly, the crossbow went up and the scope found that key spot just behind the shoulder. The trigger was squeezed, the bolt shot out, and the broadhead found its mark. The bear ran off, and seconds later, I heard it go down.

After an excruciating half-hour wait (to ensure the animal had passed), it was time to go look. I found the bloody bolt, which had passed cleanly through. Looking into the woods, the bear was visible on the ground, about 50 yards back in the woods. It was a gorgeous creature, probably 350 pounds or so, and I felt humbled in its presence. There would be no waste from this bear. It was a magnificent specimen. It would also require some help to move, and I was thankful my oldest son Devin was available to give the old man a hand. The hard work of dragging, loading, and butchering the animal was ahead.

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Bears are remarkable creatures, and truly one of the most challenging animals a hunter in Ontario will ever face. Move that hunt to an up-close-and-personal scenario, and you will have a memory to last a lifetime.

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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