In the spring of 1978, I shot my first black bear in the wilderness area of the Baskatong Reservation in Quebec, Canada, with a bow and arrow.
Beginner’s luck, because it was actually the first time I had ever hunted for them. And it was truly an exciting and hair-raising experience I’ll never forget.
I was dropped off by my outfitter before daylight that morning, deep in the bush at the head of a small, winding trail he’d marked with orange tape that led to a baited treestand site, about 1 1⁄2 miles in. I admit, this walk in the dark in bear country was a bit nerve-racking, and I think I spent as much time shining the flashlight behind me as I did in front of me. I sat in the stand until about 11 a.m. without seeing any activity, climbed down, and headed back to meet the outfitter on the dirt road where he had dropped me off.
For a related story on bear hunting and reporting in New York atate, click here.
About a third of the way back to the meeting point, I came around one of the many bends in the trail, and there, no more that 15 yards from me, was a bear, walking in my direction. Both of us stopped, and I nervously fumbled getting an arrow out my bow quiver, dropped it, picked it up and nocked it on the string. As I raised the bow, the bear raised up on its hind legs with his head held high, which I assumed was to try and get my scent. I remember drawing back my sightless Bear Alaskan compound bow, picking a spot in the center of his chest and letting it fly.
Back then, I shot without sights (bare bow), and fortunately, the arrow passed through the bear’s heart. But he didn’t go right down. Instead, he ran straight toward and past me, close enough to touch, before I could do anything, and fell dead no more that 10 yards behind me. Yes, I was shaking, but also laughing at the same time.
Since that first hunt, I’ve taken a number of bears, all with a firearm, and all in Ontario. They’ve all been with the same guide service, Lise and Hermann Stroeher of the Ontario Bear Outfitters, located about 350 miles north of Buffalo in the town of Loring.
Now good friends, I first met them in 1989 when the New York State Outdoor Writers Association held a joint safari-type hunt with the Ontario Outdoor Writers Association. Fellow outdoor writer Dick Nelson of Palenville and I were paired to bear hunt with Hermann, who had donated his services.
Although neither Dick nor I scored that year, due to bad weather and because poachers had tresspassed on his sites and poached the bears, both of us enjoyed the experience, and new friendships we made.
What I find amazing over the years is Hermann’s continuous dedication to getting all his clients a bear, and even though an avid hunter himself, he’s never shot a bear in his 40-plus years of guiding. At my last visit/hunt several years ago, he was maintaining 35 to 40 active sites, all of which require daily checking and attention that begins in the spring and ends in late October.
As Lise says, “I see him at breakfast, lunch and dinner, sometimes.”
These sites are spread out over about 800 square kilometers, and are located deep in the bush. Over the years, I have spent many hours sitting in Hermann’s hunting stands, and have never, not seen a bear.
How successful are his hunts? His harvest statistics ratio is near 100 percent. Several years ago, when I asked him about his success, he said, “Although they [hunters] leave camp and enter the bush with their guns sighted dead-on, there are those who get caught up in the sight of a bear. Some shoot too soon, forget to aim or even forget to shoot, but they all see bears.”
I was also there when one hunter returned to camp after sitting in his stand and said he hadn’t seen anything. The next morning, when I accompanied Hermann to the site that this hunter sat in the night before, Hermann pointed out a bullet-size hole in the bait barrel and said, “This is a new barrel, and that hole wasn’t there before. Most hunters will not admit missing.”
Now, one of the highlights for me on these trips is seeing where Hermann will put me on stand to hunt. Probably the most remote required about an hour’s ride and two vehicles to reach. It began with a 15- to 20-mile ride on a paved road with perhaps two or three houses on it, then we turned onto a dirt road with no houses and drove another 10 miles into the bush, unloaded his ATV, which I then drove about three miles on a small, overgrown trail, parked and walked several hundred yards to my stand. I was definitely alone, until dark when Hermann returned to pick me up. I passed on two bears that evening, but on the second night, one I liked came in, and I took him.
One of my most interesting hunts took place fairly close to camp. I hadn’t been in the stand for more than 10 minutes when I heard rustling in the leaves in the heavy brush behind me. Normally, the bears do not come in until almost dark, so I really didn’t think it was one.
Usually, despite the heavy cover, you never hear them coming in. Most of the time, I just look or wake up and there they are. And that’s why I left my Remington 1100 slug gun standing in the corner of the blind as I waited with my camera to see what other type of animal was coming in. I actually expected to see deer or perhaps a moose.
But it was a bear, and the reason it was making so much noise was because it was limping badly. And each time he put pressure on the leg, he would actually groan. When he walked right beneath me, I noticed he had an unusually big head compared to his small body. I later found out it was due to his injury. It was obvious he was really hurting, and I decided to end his suffering.
That evening, we found out that he had a broken front leg. Several months later, Hermann informed me that the Ontario biologists who inspected the bear said that he was 3 years old and that he had probably broken the leg when he was a yearling. They also said that from their inspection, his loss of mobility severely hindered his ability to get food, which made him a dangerous threat to camps/homes in the area.
On my 2003 visit to Ontario, Bill Parry of Saratoga Springs joined me in hopes of getting his first bear, but he was going to do it with a crossbow, which is legal to hunt with in Canada. When we got there, Hermann had set up a stand where Bill’s shot would be no more than 15 to 20 yards. It didn’t take him long, because on the third evening, a bear to his liking came in, and at 20 yards, he made a perfect pass-through shot and we found the bear about 40 yards from the point of impact. The taxidermy head of this bear now holds a permanent place of honor on the wall at the Lake Lonely Boat Livery, of which Parry is the owner. And yes, I, too, connected with a nice bear with my Remington 30-06.
On this year’s trip, for which I will be leaving shortly, I’ll be using the new .308-caliber Remington R-25 modular repeating rifle which was designed for big-game hunters. I’ll describe this rifle in more detail in a future article after I have competed the range-testing and this hunt. If you want to see what this gun looks like, click here.
I’ll also be taking another gun along on this trip, my old J.C. Higgins .410 pump gun. One thing I’ve learned on all my trips to this particular area of Ontario, the partridge hunting is second to none. How good? In all honesty, every time I’ve gone partridge hunting there, I’ve taken my daily limit of five. I can’t say I’ve ever done this, even once, in New York state or any state in the last 20 to 25 years.
My hunting partner on this hunt, as in the past hunts there, will be Lise, who’s quite a hunter herself. This area has a hundred roads and trails, and she knows all of them. They all have generous populations of partridges, and quite often, you don’t even have to leave the trails to get a good shot. I’m sure there’ll be a few partridge dinners during my hunting visit.
This year, I’ll be in search of my sixth Hermann-guided black bear, and I’m sure it will be as memorable as all of the others. Unfortunately for me, this will be my last bear hunting trip with Hermann, because he told me this will be his last season for bear outfitting and guiding.
I know all of those who had the privilege of hunting with Hermann and Lise will truly miss him. But I’m sure I’ll find my way back to Loring to at least chase those partridges around, and I’m happy and proud to share this last hunt with him.