Driving more than 550 miles on Labor Day is usually not a pleasant thing to do, but for Steve Brzozowski of Mechanicville and me, it was quite enjoyable because we were headed to Ontario for opening day of black bear season.
It was hopefully going to be my seventh Canadian black bear and Steve’s first. Our destination was Ontario Bear Outfitters to see my old friends Lise and Hermann Stroeher and their new assistant, Carson Hainer, the owner of Little River Lodge where we would be staying in one of his waterfront cabins. Carson and Hermann would share the guiding.
Taking firearms (long guns only) into Canada requires registering them, but it’s really a very simple, quick process because we downloaded and completed the form required prior to our visit. The directions are easy to follow and that form, along with ID (passport or driver’s license), is all that’s really needed. I believe three guns can be registered on the form. The cost is $25. When traveling to Canada, I found out a credit/debit card works best because of the constant changes is the currency rates.
It was about 3 p.m. when we arrived at the Stroehers’ beautiful waterfront home located on the Pickerel River system. While we both filled out our paperwork, Hermann, Lise and I did a bit of reminiscing and then headed to town to get my license and to meet our hosts, Carson and his wife, Ellen.
The Little River Lodge was even more scenic than the website photos with its perfect Canadian bush setting overlooking Dobbs Lake, just one of many little lakes that make up the Little Pickerel River system. After introductions, and a briefing on the next day’s hunting agenda, we unpacked and grabbed our rods and reels and headed for the shoreline to test a few wacky worms. And the fish were cooperating as we caught and released a number of smallmouths and even a few northern pike. Then we went back to the cabin to get our gear ready for the next afternoon’s hunt. The usual agenda for these hunts is being in a stand by 3:30 p.m. or so, and sitting it out until one half-hour after sundown.
I planned on sleeping in, but with a lake full of fish just about 20 yards from our cabin, I was wetting a line before 6 a.m., and they were still biting. Later that morning, Carson set up a boat and motor for us to use the rest of the week. At the rifle range, Steve and I found out neither his Marlin 30.06 nor my Browning BPS 20-gauge would be to blame for misses.
About 3:30 p.m. I climbed into my tree stand. The homemade stand was deep in the bush, about 10 feet high and just over 40 yards from the bait. Baiting is how they hunt bear in Ontario, due to the dense woods. Sneaking and peeking a bear would be almost impossible.
At 6 p.m., I watched a coyote circle me but never come in. Just at dark, the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen appeared and rummaged around the barrel. No bear that evening for Steve or me.
A lazy morning for us. We sampled breakfast at Roxie’s Diner in Port Loring, a 30-mile drive, and it was well worth it. Back at the lodge, we did a little successful shore fishing and by 3, we were headed for our tree stands in the bush. My ride was on the back of Carson’s ATV, and on our way in, he stopped to show me a moose track. When we looked in the direction the tracks were going, there, at about 30 yards, stood a young nice-racked bull.
At the site, the bait barrel was tipped, obviously after dark the day before. Quickly, I re-baited it and climbed into my stand. Once again, I set up the video and sat back to wait. It was about 7 p.m. when I saw the black movement and knew it was a bear. Quickly, I turned on the camera which was sighted in on the barrel and then did the same with the 20-gauge.
When he came in, I kept my finger on the safety while I sized him up. Several times, I clicked the safety off and on, but finally decided to pass. I estimated him to be about 120 pounds. I got a good 30 minutes of video of him feeding. At one point, he was less than 10 yards from me, finishing his dinner. Then he slowly walked away. I don’t know how many times that night I second-guessed myself about passing on the bear. I’d done it before and had never gotten a second chance. Steve hadn’t seen anything that evening.
I think the delicious homemade dinner Ellen had prepared for us the night before caused us to oversleep a bit, but not too late to miss the fishing trip to Perch Lake Carson had planned for us. He did the guiding, and we did the fishing, or should I say, catching. Carson’s boat was small, but all we had to bring was our tackle. In our two hours on the water, we caught and released a total of at least 100 largemouths, several of which were in the three-pound class. They were all caught on Stik-O-Worms in all sizes and colors.
When I returned to my stand that evening, the wind was blowing steadily, and when I got there the barrel was overturned. I baited it again and climbed into the stand wondering what I would do if the same bear returned: shoot or not shoot. I did not have to make that decision because I didn’t see a bear, but I got a good look at an eight-pointer that walked around my stand, eating acorns. Steve didn’t see any bears, either.
Hermann and Carson decided that it was time for us to change areas. The new stands were about 40 miles from Little River Lodge, but still within Hermann’s hunting lease.
I was the first in, and Hermann showed me the way. He was surprised to see the barrel tipped over because he had just baited it that morning. Fortunately, we had brought more bait in with us. It was definitely an active sight. I quickly climbed into the stand which was about 10 feet high off the ground. The barrel was about 40-45 yards away, and I had a clear shooting lane to the bait, but on that afternoon, no bear was going to eat any of it.
As I usually do, and know I shouldn’t when on stand, I did a little writing while waiting. I’m careful to keep my hands and arms behind the blind’s camouflage and I look up
every few minutes, but Hermann still scolds me. It was on one of those looks, at about 5 p.m., that I saw movement on my right and the black outline of a bear. It didn’t take long for me to decide this was a keeper. Shouldering the Browning, I pointed it where I expected the bear to appear. He was moving parallel to me at about 35 yards when I placed the crosshairs on him. When he stopped, I moved the crosshairs right behind his left shoulder, then decided to take a shoulder shot instead, and gently squeezed the trigger. Years ago, an elderly hunter told me that a good shoulder hit will always break the frame and quickly end the hunt.
Immediately upon impact of the Remington AccuTip 260-grain slug, the bear jumped up, biting where the slug had entered and then disappeared into the bush. Then came the wait that I hate. A well-hit bear will always moan just before it expires, and after what seemed like 10 minutes — but was really only about 10 seconds — I heard it.
With confidence, I packed up my gear, unloaded my gun and climbed down out of the stand. Quickly, I reloaded and walked to where he stood when I shot, there was no blood. I could feel the anxiety building, but it did not last long. Two steps in the direction he had gone, and I saw him lying motionless on the ground about five yards from the impact point.
My instruction if I got a bear early was to walk out to the main road and tie a white plastic bag to one of the spruce trees and go back in and wait. Hermann and Carson would be riding out about 6:30, and if they saw the bag, they would come in. They arrived at 6:40, congratulated me and began the field-dressing. Steve still hadn’t seen a bear.
It wasn’t until the next morning at Hermann’s, when he was skinning the bear, that we all learned the power of the 20-gauge, 2 3⁄4-inch Remington Premier AccuTip 260-grain Bonded Sabot Slug. I knew I’d shoulder shot the bear and expected the left front shoulder to be shattered, but we found the sabot had also taken out the right front shoulder and left a large hole where it exited. If you shoot a slug gun, I strongly suggest feeding it with these Remingtons. Hermann estimated the bear was 31⁄2-41⁄2 years old and weighed 190-200 pounds.
With two more days to hunt, Steve was still positive, but never got an opportunity, but like a true sportsman, he said, “That’s hunting,” and he had a great time. I have a feeling he’ll go back to Ontario, and I might even join him again, myself.
To contact Hermann, go to www.ontariobearoutfitters.com or www.littleriverlodge.ca.