Spring Black Bear Hunt May 2016
By: Alexandra John – Northwest Territories, Canada
My husband Chris and I have been looking forward to our spring black bear hunt for a year. Last year I ended up hunting my spring bear on June 30th and while a fantastic experience, there was more heat and bugs than we cared for – it made it difficult to properly skin the animal in the woods, and more of a challenge when dealing with the meat and hide at 30C. We prepared for the spring black bear hunt this year and knew it was going to be an even better experience from last year.
Black bears harvested in the spring are our favourite. They wake up in the Northwest Territories in early May, and just start coming out and gorging on the few food sources available. The berries aren’t out yet – so it’s mainly grasses and tree buds. They gorge themselves, breaking the ache of the winter starvation and getting their digestive tracts moving again. Due to this there are many benefits for us – the hide is the thickest and best quality – made to survive an Subarctic winter at -45C, the fat is the lowest of the year (they spend the next 6 months building those fat reserves up), and the meat is pure, lean, and easy to process. Not to mention it tastes great. Properly hunted spring bear meat for us tastes like – bear. Black bear meat is a mixture between beef and pork with zero fat. It’s not gamey at all, and doesn’t have a “dry” texture/taste to it the way caribou tastes.
May 2016 has been stunning this year in the Northwest Territories – low winds, great blue skies, and warm sunlight with cool breezes. We went hunting on a Monday morning for this bear – getting up at 4am and heading out to get them as they have their quiet morning feeding time.
Sako 85 Finnlight .308
We first spotted the bear at 300 yards and it was busy feeding on what we later found out was heavily damaged young trees and tree buds. This black bear had literally ripped trees up to a few inches thick in half, and had a bunch of buds within reach and was having a vegetarian feast. At first sight we knew we had our bear. We sprung to action within seconds.
I worked my way up to within 100 yards. Crouched down my rifle in hand, and Chris was off to the side using a predator call to distract the bear. Since I was wearing full Kryptek camo – this bear had trouble seeing me for sure. Black bears aren’t known for their sight, and we had a nice light breeze keeping my scent away from the bear too. I shouldered the rifle I’d been using for a few years now – a Sako 85 Finnlight in .308. It’s a good all-around setup for me as it’s solid and accurate, and can be carried around in the woods from 30C to -40C.
The large bear had given me a broadside – I let a round go and the bear shuddered and immediately bolted into the dense brush about 40ft into the aspen woods that the bear was eating buds from. This brush was thick and impassable in parts.
Should we have fetched the dogs?
I stood with Chris in the area where the bear was shot and we listened. At least twice we heard something, we were both trying play back what just happened and figure out our next steps. For instance, we had our cattle dog waiting in the vehicle, is this the type of stalk where we need to bring her along? Her nose and sixth sense could be an asset like they were last year.
As things settled down, we felt like we could do a normal stalk just the two of us, so we started to head further into the woods, making our way through the thick brush. We walked slowly moving 20ft covering each other and then stopped and listened. Everything was quiet except for the gentle breeze that was blowing through the canopy above. After a few minutes of slow stalking, I spotted the blood trail, a bright blood trail that led us slowly into the woods. We took our time, and the next 20 minutes felt like an hour.
Am I safe? Is it dead?
Suddenly we spotted the bear – a dark figure through the trees about 40ft away. This is always a tense part of bear hunting in the NWT. Finding a bear that outweighs you in the middle of the woods always begs the immediate question or two. Are you safe and is the animal dead? Is this the only bear in the woods? It always pays to be careful. We both crouched down and looked through the dense foliage with our scopes.
As the time slowly passed we watched for movement and were also ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. After waiting for a few minutes we finally approached the bear, admiring the thick black coat, heavy limbs and monstrous head. Over six feet long and 300lbs, it was a large quality bear that was built like a tank. This black bear was a mature boar, a fighter, with a scar on the nose and one of the ears half-bitten off. I just imagined the fight this bear had been in that resulted in one of its big ears to be damaged like that.
This black bear boar was the biggest one we have harvested here in the Northwest Territories.
We always approach our animals with respect, and thank them for giving themselves to us. We love all aspects hunting and for Chris and I, it is a tradition and it is a skill. Our hunt includes carefully picking an animal that will give us good meat and a hide, and it includes carefully skinning the animal so the quality remains. And finally, it is the hours upon hours back home where we process the meat and package it so everything remains high quality and feeds us for many months to come.