As he slowly revealed himself from the darkness of the woods, I knew I was staring at the largest black bear I have ever personally encountered in Ontario. With my heart rate quickly rising, I tried to calm my nerves as I carefully reached for my crossbow. But my journey that would eventually take me to this exact moment in time started four days prior.
My father Ken would be joining me on this particular hunting adventure and as we finished packing the truck and started our ten hour drive to bear camp, we were both full of anticipation and excitement of the possibilities of what was to come. We love fall bear hunting in Ontario, not only is it our home province, but it holds some of the best black bear hunting in the world and for us it’s our official kick-off to the fall hunting season. The drive up Highway 17 is spectacular! As you reach the shores of Lake Superior the views take your breath away. You would think you were driving on Vancouver Island with the rich blue waters and rocky cliffs.
We eventually arrived at ‘Whitefish Lodge’, and met up with owner and operator William Cooper, known as “Coop”, who welcomed us and showed us to the beautiful log cabin we would be calling home for the week. Coop’s resort sits on the shores of Whitefish Lake and has pristine views with large rolling hills covered in thick bush. This family run resort caters to the family vacationers and offers great fishing and hunting. This is much more than your typical hunting resort, it truly is a place the whole family can enjoy.
After getting a good night sleep, we got up and shot our crossbows to make sure everything was still dialed in after our long journey. Luckily for us both bows were shooting true. We decided to cook up some breakfast, outside, while taking in the breathtaking view of the lake before we got dressed and headed out to check game cameras and start our hunt.
Our first evening hunt saw both of us having encounters with bears, though none were shooters, we both enjoyed the great close encounters we had with these mighty bruins.
The following day we decided to take part in some fishing opportunities ahead of our hunt, and got into a number of walleye, with Coop landing the largest fish of the day. Along with the great fishing, we were able to see more incredible views, from towering cliffs to sandy isolated beaches.
After a great fish, we both once again headed to our respective stands for our evening sit. As luck would have it, my father Ken had a mature bear come in and was able to take it with his crossbow. I was able to join him on his recovery along with Coop and head guide Giles. We all celebrated together after a short recovery. Being able to share a moment like this with my father is always something I cherish, and watching the happiness my father was experiencing while he admired his bruin was truly enjoyable.
Back at camp the following day we got busy butchering up the bear. Bear meat is one of our favorite wild game meats and this bruin would give us plenty of it, which will be used for many future meals.
On day three I headed back out into the bear woods, sitting in a new stand this time. The location was in a nice clearing amongst the thick boreal forest. I had a clear shot out to twenty five yards but couldn’t see too far into the forest due to the density of it. As I sat and stared at the green wall ahead of me, I tried to keep my senses sharp. Bears are notoriously quiet, often sneaking into very close range before you spot them.
As I waited patiently, I was focused on a particular bear trail ahead of me that faded into darkness only steps into the trees. At seven twenty-four in the evening the dark hole in the woods seemingly started to move. It was a bear! As the bear worked in he stopped behind the last row of trees before entering my clearing. I couldn’t make out his full body but I could clearly see his very large head and his small beady eyes. It felt like he was staring right at me so I dared not move. After almost a two minute stand off that felt like an eternity, he slowly started to walk out of the forest. As he emerged from the trees I had to hold back an audible gasp, as this was a bear of a life time. He walked cautiously yet confidently out into the open, his belly swinging with every step. As he walked he was constantly smelling and tasting the air and keeping a sharp eye all around him. As I watched him lift his head to taste the air, he would reveal his large canines with every breath. The large crease in his forehead gave away to an incredibly thick neck. His black fur was thick and pristine.
As I watched him make his way to the left I readied my crossbow, slowly sliding it into my shoulder and resting my cheek on the stock. As he moved in he would never stop long enough for a shot, but when he would stop he was always at a quartering to angle and I did not want to take any chances with this giant so I waited. Not long after being at the bait he picked up a piece of food and started to leave. As he was leaving I gave him a “baa”, like I had done many times to other bears, except this time this bear wanted nothing to do with it and bolted at the sound, straight into the woods.
The roller coaster of emotions started to roll in like a freight train. Disbelief, heartache, hopelessness, they all crashed over me at the same time. Bears of this caliber are rarely seen once let alone twice. You typically get one chance at harvesting a truly old bear like him. As I sat there I knew chances were I would never see this bear again. These bears are smart and as the saying goes, big bears get big for a reason. But as I sat there I knew he did not really know what the sound was that scared him. So I sat there praying he would come back.
Thirty minutes passed and the woods were dead silent. I was still trying to control my emotions when I caught movement through the trees. I didn’t waste any time, I quickly shouldered my crossbow and waited to see what would reveal itself. Sometimes successful hunting simply comes down to luck, and as fate would have it, luck was on my side this day as the same large mature boar reappeared. He once again swept the area thoroughly before stepping out into the open. I knew I would probably only have a split second to make my shot and as he walked to the left he stopped to survey his surroundings once more. This time he stopped broadside and gave me the perfect opportunity I was waiting for. I squeezed the trigger and watched the bolt slice through the air and hit its mark. The bolt passed clean through and embedded into a tree standing behind the bear. The giant bear tore off into the woods leaving a promising blood trail behind. I sat back in complete awe of what had just happened. I have been lucky to harvest a number of bears in my lifetime, but this bear truly made me speechless and it took me a while to digest the full encounters I had just experienced.
Once down from the stand I confirmed the blood sign on the bolt and on the trail the bear had left on and called Coop and Giles who quickly arrived to help me recover the bear. It didn’t take us long to find the big bruin and as I walked up to him my astonishment grew even more. This was a big old mature Ontario bruin. As I held him in my hands I admired all of his incredible features and the heaviness of his head and neck. I was very appreciative to receive the opportunity to harvest this bear of a lifetime.
After we got back to camp we once again got busy butchering the bear up and getting the meat frozen in preparation for the drive home. We did save some meat to cook up some Portuguese style sandwiches called “Bifana’s” right in camp, which turned out to be incredibly tasty.
I can’t thank Coop and the entire crew at ‘Whitefish Lodge’ for our incredible time bear hunting with them. I highly encourage any of you who are looking for a great family style hunting adventure to give them a call.