With the late spring in Ontario this year, we were all looking forward to our annual black bear hunts to shake off the winter cobwebs. Our first Ontario bear hunt was taking place in Northern Ontario, around the town of Hillsport, about an hour and a half north of Manitouwadge, between the infamous Highway 17 and 11. Hillsport was once a bustling CN Rail and logging town, and you can still feel the train as it runs through town, shaking the ground.
I was lucky to be joined by my father Ken on this hunt, and it brought back some great memories of the last Ontario Black Bear hunt we took part in together, where we harvested a 398-lb and a 330-lb black bear on our first day.
After a 12-hour drive from Southern Ontario, we pulled our rig into Hillsport Hillton’s hunting and fishing camp. Only two years ago, my brother Keith visited this same outfit, and was able to harvest a great black bear along with enjoying some great fishing during his stay. After getting unpacked, we were treated to an excellent meal cooked up by owner and operator Gary Dorion, who is the consummate host, making everyone feel like you’ve known him forever.
The next day began by checking multiple bait sites. Gary has access to a huge bear hunting area, and he takes advantage of this with a large number of active bait sites. After our recon, we shot our crossbows to make sure they were still dialed in after our travel to camp. We soon found ourselves sitting in our stands for our fist evening sit. During this time of year the sun doesn’t set until 9:30, so your sit generally lasts at least five hours. My first night was a little slow, though we did watch one large bear work through an old cut behind us. My father Ken, on the other hand, had a very eventful sit, having four separate bear encounters throughout the night. Though he decided to pass on the bears, he had a great time watching these ghosts of the forest.
As our week continued, the weather was heating up, reaching the high twenties with swirling winds, which challenged us. We were getting some great game camera pictures with big boars hitting multiple bait sites, but most were visiting after legal hunting hours. All we could do is try and hunt the wind and hope the weather would change in our favour. Checking trail cameras each day, we began noticing that there was a lot of big bear activity in the late morning hours and into the early afternoon. It was almost as if the bears had figured out our routine and were adjusting theirs to come when we weren’t in the stand.
So on day four, my father decided to change things up and head out to a new bait at 10:30 am. His gamble paid off after a short time in the blind, as he had a boar come out and present a perfect broadside shot: the boar only went 10 yards after the bolt passed clean through him. I was lucky to still be in the area checking game cameras and topping up baits when the inReach text came through, it was a true joy to help with the recovery and watch the enjoyment my father was having.
With only one day left in our hunt and a large storm headed our way, we hoped the bears would be moving all day trying to get as much food into them before the storm hit. So I took a page from my father’s book and headed out early. Though the wind wasn’t the best, we held out hope. Shortly after noon, I spotted some movement straight ahead, and soon was getting my bow ready as a boar approached our bait. The bear gave me a clean shot at only 18 yards and I didn’t hesitate, placing the bolt through both of his lungs. I was excited to send an inReach message to my father Ken and Gary, and they both joined me on the very short recovery.
Our week at Hillsport Hillton Hunting & Fishing was a great one. Not only were we able to harvest two nice black bears, but we had just enough time to also cook up some pulled bear tacos to end our weeks hunt in Northern Ontario. Spring bear meat is some of the finest meats, and we look forward to filling our freezer with it from the wilds of the Ontario woods each year.