Stalking The Black Ghost

The late afternoon shadows were creeping across and filling the narrow logging road as the sun slid lower in the evening sky and almost in a heartbeat, the sun was gone.

Twilight settled in and spring peepers started their nightly chorus in the beaver pond some 50 yards below. It was one of those humid evenings in early June in New Brunswick with not a hint of moving night air. The steady hum of biting insects filled the small clearing.

The hunter crouched in a log blind just off to one side of the logging road, sweating profusely, but intently watching his bait. The white 5-gallon plastic bait bucket tied firmly to a tall spruce had been strategically placed upwind of the blind in a relatively open block of trees at 70 yards. The stage was set and the magic hour had arrived.

The hunter fought the urge to scratch where a mosquito had penetrated and bitten and his eyes stung from salty perspiration, but he never moved. He could feel it in his aching bones. Tonight would be his night!

Out from the darkening woods behind the bait appeared something big, and black as coal. Despite its size and fearsome look, the animal approached ever so cautiously, sniffing, looking, and listening. Once, its gaze seemed to settle on the log pile blind and the hunter who hid there. And as it sniffed and looked, a thousand questions raced through that hunter’s adrenaline-charged mind.

When To Shoot
Trembling slightly, breathing raggedly and with heart pounding loudly in his ears, the hunter debated what to do. If the bear discovered the hunter… smelled some foreign scent, heard his ragged breathing or thumping heart… the bear would turn and flee.

Eric Hutchins, Poland, Maine, poses with a spring bear, a 420-pound boar in excellent shape.

Should the hunter jump up and shoot now or possibly fire at a fleeing bear? Should he sit tight and wait for the proper shot? Would this be his only chance to take a bear this week? What if he made a poor shot, could they find a wounded bruin in those dark, thick woods?

The bear settled it when he dropped his head and moved to the bait, offering the front shoulder shot that outfitters and guides encourage bear hunters to take.

The hunter took a deep, pacifying breath and rested his heavy caliber rifle on the log gun rest, centering crosshairs on that massive black shoulder. “This guy is mine,” he whispered confidently as he gently squeezed the trigger.

It took a lot of hard work and research to put that hunter in position to take that bear.

We are an outfitting/guide service in New Brunswick, Canada, and have been hosting clients since 1989 for whitetail deer and 1990 for black bear. During that time, we have bagged 187 black bear and quite possibly rewritten at least some of the book on bear hunting. Why? It probably has a bit to do with the fact that we are unorthodox in some of our hunting methods, refusing to accept the status quo. And it may have more to do with our unending research and study of bears and bear hunting.

I got started with bears when one of my deer guides wanted to harvest one so I offered to guide him on a bear hunt. I started out using 45-gallon steel barrels filled with old, rotting carrion for bait, which we dragged into deep woods. Contrary to what I had been told, bears did not swarm to the feast. I did some heavy scouting and happened upon an area that had lots of bear sign and several converging trails.

This time, I set up treestands and camouflaged them well. Along one well-used “run” or game trail, I placed three different bait barrels, each filled with completely different goodies. I still used the stinking maggot-filled carrion in one, but several feet away, I tried fresh beef bones and scraps, and in the third, donuts, cakes, cookies, breads and pies. Then, my guide armed with a 7mm magnum rifle and myself, armed with only a pair of binoculars hid in the treestands.

Bears Prefer The Bakery
With initial studies, I came to several valuable conclusions. Regarding baiting, black bears preferred the baked goods and pastries to all other items. In every instance (and we repeated this same process several times at different locations) they would walk by the other barrels and feed on the sweets. When we removed the “sweets” barrel, the bears began hitting the fresh beef bones and scraps on a regular basis.

It should be noted that in our observations, the bears utilized that bait less and less as the meat scraps became rancid and maggot filled and as it liquefied, they remained in the area nosing about and gnawing on bones, but eating none of the unsavoury mixture.

We found that bears are very near sighted and appear to be looking at you mainly because their eyes face the same direction as their ears and nose. A black bear has excellent hearing and phenomenal sense of smell and these two senses combined with a basic shy, secretive nature present them as a challenge to hunt.

At the same time, the fact that they are individuals with differing, unpredictable personalities and awesome destructive capabilities introduces the element of danger to the hunt. As a seasoned guide and outfitter, it has been my experience that nine of every 10 black bears encountered will turn and flee. The trouble is that you never know when you will encounter that bold, aggressive and potentially dangerous 10th bruin!

Other ongoing field tests and observations have led us to believe that black bears, like deer, are highly suspicious of changes in their habitat, related more to foreign scents than visual creations.

Bears do not urinate or defecate during their “hibernation” or “denning” period in winter so they need to purge or “physic” their bodies in early spring. Before they will actively feed at and on a bait or food source, they must ingest green grasses and vegetation. This process causes them to regurgitate and cleanse the stomach and acts as a laxative to cleanse the digestive system. Once this process is done, they become voraciously hungry omnivores!

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