Northwest Ontario has some of the most undisturbed wilderness in the world. Not only is it known for its remote lakes that produce some of the best freshwater fishing in North America, it also has some of the thickest forest, commonly referred to as “the bush,” in North America.
During a fall 2012 trip to this pristine area, I had a chance to witness a great deal of what this area has to offer. This outing was considered a hunting trip, but it turned out to be much more than just that. I call it an awesome wilderness adventure!
My trip began by contacting my good friend, guide and outfitter Eddie Showalter from Showalter’s Fly-In Service and Outpost (http://www.fishshowalters.com/). Eddie is the third generation of Showalter’s to run the family-operated service and I have known him for many years. Me and and a number of my friends have been fishing with him several times so I knew his 40 years of fishing and hunting experience would help me accomplish my goal to shoot a black bear.
Last winter I booked the trip with him at a sport show we both attended. He informed me that about 75 percent of his clients do get a chance at a bear. This was comforting to me since I had been hunting the last three years in northern Minnesota over an active bait, and had yet to even see a bear, let alone get a shot at one! He also told me the fishing should be good during the early fall. So, it was an easy decision for me to give a deposit, and consider it a late summer fishing trip, which included a chance to kill a black bear!
The author also enjoyed the fishing portion of his Ontario bear hunt.
Our trip began with the six-hour drive from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., north toward the Canadian border. My good friend Jay Hasse and I reached the international border around noon and had no issues crossing into Canada. In fact, the border patrol agent asked where we were heading, and when we responded “Showalter Outpost,” he said, “Say hello to Eddie for me, eh.” I think our relationship with Eddie helped in our hassle-free crossing. Once we reached Ear Falls, we got a hotel, contacted Eddie, and made plans for flying out the next morning.
Morning arrived, and after a quick stop at the grocery store, we drove out to Showalter’s and filled out all the necessary paperwork before loading our gear onto the Twin Beech airplane. All of our guns, fishing poles and gear, along with a week’s worth of food and beverages, made its way onto the airplane and we were set to fly out to one of the outposts, Irwin Lake.
Bait Sites Are Active
During the flight we were told that there were three to four active baits. Popcorn, dog food, gallons of restaurant grease, liquid smoke, and an actual bear bait similar to dog food with sweet powder in it were “being hit” for the last week, he said. A big gallon pale of beeswax was also on board to burn at the baits, which we were told would bring bears to the bait from miles around when they smelled it.
After hearing all of this, Hasse and I were pumped and couldn’t wait to go hunting!
Upon arriving at the outpost cabin, Eddie first took us out in one of the fishing boats and spent a couple of hours showing us all the bait sites. Like he told us, they were all hit and we even saw a bear at one of the sites as we flew in! After re-baiting them, he showed us a couple areas to fish so we could get enough fish for that evening’s meal. Following the plane’s departure, Jay and I headed out fishing to get some fresh walleye. As promised, the fishing was great and after two hours of fishing, we brought back four nice 17-inch fish to filet. We figured we boated over 40 fish between the two of us and I even caught a 29-incher! I have yet to catch a “30,” but the trip was young!
Since we were only hunting the evenings, we slept in the next morning, had some breakfast, and boated out for some more fishing. The wind had picked up and changed direction so we tried some different spots. The fishing slowed some, but we still had a great day catching fish off of rocky points and humps. We found that 15- to 18 feet deep was the key to success. Again, we kept enough fish to have another fish fry and went back to camp to get ready to hunt.
Hasse decided to use a climbing stand and set up in a bay close to where we began fishing. My plan was to go across a portage and hunt an adjacent lake where Eddie had seen a bear while flying. Within one hour of sitting, I heard “Boom!” I knew that Hasse was in a tree about 15 yards from the bait so I had a good feeling we had one down. Unfortunately, the first night was not productive for me, which was OK since I had confidence in the shot I heard earlier in the afternoon.
After boating a couple a miles across the lake, I began my trek over the quarter-mile portage. These hikes can be challenging in the dark, but I was excited to see what my buddy had shot. When I saw his headlamp I knew I was almost there and sure enough, I heard him say, “Bear down!”
We followed the blood trail for only 40 yards and found his potential rug on the wall! Having the sense of humor my buddy has, he, of course, kidded me about my previous times hunting bear — three years in a stand, waiting for a bear and not seeing anything! And here, only a half-hour into his first hunt, we stand over his nice 225-pound bear! Not being a sore loser, I complimented him on the bear, and said, “Now it’s my turn.” After gutting the bear, we decided to leave it for the morning and covered it with branches and the T-shirts we had on to keep animals off of it.
The next day we retrieved, skinned and froze his bear. Now this was a challenge in itself since neither of us had ever shot a bear. However, with some patience and a few sharp knives, the process was done in about an hour. We were smart enough to do this on the other side of the bay from the cabin. This was a wise decision considering two days later, the wolves seemed to find the carcass and were howling all night. We know they did find it because before we left, we went back to the cleaning site and not a bone or morsel of meat was left!
Jay Hasse, the author’s friend, and his Ontario bear.
Some Tough Luck
Meanwhile, I still had to shoot my bear since we were on the third night. After we were through dealing with Hasse’s bear, we decided to go together and hunt the spot I hunted the night before. It was a spot that two could sit at because the bait was set close to shore and we could sit across a bay from it about 100 yards away. As we sat and whispered for the last two hours of the day, I realized that my luck was not like my buddy’s, and I would have to try again the next day.
This bad luck continued the next couple days. The baits were continually getting hit, and we would even see a bear at a bait when fishing, but when I sat and waited, nothing!
The last night was upon us and we sat at a new bait. I had a good feeling and decided that if I did not get a shot that night, I would boat out alone the next morning for one last chance to score. Daylight faded, we didn’t see anything, and boated back to enjoy our last fish dinner in Canada.
I awoke the next morning and boated the lonely 1-1/2-mile boat ride in the dark. I do a great deal of duck hunting so I was not too concerned about navigating in the dark, however, the rocks on these lakes can take a lower unit off a motor in a hurry, so I took my time. As I slowly motored up to the spot to leave my boat, I could hear what seemed like a dozen wolves! It was the wolves discovering our cleaning site about a mile away. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t scared, because I was! It took all I had to sit until the sun started to come up, and guess what I saw about 125 yards away at the bait? Yep, a nice 350- to 400-pound black bear!
After all this hard work, my heart pounding with adrenaline (either from being scared of the wolves or the anticipation of the shot), it all came down to this shot. “Boom!” The bear ran off into the woods.
Now I know that most journalists, television show hosts or even hunting enthusiasts won’t tell you that they missed, but that’s exactly what I did! After waiting for a half-hour, I boated across and searched for any sign of blood, but not a single drop was found!
Telling Hasse when I got back was difficult, but he understood. He too heard the wolf activity and credited me for even going out.
When the trip was over, we only had one bear to show for our week in the bush, but let me tell you right now, with all the adventure and excitement, I am going back next year!
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