The province of Ontario has been a popular destination for all big game hunters, and trophy bear hunters are no exception. The bear hunting in Ontario can best be described as “world-class,” with numerous entries into the Pope & Young and Boone & Crockett recordbooks.
The province also boasts thousands of miles of untouched wilderness, with large muskegs, hardwood forests and swamps by the millions.
In the spring, Ontario is synonymous with two things: black flies and hungry black bears waking up from their long winter’s nap. And when I say large, I mean large! In 1992, there was a black bear killed by a truck in Kenora, Ontario, that toppled the scales at an amazing 735 pounds. We are not sure how well the trucker fared.
In the spring of 1997, a bowhunter named John Gravelle had a first hand account of one of these huge Ontario bears. Gravelle had only taken up bowhunting five years earlier, but in that time had already harvested five whitetails, with one of them scoring in the 150 B&C range. Gravelle also took his first bear the previous spring, a decent boar weighing in at 150 pounds.
A Good Way To Bait
Just prior to his unforgettable ’97 bow season, Gravelle returned to his favorite bear bait site with his partner Mike Fortier, to prepare for the coming season. Their method of dumping donuts, molasses, bacon grease and used frying oil in a 45-gallon drum and chaining it to a tree, had worked well for them the year before. Gravelle also had heard about a baiting trick used by an experienced bear hunter he knew, and he wanted to try it. The technique was called a honey burn. A jar of honey is placed in a tin can on a small propane stove and brought to a boil. The boiling honey forms a thick cloud of white smoke and sticks to all the trees in the vicinity. The scent would in turn travel for miles, and serve as an added calling card for the bears.
John Gravelle’s 30-yard shot put down this bear, which made the Pope & Young recordbook.
With the stage set for the season, Gravelle and Fortier began traveling the 40 miles on a regular basis, to check on their bait-site. During the course of the bear season they saw seven bears, of which they harvested two. Fortier managed to take a nice male in the 160-pound class. Then on the evening of June 8, Gravelle had his date with destiny.
The first two to three hours on stand that evening were uneventful, except for the odd squirrel and bird that picked at the small scraps around the bait. At 8 p.m., Gravelle watched as a family of raccoons moved in to snack on the free offerings. “They better get out of the way when the bears start arriving,” Gravelle thought. Then at 8:45, after the raccoons had scurried off, the two hunters caught the sound of movement from behind them. It sounded like something shuffling its’ feet in the dry leaves.
As the noise grew closer, they could plainly hear the unmistakable deep panting of a large animal. “Here he comes,” Gravelle thought to himself. For a brief period the woods seemed to come to a standstill, except for the incessant humming of mosquitoes and black flies. Gravelle then turned back to look in the direction of the bait, and saw something move on the trail in front of him. It was indeed a bear, and had approached the bait from a down wind position. As the bruin’s form began to materialize in front of Gravelle, he drew his bow in anticipation of a good shot.
Bear Gets Cautious
The bear sensed something was wrong and approached cautiously. Gravelle knew it was now or never, as he took aim behind the beast’s left shoulder and squeezed his release. The V-max carbon arrow was on its’ way towards the bear, striking it above the lungs and entering into the spine. The bear dropped in his tracks and began to roll back and forth in anger. Without warning, the severely wounded giant was up on his front legs, and crawling his way down the trail.
Gravelle’s body was now pumping with adrenaline, but luckily he still had time to release another arrow into the bruin’s shoulder blade. He steadied himself as best he could, and sent a perfect shot from 30 yards away. The bear expired seconds later. Both hunters waited about five minutes before descending from their treestands. Through all the excitement, Gravelle had not realized the shear size of his trophy. It was not until he first walked up to the monster that he realized it was the largest bear either hunter had ever seen.
After the 60-day drying period, Gravelle brought his bear skull to official scorer Richard Poulin in hopes of it making the recordbook. Rick measured the Gravelle bear at 20-9/16 inches, easily putting it into the Pope & Young, and just shy of Boone & Crockett. Gravelle’s monster bear remains one of the largest ever harvested with a bow for the province of Ontario.
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