Anyone who tries to tell you that hunting spring black bear over bait is a “sure thing” hasn’t done much of it. Personally, I have a higher success average hunting big white-tailed bucks than I do hunting baited black bear. If I recollect correctly, my spot-and-stalk black bear hunts have a 100 percent success rate.
I just returned from a baited black bear hunt with Domaine Shannon in southeastern Quebec. I didn’t get a bear, but had a great trip. We were taping for "North American Hunter-TV" and our guest, Jon Allen of Nikon, took a bear with his bow on the last evening of the hunt. Of the five hunters in camp, three connected. One bear was a beauty, weighing in at 320 pounds intact on the scale at camp. Accompanying this blog is a photo of Donald Vanden with his bear. Donald is the son of NAHC Life Member Bob Shell of Apache Junction, Arizona. Bob also connected on the hunt, but wasn’t back in from the woods for photos when the TV crew had to hit the road.
Even at a topnotch operation like Domaine Shannon, taking a bear, or even seeing a shooter bear, is far from a sure thing. Think about it. They operate 55-65 bait sites each year. Head guide “EZ” separates the hunting sites into two routes, which he runs on alternate days. Each route covers approximately 100 miles on dirt roads, logging trails and two tracks. He has scouting cameras with date/time stamps set on most of the baits.
EZ is a guiding savant. He remembers the location of each site without even marking them on a map, and on top of that, he remembers the activity each site has seen for the last week! Using his knowledge, he selects stand locations for each hunter based on his belief of where it’s most likely a big bear will show up that particular night. But with only 5-10 hunters in camp at a time, the most baits that will be covered is less than 20 percent. So, in essence it becomes like the old-fashioned punch board game: You make your choice and get whatever prize or booby prize the hunting gods have in store for you.
To make it even tougher on a guide like EZ, I’ve been fortunate enough to take some big black bears in my hunting career. A couple on Vancouver Island topped 7 feet and 400 pounds, so I’m not about shooting any little bear that wanders in these days like I would have been 20 years ago.
Domaine Shannon has definitely smoothed out some of the other spring bear hunting bumps, too. First, they have it set up with the kitchen staff to serve the evening meal for bear hunters at 4:30 p.m., before you head for the stands. I really liked this schedule as opposed to waiting to eat a huge meal when the hunters return from the stands, when it could be midnight. Sleep is much more restful when it’s not on an over-stuffed stomach.
Every bait location is equipped with a “shooting house” stand with screen windows. Gun hunters can sit inside the hut and blow Bronx cheers to the mosquitoes and black flies trying to chew their way in!
And the food—wow! It seems these Quebec lodges are all in competition to see which can serve the most gourmet cuisine way back in the deep woods. From the ones I’ve been to, Domain Shannon is definitely a front-runner. But even better, the cabin/lodge setup at Domaine Shannon allows you the opportunity to bring your own food and do your own cooking if you prefer, or you can customize a combination of on-your-own and prepared meals.
Finally, I have to get in a word about the fishing. They were apologizing for it, but I thought it was terrific. In the mornings, which would otherwise be “dead time,” we took enough slot-size walleyes for each of the four people in our group to take a limit back home. When those fillets hit the frying pan, they’re going to spark a lot of great memories of another great spring bear hunt … bear or no bear.