When I can’t shoot bears they charge me (see the October 1997, issue of North American Hunter), and when I can shoot them, they’re nowhere to be found. This was my third black bear hunt in Manitoba, and after 13 days and 80-plus hours sitting over bait sites, the biggest thing I’d seen to date was a raven. So why did I keep coming back, you might ask? Because Tom and Judy Usunier of Big Grass Outfitters put on a great hunt. Typically, their hunters see a lot of bears and kill a lot of bears; many being color-phase bears. I continued hunting with them because I absolutely believed my bad bear luck eventually had to change.
It was day No. 4 of our May 2006 NAHC Life Member Hunt with Big Grass Outfitters, and all of the Life Members had either seen or shot bears. NAHC Life Member Mike McCarty of Nashport, Ohio, opened camp by shooting a big chocolate- colored boar the first night. The next day was a veritable black bear bonanza as four more tags were filled. NAHC Life Member Dennis Christensen of Stillwater, Minnesota, shot a black bear with a white chest star; Life Member Dave Lawson of Granite Bay, California, downed a large chocolate sow; and Life Member Jack Kunberger of Fort Wayne, Indiana, pulled the trigger on a 6-foot-plus black bruiser, which was the heavyweight of the week. NAHC Life Member Tony Boyd of Aloha, Oregon, had four bears come in to the bait site together. He hit one hard, but decided the prudent thing to do was find it after the other bears had left the area. The next morning, the tracks and blood trail showed that Tony’s bear had been dragged away by another bigger bear—never to be found.
In Tom Usunier’s pre-hunt meeting, he recommended not passing up a “Monday bear” that you’d shoot later in the hunt. NAHC Life Member Glen Johnson of Laguna Hills, California, the only bowhunter in the group, didn’t heed Tom’s advice as he passed up shots at black bears on each of the hunt’s first two nights as he waited for the right shot at the right bear. It never happened.
That leaves me. It was now day No. 4 and I was going stand-crazy. When Judy and I walked in to the bait site we could see it had been ravaged by multiple bears, and as Judy dumped a new pile of “goodies” into the bait barrel, we heard something large crash away through the underbrush. I climbed into the stand thinking, “What are the chances that the bear shows itself before dark?” I knew the answer to that question—pretty slim. The wind was making enough noise to cover any sounds in the woods or from my stand, so I slouched down in the box blind and read the latest issue of North American Hunter, glancing at the bait pile every time I turned a page. At 5:05 p.m. I looked up to see the sun shining off the head of a cinnamoncolored black bear! Was this an hallucination? The bear’s back was higher than the top of the bait barrel (shooter size!) and there were no cubs to be seen. I worried that the wind, which was blowing my scent directly to the bear, would cause it to spook and disappear. But the fresh meat scraps at the bait pile must have been too tempting, because the bear moved a couple of steps forward, giving me a shot at its vitals. I touched off a round from my Remington .30-06, sending a 180-grain Federal Nosler Partition bullet through the bear’s boiler room. The bear spun and ran a half circle before falling over 10 yards behind the bait.
I’d like to thank Tom and Judy Usunier of Big Grass Outfitters for putting on another great NAHC Life Member Hunt. If you missed this year’s hunt, Big Grass Outfitters has reserved the dates of May 13-19, 2007 so that NAHC members can hunt black bears together in the same camp. Contact Judy or Tom Usunier if you’d like to join next year’s group.