I had always wanted to hunt bears in Canada. This desire to chase giant bears in the seemingly endless boreal forests of the Canadian Shield had eaten away at me for most of my adult life. The opportunity to hunt bruins that had possibly never laid eyes on a human before was one I couldn’t pass up.
All that being said, a couple issues had always stopped me dead in my tracks. First was the expense of going through an outfitter. Being a recent college graduate and having a young family at home, a guided hunt would just simply be out of my budget for quite a number of years. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, was that I just like the challenge and adventure that comes with doing things yourself, especially when it comes to bear hunting. I’ve been baiting and hunting bears in my home state of Michigan successfully for a number of years and really enjoy the whole experience of it, from scouting and establishing bait sites, to harvest and recovery of one of these incredible creatures. If I were to have someone else do part of that process for me I would honestly feel a little cheated and left out.
All that being said the allure of hunting bears in the northern Canadian wilderness still ate away at me. I began doing research to see if there were ways to hunt without using a guide. I learned that the rules varied between the provinces and that there were differing levels that the guide needed to be involved in the hunting process. Essentially you still had to use the services of an outfitter no matter where you hunted in Canada, but in Ontario for example they didn’t necessarily have to “guide” you.
When I learned the specifics of how to do the paperwork, I began looking for an outfitter that would validate my bear tag. The trick to this was finding one in an area that matched my dream of what hunting bear DIY in Canada should be. My goal was to hunt in an area that was as remote as possible, still accessible by road, and had a high bear density with large bears taken in the past. Fortunately I found an outfitter in the northeastern Lake Nipigon area that met all these requirements that also allowed “self-guided” hunts, which is exactly what I wanted. I immediately got the wife’s permission and made the arrangements. I was stoked, my dream was finally coming true!
Shortly after this the hunt began. I was sent an outline of my hunting area boundaries by the outfitter on Google Earth and immediately began scouting possible locations and making plans. I was very happy with my area because it contained a large amount of open blueberry patches and was only accessible by ATV or a really long hike into the backcountry.
I knew to do this right I would also need to make a trip up to the hunting area to get a bait site set up prior to my hunt. I made a trip down to northern Wisconsin to purchase some bulk bear bait. I bought large quantities of mixed nuts, cookies, pie filling, and some frosting, some of my tried and true favorite bear baits.
I decided that I wanted to set up two weeks prior to Ontario bear opener to allow the most bears to find the site while still having a chance of having some bait left over when I returned. The last day of July I loaded up my truck with as much bait as I could possibly fit in it as well as my quad for the baiting run to northern Ontario.
I drove straight through from my home in the UP of Michigan and arrived in the upper Lake Nipigon area (which is 500 miles one way) just in time to drop the quad and go for a quick scouting ride into my hunting area. After traversing some sketchy terrain and arriving in the hunting area I was blown away with the amount of bear sign in the area. I’d never seen anything like it. Everywhere I turned there was bear scat or tracks. I’d hit the jackpot.
I returned to my truck, set up camp and slept in the bush with the bears that night. The next morning I loaded up the quad with as much bait as I could strap on and retuned the hunt area. I was then faced with the dilemma of where to set up the stand. The issue wasn’t where the bears were, because they were literally everywhere. The problem was the bush was so thick that I had very limited opportunities to set up far enough away from the bait site so that I wasn’t right on top of it. Also the other issue was there were literally no trees big enough to put a tree stand on (a forest fire had swept through the area a couple decades ago which left abundant berries, thick brush, but short and thin trees). I decided that regardless I would be hunting from the ground. So I found an area loaded with blueberries that was a little more open, but had jack pines that would give me cover and the bears a (false) feeling of security.
Between the next three full quad loads I dumped about 150 gallons of bait into a hole and covered it with logs and some plywood I brought, hoping it would last the two weeks. I doused the area with Big Bear Scent’s Sweet Temptation Ultra Red Spray, set up my trail camera, and headed out of the bush and back home. I could not wait to return to check what had hit. Unfortunately I had to head back home to wait the next two weeks until I could return for my actual hunt.
After two weeks of sleepless nights it was time to return! All the gear loaded up, 30/06 sighted in and ready to roll, I began the trek north. I arrived the day before opener, dropped stuff off at the cabin (which I had to book in order to secure the bear tag validation from the outfitter), and headed out to the bait site. When I arrived I was blown away! Every last drop of bait was gone, the bait hole was twice the size I dug it, and the plywood boards were broke in half and very chewed up. All I could say was WOW! I pulled the pics off the trail camera, rebaited, re-scented, and headed out to see what I had coming in.
The trail camera revealed it took the bears a couple days to find it, but when they did it took them only FOUR days to clean out all 150 gallons of bait. I had a couple nice bear on camera including one good boar, but no giants. I knew it would be a little bit of work to get the bears to come back to the bait, but I knew if I was patient it would happen.
On opening day I headed out, as stoked as ever! Unfortunately the bait had not been hit yet, but the weather was also about 90, so I didn’t expect much bear activity. I had decided to hunt from the ground so I sat down with a jack pine to my back and wind in my face 30 yards from the bait ready to roll.
I had a beautiful first night in the bush hunting bruins. I never heard a vehicle, gun shot, or any human activity or presence at all. I was alone in the wilderness hunting Canadian bears, and it was a dream come true. Bear or not I had an incredible night. To top it off, as I headed out of the bush after dark I was greeted with an incredible display of Aurora Borealis, aka the Northern Lights. I’m not sure I have words to truly incredible that night in the bush was.
The second night of the hunt began as the first had, hot weather, no bear strikes, and a strong western wind. I sat in the same spot and began to wait. About 7pm I was alerted to the sound of a bear popping its jaw at me, 20 yards directly behind me. I turned to try to catch a glimpse of the bear, but it immediately galloped away. After checking later I realized that the big boar had circled the bait due to the high winds and winded me, and took off around the bait, leaving fresh tracks leading away from the bait. I was bummed but happy to have had my first bear encounter of the trip.
The third night was uneventful. Still no bear strikes on the bait and no return visits from the clever boar. I was beginning to get anxious, but still optimistic. To try to get the bears moving again I left a whole bottle of the Sweet Temptation spray I had initially opened the bait site with on the bait with the cap removed to saturate the area with some amazing sweet smell.
The fourth night began with a big shift in the weather. The wind turned to an eastern wind which gave me a much better ambush position on the bait. The temperature also dropped dramatically. I was excited. I was even more excited when I got to the bait site and realized that it had been smashed by the bears in my absence. I pulled the trail camera photos to realize that had a couple nice bears hit that morning, but I had actually bumped one off the bait as I pulled into the site. I quickly dumped my bait, and drove off in the quad to return quietly to the bait site, knowing the bear was likely to return.
I had a pleasant sit for the next few hours, but was on high alert for the bruins return. At about 7pm I saw black out of the corner of my eye. It was the bear returning exactly in the manner I expected it too. As the bear slowly walked into the bait I prepared my 30/06. The bear gave one look at me, paused, didn’t see anything to worry about, and continued to the bait. After a quick pause broadside, I pulled the trigger sending a Barnes TTSX into both of the bears lungs, sending it running, and within 20 yards piling up and letting out a death roar. I WAS STOKED!!!
I walked up to my bruin, ensured it was dead, and began to punch my tag and get it out of the bush. It was a large, beautiful, wedge headed old sow. With night fast approaching, I threw my tag on, field dressed her, and loaded her up on the quad to get her out of the bush.
Over the next couple nights I leisurely processed the bear for the trip home. The meat was marbled with fat that smelled just like the blueberries it had obviously been engorging itself on for. This bear was no doubt the best meat I have ever eaten. To fully take in the adventure I ate the bear’s heart over the next couple nights. The bear’s heart was not only delicious, but eating it also felt like I was fully taking in the adventure I had just partaken in. I felt that this was also honoring the incredible beast that had just given its life to sustain my family throughout the coming winter.
This was an incredible adventure for me. The Canadian Bush is some tough and rugged country and an even tougher place to hunt, especially DIY. It is not for the faint of heart to hunt solo in the wilds of the Canadian Shield. You will literally be walking alone amongst giants. But the reward you claim from persevering against the northern wilds is well worth the effort put in. I was absolutely thrilled to take this bear and fill my freezer with it. I certainly hope to be blessed to do this hunt again in the near future.