“Hunt big, hunt color” is the motto of Todd Wohlgemuth of Baldy Mountain Outfitters. His outfit backs up those words. His outfit takes big and color phased bears including multiple booners a year staying in line with the legacy of the prior outfitter over his territory, Tom Ainsworth.
This area of the Duck Mountains in Manitoba, Canada is a favorite of BHM staff and columnists because of the rich history of promise and opportunity provided by great long-standing outfitters in the Boreal Forest. A good, experienced outfitter like Todd will do what he can to make sure his guests leave happy from their hunt.
The Drive & Arrival
It’s a long drive from the northwest corner of Arkansas to the southwest region of Manitoba. Somehow, I look upon that journey with a sense of nostalgia and actually look forward to the journey. The thousand plus miles holds in it countless miles full of music, podcasts, calls with friends all wrapped in a cloud of hope and endless anticipation!
With my wife riding shotgun, we pointed the truck north and hit the gas until her stop in South Dakota. Now this hunt was going to be her opportunity to kill her first bear but due to some issues getting her passport in time, I dropped her off with some family in South Dakota and shamelessly hit the road again to go kill her bear. I know, I know I’m a monster… but sometimes it takes a monster to kill a monster so maybe it’s for the best.
It is at this time I feel the need to share a hot tip, don’t cross the Canadian border at smaller checkpoints. They’re bored, suspicious of people crossing in the middle of nowhere, and will search your whole truck front and back. Go to the bigger more efficient check points where getting people through is their business and business is good.
Once I hit the gravel roads connecting me to camp and I thought I couldn’t be more excited, a mature black bear ran across the road in front of me! I took it as an omen of fortune to come, this was going to be a good week!
Upon arriving at the campgrounds to meetup with Todd, I was almost swept away by mosquitoes but made it to a firm handshake and directions to my bunk. Before getting into the hunt I’ll say the food was great and the showers were hot.
Rules of Engagement
Todd has a few guidelines the camp runs on and special instructions for this week of hunting. Rule one: no boots in the cabin. Rule two: no one hunts the same stand twice so no one feels favorited and to keep the excitement rolling. The last guideline for us: keep your arrow knocked or your gun at the ready! You experienced bear hunters are wondering why this is and the context is that this was an added week of bear season and is in the bear rut. The big boars aren’t hanging out at the baits like they typically would except quickly to check for sows, so you have to be on your ready.
After gearing up and having some lunch we set out for the first hunt of the week! Armed with my bow and endless anticipation we set out to the first bait and were met on the trail by a blonde sow. I eagerly and quickly scurried up the tree while guides Brett & Beaver put out a trail cam and freshened up the bait. As the sounds of the Honda quads gave way to the soothing tones of the Boreal Forest, I set in for an eight hour sit.
Within twenty minutes, the blonde sow would take off and run to a tree while looking into the dense vegetation. At one point she would run, leap up on a barrel and jump to a tree six foot away sticking to it like a cub earning her the name ‘The Parkour Bear’. The night would have her and a chocolate sow with a white blaze on her chest swapping out turns on the bait.
Day 2 – Big sow and juvenile boars
Day two found me in a setup where I was fifteen feet up a tree in a stand and was just barely higher than the bait. My heart skipped a beat as a huge shadowy figure appeared behind the bait. As the bear confidently made its way to the bait, I was surprised to find that it was a sow. I like big bears and I cannot lie, and this sow really caught my eye. Every time she came in, I felt a rush in my body as adrenaline filled my bloodstream as I passed her time and time again. A few bears came in and out and the hunt ended with two average size boars on the bait. On to day tres!
Day 3 – Bear-a-palooza; sow climbs stand and runs cub up tree.
Day one of the hunt I saw good color, day two I saw good size, and this day I would see sheer numbers of bears. I didn’t see a bear that I considered taking but it was one of the best days of hunting over bait that I’ve ever had. I conservatively saw fourteen bears and it was difficult to tell them apart. The highlight of this hunt was a sow that climbed the ladder of my stand, it was a big surprise. It’s easy to do a long sit when you have that many bears coming in and out and the 8 hours went by in no time even an hour of sitting in the rain.
Whenever you go to a new region, you must review your expectations and get a sense of how the game are acting in that time. This was an added week and what we observed was that the big boars were not coming into the baits like typical because it was the rut, and they were cruising for sows and weren’t as interested in food. I decided that what I really wanted and hadn’t seen was a bear with attitude that came in like he owned the place.
Day 4 – Didn’t go 20
Day four we ventured out further than we had to a bait site that hadn’t been hunted all year. I was pumped! This stand was close to the home of former outfitter Tom Ainsworth so after dropping me off and freshening up baits in the area, Todd (outfitter) & Beaver (guide) were going to go visit with Tom while I waited for my bear to come in.
Todd and Beaver freshened up the baits and once again it’s time for the bears to come in! Well that was my expectation anyways. I was conditioned at this point to expect bears almost immediately but that’s not how this story played out. This was the toughest hunt mentally on this trip because I had gotten so use to having bear activity within 20-30 minutes. It was over four hours of sitting in the stand and still no bear in my temporary domain. Was I in a gar hole? Finally, I saw movement to my right in the periphery of my sight. It was an average sized boar that snacked for a second and wondered off and then I was bear less again. But I wasn’t skunked, bears did exist here!
It would be that same kind of story the rest of my sit until an hour before the end of shooting light things picked up. I had a couple of black bears coming into and out of the bait until in came a rich chocolate colored boar! Boy did he have attitude, he didn’t take any crap off of nobody. He came up to the corn barrel and didn’t even pay attention to the warning of the bear that had claimed that territory and just started chomping. Then he made his way over to the grease barrel and went to town getting as much of that caloric dense goodness as he could. At this point I claimed this bear in my heart and I carefully readied by bow for the first opportunity I could take.
This bear was playing with my heart now. Dark was approaching and was up on that barrel and had the bend in his front leg covering the ole crimson pumper and breathe getter. I watched with anticipation for twenty minutes for an opportunity. Another bear came in and went to challenge him for the barrel and he swatted him away never changing his posture on the barrel. Finally, after the twenty-minute mark he gets off the barrel and is standing broadside at 18 yds. Fully composed from the long wait I drew back and sent it!
The arrow flew true and passed through the chocolate bruin and kicked up mud as he disappeared out of view. Seconds passed and then I heard the sacred sound that touches a bear hunter in the core of his soul. The haunting beauty of the death moan. I was overcome by emotion as his final utterings filled the space and it felt like I was there beside him as he passed. He moaned eight times and with each one I felt respect admiration for my conquered brother.
With nightfall upon me I decided to wait for Todd and Beaver to return to lay hands on my bear. As they pulled up I told Todd the direction he went and that I heard him moan. Todd went a few yards behind the bait and shouted, “Didn’t go twenty!” The bear ran only fifteen yards before going down, we’d find out that I got the heart and both lungs.
I’m glad I waited the twenty minutes for the right shot and for a quick kill. I left the Duck Mountains fulfilled from a great hunt and took some great color off the mountain!