By Gus Congemi
After two years of pandemic closed borders, I was finally able to return to Canada to hunt. I was excited to go. The trip began smoothly. I got to the airport with no problems, checked my bags with three hours left before departure, and had enough time to sit and order breakfast before my long journey across the country. Then it happened. I received the notification that my flight was canceled. I spent the next few hours trying to work the logistics of flight rescheduling and, bigger than that, retrieving my bags. My bow, supplies, hunting clothes—all of it—competing with a sea of people in the same situation. It was a nightmare, but eventually I got my bow and gear back just in time to get ticketed for my alternate flight.
My rescheduled flight routed my layover through Toronto, which made me have to collect my gear, go through customs/immigration, then get on a domestic flight to Edmonton. My bow made it, which was great, but my gear bag didn’t. I try to plan for this and break up packing so that I’ll have something just in case. I had my weapon and base layer/outer layer, boots, and a few basics so I could at least get into the woods. After assurances that the bag would come, many phone calls, visits back to the airport, and staying in Edmonton for an extra day for my bag, I finally had to continue on to camp with the one bag in hopes that eventually the rest of my gear would arrive.
My first night in Alberta was cold and rainy and put a damper on the week; the temperature change shut the bears down. They had been seeing some great bears on baits from trail camera shots, just not while we were there. Five days in and we hadn’t really seen anything, some small bears but just not what we were looking for.
It seemed like the bears had figured out where the stands were. They were coming in downwind and would leave. During the five days on stand I noticed that they would circle us, checking the wind before they would come into the bait. The bears were not stupid and wouldn’t come in just to get to the bait.
On the sixth day, the weather warmed up a bit and Joel Deslauriers suggested a radical decision to put up a new tree stand to better suit the wind conditions. Chancy, but it worked. Sure enough, the bear that we had seen on the trail cam the day before, a big chocolate bear, came in. He was still very cautious, had his head towards me giving me no shot. He grabbed a piece of beaver and left. I thought that was it; this was my last day and last hours of the hunt. About a half hour later, he came back with a sow and a small boar who was at the bait earlier. The sow and boar went to the barrel and the chocolate went back to the beaver. For the next half hour I stood on stand, bow ready, waiting for him to make a mistake. He finally stepped off the beaver to make his way to the barrel and I got my shot.
It was pretty incredible to find a colored bear that size. It’s not that they don’t grow that large, but I find that people think that they’re rare and take them before they mature. I feel fortunate to have found him. This was an amazing hunt, an amazing bear—truly a bear of a lifetime.
There were a few times during this trip that I just didn’t think it would happen, between the flight, the missing bag (which arrived three days after I got to camp), the weather change, and not having the bears I knew were there come in. This was the last day, the last two hours on stand for this hunt. Goes to show you that you never give up. People always talk about last minute, last light (which has happened to me on more than one occasion), so I’m thankful that I stuck it out.
This was my second time hunting with Alberta Bush Adventures, owned and operated by the Deslauriers family for the last 26 years. They have a great family, are good honest people who work hard to make a memorable hunt, and they don’t treat you just like a client. I felt like they took me into their family. I will definitely be back.