A bear camp full of firsts makes this journey to the North Woods an epic experience!
By: Brian Strickland
Check out this link for great Quebec Outfitters: https://www.pourvoiries.com/en/bear-hunting-magazine/
I really didn’t know what to expect when the wheels touched down at Montreal’s international airport. First off, whenever you travel to another country, even though it’s just across our northern border, it’s an adventure in and of itself. Preparing just for the initial journey seems to take on a whole new meaning, let alone the worries of luggage arriving when you do, delays, layovers and making sure you bring everything you need to help make the hunt successful. Furthermore, when I invited the fetching Mrs. Strickland to accompany me on this North Wood’s adventure, you want the whole affair to go as planned.
The cabin the author stayed in at Lake Suzie Lodge in Quebec. www.pourvoirielacsuzie.com
Prior to this, I had traveled to Canada several times to hunt bears and whitetails, and on all but one of those I made the long drive from my Colorado home. The one time I decided to fly I ended up waiting nearly two days for my bow to arrive behind me. Needless to say, when our feet touched the sweet Canadian soil on this trip, we were more than happy to see that all our luggage had arrived as planned. It was now time to jump into the rental car and start the eight hour journey north into the Canadian Boreal forest.
When I was invited by Quebec Outfitters (www.pourvoiries.com/en-us/) to hunt with Serge Dapra of Lake Suzie Outfitter (www.pourvoirielacsuzie.com), I was more than eager to accept. Not only do I love hunting the most overlooked big game animal in North America, the Ursus Americanus, but I also truly love my hunting brethren north of the border. Every time I have ventured Canada, the hunting experience has been exceptional, and the people even better. After talking with Serge several times over the phone, I knew that this experience would be as good as all the rest.
Quebec is the largest province in Canada and is over 600,000 square miles. Its Boreal forest provides ideal bear habitat and is known for providing high success rates on black bears. An added bonus is Quebec’s 500,000-plus lakes with the vast majority of them brimming with lake trout, walleye and northern pike, just to name a few. Although Quebec is often overlooked as a trophy bear destination, a 250 to 300-plus pound bruin is a real possibility.
Witnessing the changing topography as we drove north was stunning and the planned eight hour drive ended up taking us ten as we took in every ounce of the scenery. The farther north we drove the more remote it became as the paved roads turned into two-track logging roads in some cases. When we saw a moose lazily feeding in some un-named lake and a black flash of bear hide dart across the road, I knew that bear camp was just around the corner. After getting settled into our comfortable cabin, slinging a few arrows and enjoying an evening meal, we dozed off eager to get started the following day.
One of the best things about bear camps are the people you come into contact with, and this one was no different. I’ll admit, when I first started hunting over three decades ago I was more of a solitary hunter and frankly preferred it. However, as my hair has slowly grayed and face began to wrinkle, so has my outlook of a hunt. Sure, my ultimate goal is to punch a tag, but making new friends and seeing the expressions on their face as they relive the excitement of a hunt has become just as important.
A Camp Full of Firsts
It wasn’t long before I learned that camp was full of first-time bear hunters, and when Tennessee hunter Torey Helton pulled into camp with his first bear, I knew he had a story to share. Like many, a Canadian bear hunt had been on Torey’s bucket list for a long time, and when he gifted his dad Elbert a bear hunt for his 70th birthday, Torey decided it was a good time to check off the hunt as well.
Torey had never seen a bear in the wild before and was eager to get started on his first hunt. Needless to say, he was a little disappointed when nothing slipped into the bait that first evening. When he arrived to hunt the same stand the following afternoon, he could tell nothing had hit the bait since he had left previously. Admittedly, he was a little disappointed.
Torey hunted hard for several hours, scanning the woods for any hint of movement but after sitting like a statute for several hours he had to stand and stretch. Feeling that the coast was clear, he began to stand and as soon as he did he noticed a pair of black eyes staring at him from 30 yards away. Because this was the first bear he had ever seen, he really didn’t have a baseline on which to judge his size, but his big head and plump body told him that he was big enough. As the bear eased towards the bait and Torey thought about grabbing his .270, but every time he tried the bear would stop and stare up at him. This cat and mouse game went on several times, preventing Torey from grabbing his rifle before the bruin slipped out of sight.
Andy with a great bear killed at Lake Susie Lodge in Quebec.
Hunting is about highs and lows, and this encounter was definitely a low point for Torey. But like any season hunted, he knew another opportunity would come and a couple hours later it did. When Torey saw black hide coming up the same trail the first bear left on, he initially thought it was the same bruin and this time he was ready! As the bear stepped into the open the sling on Torey’s gun made a “ping” when it hit the stand. The bear immediately looked up and Torey could tell he was about to leave.
Upon squeezing the trigger the bear flipped on his back to Torey’s relief, but seconds later jumped back on his feet and bounded away. Concerned at first that he might have muffed a second opportunity with a poor shot, but was quickly relieved when he heard the distinct death moan seconds later.
Remembering a Friend
When I arrived back at camp on the third evening of my hunt, I was greeted by yet another first bear event, and this one was special. Serge Lestage calls northern Quebec home, and he first met Gilles Taillefer while on his family’s annual summer fishing trip. Serge was only 14 years old when they first met and in his young eyes Gilles was a giant of a man. Standing some 6-foot 2-inches tall, and pushing 200-plus pounds, Gilles was the iconic sportsman who hunted and hooked virtually every game animal or fish that Canada had to offer.
Every summer he spent time with Gilles during the family vacation, and over the years they became great friends despite their 24 year age difference. Although they never hunted big game together, they started to plan a trip to the Quebec bush when Gilles was diagnosed with cancer. After a tough three-year battle, Gilles passed away.
A beautiful black bear taken at Lake Suzie in Quebec.
Surge had never hunted big game before, but like any good friend he wanted to finish what he and Gilles had started. With a rare .303 1941 Lee Enfield rifle that Gilles had left him, Surge found himself in a treestand hoping for a successful finish. On the second night of the hunt, Surge had a good bear show up, but having never hunted bears before he let him walk not knowing what a “good” bear really was. He later learned it as a great bear after showing the video of the bear to the outfitter.
A couple days later Surge had another opportunity at a good bear at a different bait site but this time he didn’t hold back. When he let the World War I British .303 bark, the bear flipped on its side and died just five steps from the bait. Like Gilles always said, “aim small miss small.” Surge did just that.
A Second Chance
I was down to the last days of my hunt when Pennsylvania Bowhunter Andy Granger rolled into camp. Like many of the others, this was also his first bear hunt, as well as his first time to Canada’s Boreal forest, and he was taking in every inch of it. After serving as a combat engineer is Iraq, whose job was to locate and destroy Improvised Explosive Devises, he had seen and heard things that put life into perspective. While he enjoys every aspect of the hunt, as a recent Sitka film so eloquently put it, the woods have become Andy’s “Place of Peace.” A place where he can forget about some of the awful things he experienced, if only for a little while.
Andy’s first night on stand was action packed. He saw a total of five bears, one of which he knew at first sight was the kind he was after. He caught the bear’s pumpkin-sized head staring at him just a few yards away as he stood on his hind-legs resting his paws on a tree. As much as Andy would have loved to end his hunt on the first night, it just wasn't meant to be. The heavy coal-black body never paused at the bait like Andy expected, so all he could do was watch him fade into the bush.
A full stringer of walleye's at Lake Suzie Lodge in Quebec. You fish after you bear hunt!
Needless to say, Andy’s anticipation was high the following days but he never saw another bear. Rainy weather seemed to be the biggest culprit for the lack of bear activity, and when he climbed into his stand that final day, it was much the same. For five hours he sat in a bone-soaking, cold, steady rain and was seriously considering throwing in the towel when a flash of black hide appeared in the bush. As the bear stood on his hind-legs once again, Andy could tell it was the same bear from the first day. It was obvious that the bear knew something wasn’t right, so with a hairraising grunt the walked away.
The next couple of minutes the bear would enter the bait site and then walk away, leaving Andy without a shot. The once mentally draining hunt had completely flipped upside down, and all Andy could do was hope his determination would be rewarded.
When the bear came in the third time he made a critical mistake when reaching his paw forward to move a log that was covering the bait. Fully exposed Andy pressed his Matthews bow into service and touched his release, putting an end to his Quebec adventure.
I would love to end my recount of Quebec’s Boreal Bruins with another bear hide collected, meat in the freezer and the excitement of a hard-earned prize, but sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Surge and his guide Mario worked exceptionally hard to pull a mature bruin into range by keeping the baits full, as well as fresh, but with only a couple bears seen the first six days, I was down to my last.
Like magic his black hide appeared from the bush with just minutes to spare, and as I watched him ease into range I couldn’t help but think how this was the perfect ending to my Quebec odyssey. When the string touched my nose I released, and in a flash the arrow was gone. I told myself it was a good release, but the low impact of my arrow told me otherwise. The blood trail eventually ran out, as well as my time in the Quebec bush, but with a camp full of bear hunting firsts, and new friends, I was still pleased with the outcome.
Lake Suzie Outfitter (www.pourvoirielacsuzie.com)
Surge Dapra loves hunting black bears, but also offers moose hunts in the fall. Being a bowhunter himself, he knows what a bowhunter needs in order to get close for a quality shot. Surge has been outfitting since 2008 and has exclusive outfitting rights to over 160 square miles of the northern Quebec bush, and when you add the 250 square miles of public land that surrounds him that gets virtually no hunting pressure from the locals, you have a chunk of ground to hunt. To top it off, he has access to over 100 lakes that are filled with exceptional walleye and northern pike fishing opportunities. Needless to say, a successful spring bear hunt can quickly turn into a rod-bending adventure on these remote lakes.
Sep 10 2018
by Clay Newcomb
In this episode of “From The Global Headquarters” Bear Hunting Magazine publisher, Clay Newcomb, shows how he renders bear fat into oil using a Fry Daddy. Just for kicks, Clay uses a bear baculum to stir the fat (baculum = penis bone). He and a friend just got back from All Terrain Bear Hunts in Manitoba and harvested the fat off a large bear. There are many practical uses for bear fat including cooking and lubrication, but also some folklorie-ish type uses including a baldness remedy and a using a clear jar of fat in a window to forecast the weather. This video shows all the steps for rendering bear fat. Here is the link to the video: https://youtu.be/o6zGHjbifd4
Historically, rendered bear fat was a valuable commodity because it didn’t go rancid as quickly as pork fat, and was even used a medium of currency in many parts of the American frontier. The rendered fat of a bear symbolizes much more than just “fat.” It symbolizes the biological success of a species that was designed to live, adapt, and thrive in the rugged wilderness that we all appreciate so deeply. The fat of a bear symbolizes success. The feat of harvesting a bear once meant that your family would be well-stocked throughout the winter. It meant that the challenges of living in the Northern hemisphere would be less severe. A bear is a master at gathering calories and storing them. In the same token, those calories can be transferred to the hunter through this ancient ritual we call “hunting”. There was a time when the people in North America were trying to put ON calories, not take them OFF. Bear meat is rich source of organic, healthy caloric content.
The rendered fat of a bear, known as “bear grease”, was once an extremely valuable commodity financially and practically. In the 1800’s, and before, in most of North America there were no regulations on hunting and market hunters harvested bruins in excess. One of the main objectives of these entrepreneurs was to make ‘bear grease’. Bear hunting in many regions of the country was a lucrative business, especially where the bear commodities could be exported effectively to urban markets. One small town in Independence County, Arkansas, named Oil Trough, got its name because of the volume of rendered bear fat it produced. Records show that in the mid 1800’s bear grease could be sold for $1 per gallon and it was measured in “ells”. An ell was a unit of measurement used to contain, transport and measure the oil and it was made from the tanned neck of a deer/ The rendered bear fat or bear grease had many valuable uses back then and still does today.
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Sep 03 2018
By Jacob VanHouten
This article appeared in the Nov/Dec 2017 issue of Bear Hunting Magazine
“Never give up” was the last thing I said before giving it “one more shot” at finding the lost black bear I and two others had been looking for the last 4-5 hours. The bear had been shot the previous night with a crossbow bolt at 16 yards. The hunter was sure he had made a killing shot with a clean pass through from a broadside angle.
The arrow was located with blood on shaft and fletching…but only a small trace of visible blood at the shot location. One pin-size drop of blood was located about 30 yards away and that was it. The three of us had made numerous circles, grids, and moose trail searches without any luck. As we sat on a stump trying not to sweat to death in the Ontario August heat, I told the group I was making another run at it.
Following a well-used bear trail that I had already checked out, I went about 200 yards until it slowly dissipated. I decided to “bush whack” and headed at a right angle towards a ridge…meandering through the path of least resistance, I went at least another 300 yards past the trail and there he was. Lying on its back was a nice big (400 lbs. plus) boar. The shot had entered well, but had angled out his groin and the wound had not bled at all externally. It was eventually a lethal shot, but I had really gotten lucky (the harder you work, the luckier you get) and so had the hunter who had given up hope of ever finding his trophy bear. Getting that bear back to the boat and into camp is a whole other story.
After that experience and several “unrecovered” deer, I made a decision to do something about finding lost big game.
INCREASING YOUR RECOVERY ODDS USING TRACKING DOGS FOR WOUNDED GAME
If you are a bear hunter, (especially hunting over bait), the loss of a bear may either happen to you or someone you know during your hunting life. An underutilized method to increase your odds of recovery may include the use of a tracking dog. I am not talking about traditional “bear hounds” used to run and tree. I am talking about “blood tracking” dogs following a bow, crossbow, rifle or shotgun wounded animal.
The first time I observed a “blood tracking” dog was while volunteering as a deer tracker for limited mobility hunters participating in a NWTF Wheelin’ Sportsmen deer hunt. Held during the first three days of the rifle season, the hunt allowed hunters to have a chance at bagging a buck or doe with the assistance of staff and volunteers. One of the volunteers brought along his dog, “Gus.” Several volunteers and hunters were watching Gus, the “different looking” dog, wander around the meeting site greeting people as they arrived.
“What kind of dog is that?” people would ask. Gus turned out to be a standard wirehaired Dachshund. To the untrained eye, this handsome dog did not appear to be a “wiener dog,” which is what most people think of when they hear “Dachshund” (and don’t say “dash hound”), in either size or appearance.
After a group of us “master tracker” volunteers could not locate a participant’s wounded deer, Gus came in and found the deer, with absolutely no visible blood, in less than 20 minutes. This was a serious “wow” moment for me. I kept the memory of that experience tucked away. Fast-forward 10 years, after sharing the experience with my brother-in-law and loaning him the book: Tracking Dogs for finding Wounded Deer by John Jeanneney, he purchased a pup. He had great success with his dog, which convinced me.
Background in using tracking dogs for finding wounded game
The aforementioned book was written by the man that may be considered the “father” of on-leash tracking dogs in the U.S., John Jeanneney of Berne, New York. First of its kind and in its 2nd edition (2016), his book provides everything needed to start using tracking dogs to recover wounded big game. Richard P. Smith (well-known Michigan native bear man) considers this book a “ground breaking volume” and also says, “This book should be required reading by all state and provincial commissions and administrators who are also responsible for setting regulations regarding the recovery with dogs.”
A retired university history professor, John Jeanneney is a hunter, tracker, dog trainer/breeder (of wirehaired dachshunds) and author. John began tracking deer in 1976 after being granted a research license from New York State’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation. Since that time, he has personally recorded over 1,000 deer “calls” for deer tracking/recovery, as well as numerous bear recoveries
If interested in finding out more, the group United Blood Trackers (unitedbloodtrackers.org) provides a good starting point. They are “dedicated to promoting resource conservation through the use of trained tracking dogs in the ethical recovery of big game.” The term “blood tracking” is most often used, even though it can be misleading in that usually when called into action, the dog will be on a track where there is little or no blood present. With experience and training, dogs can track individual wounded animals by other scents. Although primarily used to recover whitetail, tracking dogs are used for many big game animals such as bear, moose, elk and hogs.
THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR BEAR RECOVERY
- Wounded bears many times leave little visible blood, but their strong scent makes them easy to track as far as dachshunds are concerned. They adapt almost immediately, even if they have never tracked a bear… although the dog may give you a “funny look” at first.
- Bears should not be tracked with a dog at night when visibility is poor.
- In my experience, mortally wounded bears won’t travel as far as deer, so if the track goes on for “miles” (literally), the bear will most likely recover and the tracking job can end.
- Most dogs that track wounded deer will track wounded bear without any specialized training.
- Bears can be hard to track by eye, but they are easy for a dog because the body and pad scent of the bear is overwhelmingly strong.
After the decision to purchase was made, the application and other paperwork was complete and accepted (yes, this is serious business), my wife and I made the trip to New York to meet John and his wife Jolanta (publisher/editor Teckel Time, Inc. www.born-to-track.com), to pick up our new puppy. Jolanta and John are an incredible couple that truly care about who will purchase one of their puppies and will spend at least half a day with the new owners demonstrating training techniques and other priceless information. The Jeanneney’s only offer one or two litters of puppies per year, so it is not cheap and not easy to acquire, but we were very happy to get one on June 3rd of this year.
Seeing our pup for the first time in his pen with 5 other puppies, we fell in love with “Jager”… pronounced “Yager,” (the “a” has an umlaut in German), which translates to: “Hunter.” It was chosen due to his lineage being direct from Germany (the breed itself was developed there to hunt badgers and foxes. Dachshund translates into English as: badger hound). Tommy, the sire Dachshund for Jager, is a proven deer and bear tracker and came directly from Germany.
John and Jolanta spent time showing us how to use a liver and blood “drag” line to train our young puppy. At only 9 weeks old, Jager readily followed a one hour-old line, which included three 90-degree turns. Jager is a born tracker and is now a very happy member of our family. He has made many dragline tracks since and is currently 5 months old and will be ready for his first real test this fall. My family jokes that I got this dog only for “poor shooting relatives.” Not true, but if needed, I am confident that Jager will be ready to try his first recovery this fall.
Training and Use of Tracking Dogs
There are many breeds of dogs that can be used for tracking bear and/or deer. These include the scent hounds such as dachshunds, beagles, bloodhounds, coonhound; pointers/retrievers like labs, golden retrievers, Chesapeakes; curs/border collies; and old breeds like jack russell terriers and German shepherds. All have their own advantages and disadvantages, of course.
The dachshund has shown to be a formidable and versatile breed for tracking wounded bear, deer and other big game. With their innate hunting sense, training of a newly purchased dachshund puppy can lead to an excellent chance of developing a usable tracking hound, by reinforcing natural instincts, basic obedience training, and motivating and encouraging a young pup, as well as “on lead.”
The owner/handler must work in tandem as a team with the tracking dog. Communication with the hunter is important to determine perceived shot location or “wound” which will add to the successful conclusion of any track. Young dogs can be started on a “drag line” of liver and blood and even the preferred German technique of using “Fahrtenshuhe” (Tracking Shoes) which uses an actual deer leg attached to a boot or shoe. The leg from an individual deer must always be used as dogs recognize individual deer through the interdigital gland found between the hoofs. A 30-foot lead that does not easily catch on brush can be used (different types of line/rope are used). Typical rewards at the end of a dragline include “nibbles” on the liver, hide/skin or leg.
Like any other dog/handler “team,” it is essential that they work together closely. Each can recognize in the other behaviors that will result in the positive outcome of a wounded game animal tracking event, which is of course what the hunter is hoping for, either in the location of the wounded game, or the determination that the shot/wound was not lethal.
Obviously there is much to know and learn about tracking wounded big game such as bear and deer. Many books and videos are now available (other than the previously mentioned book), but a few other good books include: Tom Brown’s The Science and Art of Tracking (Berkley, 1999); Richard P. Smith’s Tracking Wounded Deer, How to Find and Tag Deer Shot with Bow and Gun (Stackpole Books 1988); and Niels Sonergaard’s Scent and the Scenting Dog (Denmark, 2006).
As previously mentioned, the group United Blood Trackers.org (firstname.lastname@example.org) is also a good place to inquire and gain further information, including “Find-a-Tracker” listing and regulations for each state that allows the use of tracking dogs.
This season and in the future, whether using a bow, rifle, shotgun, crossbow or black powder, make every attempt to make a good lethal shot. However, if not, consider utilizing a tracking dog (either of your own, or from an experienced handler… check state regulations as well) to make your recovery. Good hunting.