I sat out the 2022 bear season. Not because I didn't have a couple spots I could have arrowed a bear. We had baits rolling since early spring.
I think, in part, after a successful spring bear season guiding in New Brunswick for North Shore Guide Services , I had dealt with enough bears for one season ; lugged enough bait. Or at least that's what I told myself. However, that had never stopped me from hunting in past years.
They say, the truth shall set ya free, so , in that light, honestly, a part of it was, I was just plain worn out. True story. I wouldn't say the gas tank was empty but it was definitely below the half mark. . Just a few more new aches and pains that refused to go away even after a day's rest and extra strength Tylenol.
But I missed it dearly and vowed 2023 would find me sitting over an active bait with my bow in hand. Bear hunting just creeps into your very being. And it's hard to walk away from for just a few normal aging aches and pains.
Spring rolled around and I was off for about my 20th year of turkey hunting in Maine with Northeast Wilderness Outfitters . We managed two great birds on day two. A nice Tom and a Jake. It was a fantastic start to the 2023 hunting season. Before I knew it, I was shaking hands goodbye to my guide Chip ... .now turned solid friend and pointing the car North and home to Nova Scotia..
I was no sooner home and I rushed out to check a bait I had out . It was hammered. I baited it again but knew it would be short lived as it was soon time to head to NB for 6 weeks of work baiting and guiding bear hunters. Hard work, but the very best kind of work.
We bait very heavily. The only reason being is we've found it brings us better hunting. More consistent bears. Less bears wandering off. All of which translates to higher hunter success. Some baits we fill with three 55 gallon drums each bait run.
Anyone who's done it though, knows what 6 solid weeks of hunting / baiting can tucker ya out. A little more each year it seems. But with 5 of us in camp at times, and 3 at all times, the work was manageable. And enjoyable but, admittedly tiring by the time the last week rolls around.
Upon returning home, I took a week off, caught up on chores and family visits with the grandkids before baiting again. But twice a week after that I baited till the season opener.
I also managed to hack out a small food plot with a chainsaw, pickaxe and my side x side. There were a few nights I left the hidden food plot with my back screaming at me, but overall I was happy with my progress.
Opening day of bear season found me , with enough gear and food to spend 3 days near the bear bait I wanted to hunt. Sleeping near the bait would save a ton of travel time and gas. I find not only do I get more ailments as I age…I also get cheaper ! I've become my dad haha. Not only that, but the night time hour plus drive home each night just seems longer and longer each year.
There was a particular bear I wanted to shoot. He had been death on my deer cams over the last couple seasons. Plus he was a great boar. Because he destroyed 4 cameras I think, or at least the antennas we nicknamed him Cameron ( Cam for short )
It hurts to tell the tale but he came in about an hour before dark on day one , after I had passed 7 or 8 smaller bears. He came right to the barrel but swung that big pumpkin head my way. He definitely didn't like the blob in the tree despite my spendy camouflage gear. He began to walk away. My gut feeling was: a big bruin like this won't be back this evening, smaller bears probably, but I just felt he was leaving for the daylight hour anyway.
I watched him lumber away, my heart sinking with each step further he took. But what I guessed at about 10 yards behind the barrel he paused, slightly quartering away from me. I drew and stood simultaneously . I did some quick bowhunter math. Knowing the barrel was 13 yards, plus the 10 he walked, I deduced a smidge of a high high hold with my 20 would seal the deal and end his camera wrecking ways.
It happened fast but at the shot the bear bolted and I could see my lighted nock glowing in the ground. At first I tried to convince myself it was a perfect passthrough. But deep down, I knew the arrow looked like it was in front of where the bear was. I lowered my bow and crept over for a peak.
I reached my arrow, looked back at the stand. Ugh, that looked like at least 25 yards. Maybe 10 yards or slightly less beyond that I saw where the bear tore up the soft ground when he bolted. My hasty guess that he was 10 yards behind the barrel was grossly wrong. He was much farther...likely over 30 yards. Live and learn they say. That was a hard lesson. I hunted that evening and the next day and saw a ton of bears. I'm quite sure there were a dozen or more bears on that bait. But they all seemed pale in comparison to Cam.
On day 3 , having to head home that evening, I elected to sit on another stand I had that was almost 30 minutes closer to home. In my mind, that was 30 less minutes of night time driving. It never used to bother me but in recent years, I don't enjoy it.
The cell cam at the closer to home bait indicated that a pretty nice boar of around 230 250 was coming in at 3 pm or so each day. I packed up my gear and headed there.
It was a hot day. I'm sure temps were in the high 20s. I wanted to get in early as his day time visits were also early. About 1 pm, I hauled up my bow, hung it on the hanger, took a big slug from the water bottle in my pack and settled in.
As if punching a clock right around 3 pm I saw black coming up one of the trails. Sure enough, it was the solid early boar. Hunting solo coupled with the fact it was a long lug out of this particular stand and no easy way of getting my sxs in, the decision to shoot was not a hard one.
Finding him was not hard. I tagged him and headed out to get the sled and get rid of some gear. I elected to dress him once I got him home, or at least clear of the thick brush he needed to be drug though.
It was then, I realised he was a pretty hefty bear...I struggled to roll him into the sled. For the first time it was that very moment I realised I wasn't getting him out of there in one piece, at least by myself.
My thoughts turned to dressing him to lighten the load or perhaps cutting him in half and making two trips. As I was mulling over my options, I felt my phone buzzing. I had sent out a couple BBD texts to a few close buds. And I’m saying close , because to a person, each one offered to come and help if I needed it. And I hadn't asked or explained my situation. They just volunteered. Hunting friends like that are to be treasured .
It turns out my bud Dana was working not far from this bait. Which was a great stroke of luck as it's nowhere near his home . But he travels some for work and it turns out today he was not far from me.
Sitting there waiting for him to arrive , I had another come to Jesus moment. I had no doubt that 20 years ago I would have lugged that bugger out of there solo. I’d done it on bigger bear. Just another moment where I had to recognize the changing realities with each season.
The next hunt was a moose hunt. I've never had an easy moose hunt. A couple moose wound up being relatively easy, but that was after a good number of hard hunting days prior.
This hunt was over by 9am or so on opening morning.
However short it may have been, it was exciting. We only made two sits while calling. A total distance of about half a kilometre apart. The first one produced nothing so we trudged up the steep hill. At our second spot there was a lot of fresh sign. We were using an e caller here and had it set out about 75 yards in front of us. The call was still on when a bull just appeared at the speaker...but by the time I saw him he was going away. He came in silent as a mouse.
I stood up and leaned the model 70 against a birch tree while covering the area. I saw flashes of antler and for a moment I feared he was gonna walk off without a shot opportunity.
But the hunting gawds smiled on me on that beautiful rugged mountain in Cape Breton and the moose turned and headed back.
The moose was finally in the clear but chest on to me. I knew the 7 mag could take him from that distance. But when in Rome…..so I whispered to Sheldon ( my guide ) “can I take him in the chest”?
I heard a whispered “ *&%$ yes from this distance”
In actual fact, we had taken another moose a few years prior together with an identical, close front facing shot.
At the shot the bull reared up and took 3 jumps before I found him in my scope and hammered him for a second time. I was pretty sure he went down at the 2nd shot’s impact but wasn’t positive as he was just feet in front of a thick stand of young spruce when I fired. But a millisecond later I saw the tops of those young spruce swaying back and forth.
I chambered another round and booked it to those swaying trees. It didn't take long to cover those 60 yards, but when I arrived the bull had already checked out. I emptied the rifle and gave a silent thanks to whoever or whatever allowed us to cross paths on this distant mountain.
Instinctively, I kinda began moving the bull into field dressing position and Sheldon said
“Let me in there bud”.
I mentally noted two things for better or worse .
I held a leg here or there but essentially I sat back and let him do the work. It was an odd feeling. I'm still not totally comfortable with it to be honest. That work is part of the game. I actually enjoy it and take a certain pride in doing it well. Not to beat my own drum…..but I'm pretty ok at it. But yet, I surrendered that task. I chalked it up to just another evolving change as the seasons grow more numerous I have under my (expanding) belt.
I fear this little story is getting pretty long in the tooth. So I’ll skip right to about 3/4s of the way throughout the long 3 month season for whitetail we have in Nova Scotia. I had a few great encounters with nice bucks. However, bowhunting bigger bucks with a bow is never a sure thing. And each and every encounter broke in the deer’s favor.
The rut was winding down. My go to spot, for whatever reason, doesn't seem to harbour bucks, especially bigger bucks. But it's in some great agricultural land and the deer numbers are high. So whether it harbours bucks or not , come the rut…bucks will be there chasing the does. But that only lasts for a couple weeks.
A friend said he knew a spot that had some bucks that were showing some in the daylight hours. He offered to show me the spot. He actually already had a stand up but never used it and likely wasn't going to.
At first I refused, well, not all out refused, but said I'd keep plugging away at my own spots. Spots I had tended and selected. As the rut waned, so did the buck picks I was getting on my cell cams.
Another offer came. I declined but with less conviction. To cut to the chase, one day, I just received one too many pictures of nice bucks from that spot during daylight. Before I knew it I was climbing up his stand.
I saw 3 of the four bucks I/we had selected as good to shoot. In a nutshell, one buck busted me twice while I tried to draw on him. One other evening one of the bigger target bucks came in from behind me on an old tote trail. He was close, and I had a tight but doable shot but there was just enough brush that I didn't launch an arrow.
Another clear cold sunny morning the number 1 buck came so close to taking an arrow. I just happened to look and I saw him coming from 150-200 yards away. The early morning sun on him in the sparkling snow was quite a sight.
This time , long before he arrived, I was standing with my bow ready. He came in with barely any care. He was a heavy buck. From 13 yards he looked even better than all the tc pictures. But I had no shot. Or none I was really happy with. And on someone else’s stand on an invite there was no way I was going to take anything but a perfect shot opportunity. Finally I thought, something good from having many seasons behind me. I was tempted with a chest on shot but I declined. I think my current set up would have done it but not I wasnt risking it on this hunt. I took getting the invite a great privledge. Just out of respect for the deer and the place I wanted perfect shot. Watching him for 10 minutes , although frustrating, was one of the season’s highlights for sure.
On the 2nd last day of our long season I climbed up before light. It was a truly beautiful winter like hunt. Snow laden trees. Not a whisper of wind. Chilly but pleasant enough -5 temp. Its scenic images like that keep us grinding. That and active hungry bucks with only 2 days remaining.
Not long after a spectacular dawn, I looked up and one of the group of 4 was on the hill directly in front of me. Every movement I would make while trying to shift into shooting position would cause the buck to stop. I don’t know if he heard me, but he definitely sensed me (or something). Nevertheless, as one of my hunting buds always says, hunger can tame the wild,. The buck came in.
But he was at the same front on angle for a long time as was the big heavy buck the day before. At some point, he shifted ever so slightly and gave me an acceptable shot.
At the shot, I couldn't help but notice how high it appeared to be. . I was sick. The only positive vibe I had was after about 20 yards going straight away, the buck turned broadside and I saw just an incredible amount of blood loss. Still not the double lung I had hoped for but an animal can only lose so much blood I thought to myself. . Nevertheless, I was sick. The last thing I wanted was to have to tell the stand owner I made a poor hit. I mean I really dreaded that call. I've let some big animals walk because I didn't have “the” shot. I kinda take pride in those passess. It’s harder to do than take an iffy shot.
Before making any calls, I just had to have a look first. Not to hide anything. I’m not the dude who only reports or posts his success. I report all animal encounters where I take a shot…regardless of the outcome.
As I crept up to the track, I was gripping my bow like the true grail, with a sense of dread but I couldn't get the amount of blood I could see from a distance pulsing out of him. Before I even reached his tracks in the snow, I could see blood. Lots of it.
As I pushed into the bush on a well travelled deer trail, as far as I could look, I could see where he ran. A bright crimson ribbon highlighted in the snow and evergreen boughs. I thought, maybe just maybe this was gonna go my way.
Although the tracking task did not require me to go slow….I went at a snail's pace. I shed my heavy warm clothes and pack to avoid any unnecessary noise. It was literally like still hunting. Take 2 steps . Stop. Look.
I had a flashback to when I was about 10 and my dad told me to get down on one knee and look under the snow covered evergreen boughs to look for rabbits. So dutifully, after each step or two, I knelt down and peered into beautiful snowy understory of the winter woods.. A part of me though I was going to catch him bedded but still alive. I wanted to be ready.
I questioned whether I should stay on the track. Should I back out? The high arrow placement had me concerned. I couldn't shake the blood loss though. I did question if maybe the abundant snow made the blood appear more than it actually was. No doubt I was seeing every drop and or splatter. Would I see that much without the snow I wondered?
While kneeling at one spot, I came to a compromise. I would go 100 yards. If I didn't have the deer, I would back out, wait 4 hours and get back on the trail.
Without a word of a lie, when I got to where I thought it was a hundred yards or so I looked right at eye level and blood was that high. It simply had to be arterial. It was on both sides and 6 feet high. No exaggeration!
I was wrestling with my 100 yard deal though. Every fibre of me wanted to continue. I often find that sticking to the original plan is the best plan. Standing there, unsure of what my next move was going to be, I just happened to glance to my right and there was the buck. Talk about elation. I almost disbeleived my eyes, just because of the high hit. As I grabbed his antlers and turned him over....all disbelief vanished.
As it turns out, the poor high shot hit the big arteries that run just below the spine. The buck never bedded, never stopped. I’m guessing he was dead in less than a minute after the arrow struck. I was grateful for that. Of the 4 target bucks, he was one of the smaller ones. He was the one we dubbed the “new 8” as he had only began to show recently.
I took some pictures. Thanked my lucky stars for sharp broadheads and good friends. Both of which made this moment. I headed out for the sled with my phone in hand. I could send out those BBD texts now.
In closing, although I could go on with regard to all the help I had this year. One last bit of background. A big buck appeared here during the last two weeks I hunted this stand. A real beauty. I was humbled at being given this opportunity to hunt the stand. One morning I texted the owner and said,” I’m totally fine with passing that big 10 if you want to hunt him next year. Trust me, I'm good with that"
. The reply seconds later was….” if that buck comes in, you better shoot him ”
Anyways, on the walk out to the truck after finding the buck, it occurred to me perhaps another evolution was taking place. I was kind of glad the big 10 did not show. No way I could have willingly passed him, but with the smaller one coming in, I didn't have the choice anyways. I was glad of that. I was happy with my buck. The two bigger fully mature ones would be there for my friend to hunt next year. It just seems proper. Perhaps even a few short years ago I would have been slightly disappointed I hadn’t killed the biggest of the bunch. Such change is positive I beleive. Maybe not so much the aches and pains but such things tend to balance things out.
That morning wrapped up a great season for me. One full of change but with as much excitement as any previous season.
The long ( too long maybe) story wraps up with a sense of gratitude for the support received during the challenges of the season. From hunting buds old and new to help at home. It acknowledges that adapting and accepting occasional help are not signs of weakness but rather integral parts of the evolving journey into the maturer years of hunting. The conclusion is not just an end to a season but a prelude to future challenges and triumphs, approached with a sense of anticipation rather than apprehension.
Apologies for the detailed account, dear friends and readers, but sometimes the essence of the life hunting experience lies in sharing the tales that come with it.