Lovin' The Big Bang

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I’ve been hunting bears on a regular basis since my first hunt in May, 1989. By”regular” is meant yearly with only a couple of exceptions. And some of those seasons have been both Spring and Fall in the same year. So that amounts to 32 years, and with an additional 8 or so of those offering a two season hunt – both Spring and Fall. I could hunt both seasons if I’d not taken a bear during the Spring season – my tag was still good for the Fall hunt, which is my current situation. Of course there was the infamous closure of the Spring hunt for political reasons, but with a change of Governments came its re-opening and has continued since.

So without going back over all the seasons I’ve hunted black bears, it’s about forty. Some were much more dedicated to bear hunts than others. I’m sure you’ll understand that if you’ve done much hunting of a variety of species during the same season. During several years, I was also seriously involved in moose hunting that took me farther north in Ontario, as well as some deer, coyote and wolf hunting. So, I didn’t score during every bear season as by times my primary objective was moose with bear being incidental, especially in the far north of our province.

I’ll just mention here that the followup of a wounded bear is fraught with lots of danger to which I’ll give more attention in upcoming articles. Then there were also the unexpected events… making black bear hunting the most challenging and entertaining of my hunting carreer!

Such being the case, as I’ve aged, hunting bruins has become the main big game that I hunt annually. It’s now next to impossible to get an adult moose tag as a solo hunter… That wasn’t the case in Northern Ontario twenty or more years ago. I had a bull tag several years in a row. But the distance from home was a challenge and got to be expensive and wearying in driving sixteen hours to get there. Then finding a partner was becoming more difficult as the years passed. Now I don’t bother. Also, l’ve cut my deer hunts by 2/3 over the past decade to focus more on predator hunting – the largest and most dangerous being the black bear.

And I’ve become more of a bear hunting specialist. It’s more challenging, interesting, and never boring! Do I need to mention “dangerous”, as well?

Then, tags are available for hunting both Spring and Fall. No need for a lottery ticket as the numbers are high in most huntable areas. For me, planning and preparing for the hunt is still exciting and I always look forward to it – especially if doing it solo.

The Fall bear season officially began Friday, September 1st. I was at “my site” in the Haliburton Highlands (Crown Land) and put in “fresh bait” at the same location as last Spring in which I had a “good bear” coming. My plan is to check the bait and replenish if necessary on Tuesday of this week (Sept 5). For baiting and scouting the area, I’ll be toting my .35 Whelen with a new load of those 300gr Barnes Originals at 2355 fps/3694 ft-lbs. On Monday (28th of August) 3 went into MOA at +2″ at 100 yds. I’ve lowered that a couple clicks. Powder is 57 grs of RL-17 in Rem brass, ignited by WLRM primers. COL = 3.393″.

The rifle is the TRADITIONS G3 single-shot with a 2-piece composite stock and cerakoted on all exterior metal parts, plus muzzle brake on the fluted barrel. Recoil is calculated at 30 ft-lbs with one in the chamber and the 3-9 x 40mm Vortex scope. The rifle alone is 6.5 lbs – a single-shot with a very strong break-action.

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img 2469 Lovin' The Big Bang<Last spring’s setup, and that’s the TRADITION’S G3 in .35 Whelen. The load was the 225 Nosler ABs at 2840 fps. I still have 12 loaded, and they’ll be reserved for a deer and wolf hunt following the bear hunt which will take me to the end of 2024. And the 300s hit in the same place at 100 yds as the 225gr Noslers, so no adjustment has to be made to switch from one load to the other at 100 yds. 100 0276 Lovin' The Big Bang

WHY I HUNT BEAR EVERY YEAR:

  1. It’s challenging:
  2. It’s interesting:
  3. It’s relatively cheap:
  4. It’s dangerous:
  5. It’s the best opportunity and reason I have to use my BIG BORES:

IT’S CHALLENGING

“So what’s challenging about killin’ a little ol’ bear?”, as some might question that statement or belief.

Well, the first challenge is to find one, and in a relatively open and accessible area where a shot from a suitable rifle or handgun can be safely taken (No handguns for hunting purposes in Canada).

Then there’s the matter of sex and size: I’m not here speaking of a “trophy” animal per se, but a bear license in this area (Ontario) is good for any bear that’s not legally a cub, or a female with cubs. What is a “cub”? Technically, it’s any bear in the Spring season of its first year. But rarely does any legal hunter shoot one of those in the Fall as most often they will still be accompanied by their mother. I turned down shooting an approximate 400 lb female because two sibling young bears – in their second year – came to the bait setup without a parent. About 20 minutes later she showed up and they ran to greet her – obviously momma bear! Either were legal, but I chose not to shoot her.

So usually it’s at least a bear in its second year or more. Of course, “trophy hunters”, with or without a licensed guide, will refuse a two-year old bear… because they want a “trophy” which will be defined by size and quality. But there are many hunters who are just “hunters”, and for their own reasons may select a young bear. Why? because they may not have room in a freezer for the meat of a larger bruin, or have no need for it, but still prefer the meat of a youngster over the tougher meat of a fully mature or old bear.

img 1526 Lovin' The Big Bangimg 2465 Lovin' The Big Bang< This was a nice 240 lb male. One shot from the single-shot .45-70 did the deed. It was flattened on the spot. Easy to care for and good eat’n!

I’m among those. Just a couple days ago I re-started the baiting process. By the end of the Spring hunt (June 15), I had a “trophy quality” bear coming to my bait setup… possibly the dominant bruin of the area. And I will not shoot him if he returns this Fall.

Therefore, any legal bear could go from about 50 live-weigh pounds to over 500 lbs. Despite comments by “internet experts” to the contrary, I’m fully of the persuasion that a 500+ lb bear is not the same animal as a 200 lb whitetail, and should therefore demand superior ballistics in a potential case of matters going sideways.

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Finally, the successful harvesting of any carcass may require a bit more preparation if, for example, a wounded 300+lb bear decides to head for water, a ravine, bog or impenetrable bush where it may indeed expire.

100 1237 Lovin' The Big Bang<I passed on a “trophy” quality bear here. Why? It was late in the day, I was alone and I didn’t want him to get into this mess. If wounded they head for water, and may have tried to make it to the far side.

IT’S INTERESTING

A general consensus is that whitetails are “flighty”, coyotes are “crafty”, wolves are “cunning”, moose are “dumb”, but bears are smart. I agree with those generalizations, especially about bears.

For the past 40 yrs or so, I’ve watched them behave in wildernesses – their home turf. They are not only smart but also crafty and cunning! Then they have 100 times the smelling capacity of humans, and 7 times that of blood hounds! So they most often know where I am before I get to where I’m going!

Hunting bears solo becomes a game between the hunted and the hunter, and by times those roles are reversed! And they seemingly can figure out the rules of “the game”. Once they assume ownership of a food source or area, if challenged by humans and/or other bears or animals, they can become very aggressive or cunning, or both. They can figure out problems and solve them – their way!

Then BEAR HUNTING IS CHEAP compared to some other big game hunts:

Everything is relative, and it’s certainly true that recreatiional and/or sporting activities these days seems increasingly reserved for the wealthy. But a solo bear hunt for me is still relatively cheap.

All I need is a spot that’s potentially good for bear density. I have that in the Haliburton Highlands about an hour’s drive from my home. I know that area well having hunted it for predators and big game for over forty years. So the major expense today is the elevated cost of gasoline if I make two trips per week.

I don’t need an expensive pickup truck or even a trailer for my thirteen year-old medium size SUV. And I’ve never owned an ATV. Muscle power from a friend or associate, plus a “cart” made for transportation of a carcass, has served us well. I’ve skinned many animals, including bears, and have field dressed them, but I’m not a butcher, so I have a real butcher to care for that task with great satisfaction. So that too is a “major” expense, that along with the cost of “petrol” will still not exceed $1000.

I have 4 Big-Game rifles, any one of which is more than capable for the job, and I make suitable handloads for each. As already made known, two of the four will be in use for this hunt: the .35 Whelen and .375 H&H.

Chief among The REASONS WHY I hunt BEAR every Year is:

BEARS ARE DANGEROUS!

  • They have 5x the strength of a mature male human of equal weight.
  • They are PREDATORS! They kill moose calves and adult moose as well as anything else they can catch or trap!
  • They have seriously mauled many humans and killed others!
  • They can run up to 35 mph! No one is safe in trees as they can climb a tree faster than we can run!
  • They are difficult to see or locate because: Their natural habitat is rugged wild areas of lakes, rivers, streams, mountains, forests, brush and edges of farm and crop/seed growing country. And black bears are coal-black in Ontario. That means on the edge of night, at a bait site in the bush or forest, or the fringes of a dark area, they can be verydifficult to discern against a black or obscure background, especially if they only show up a few minutes before legal closing time.
  • I never go where they naturally dwell without adequate protection.
  • The only times I’ve seen or encountered black bears was while hunting them or other game. They are reclusive until they are hungry (which seems their most common activity apart from a relatively short breeding season) and will come to any food source – natural or planted by humans, or bait material from hunters.
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< This past June, 2024, a big bear did this. From what distance I don’t know, but he picked up the scent and came here for lunch… and continued to do it until it was removed the 15th of June. It was baited again on Sept. 1st of this month.

Last but not least of the reasons why I hunt bears each year is:

IT’S the MAIN REASON FOR CHOOSING the BIG GAME RIFLES in MY LOCKER

If I were not primarily a bear hunter, it’s very questionable that I’d own the exact same collection. A .458 Winchester would be there for certain. After that, what? A .300 Win Mag without much doubt, and a .45-70 – all with handloaded ammo. Then something smaller… like in .25-cal. I always liked my M70 in .25-06, and had a hankering for a .257 Wby.

But none of those, including the .300 Win Mag, are “stoppers” of big bears bent on mayhem at close range. The .45s are! The exception is a brain shot from the “others”. But under real live conditions, how likely is a carefully placed CNS hit? The best professionals with lots of experience say “shoot for the center of the mass” or “the big middle”, because ONE SHOT is all you’ll get from anything less than a semi-auto pistol!

In an article on this subject, which I re-read just a few days ago, a professional in Alaska who trains other personnel for Government services as police, in park service, rangers and COs, was asked to recommend the best defence weapons against a charging grizzly.

The first was a .45-70 in a lever-action firing something like Buffalo Bore ammo (or comparable handloads), the second was a pump 12ga with 3″ chambers shooting Brennekes or equivalent. 3rd and 4th were revolvers: .454 Casull, and 44 Rem in that order. Then the .375 H&H. The 444 Marlin was also in there with 300gr bullets from Buffalo Bore.

My favorite rifle for two decades. It is a .45-70 with a longer throat that made it the basic equivalent of a 22″ .458 Win Mag in ballistics. It finally got traded on my current Ruger No.1 Tropical in .458 Win Mag.

In simple language, his recommendations, in sequence, were BIG BORES!!! With sound reasons for each. In my more limited experience, I’ve found the .45-70, appropriately loaded, to STOP bears in their tracks, and by extension the great .458 Win Mag.

Both where I hunt, and have hunted, has the potential for a very close encounter with a large dominant black bear, and I’ve had several at some of my bait sites.

Sometimes it’s chilling but exciting! That’s why I love it! Talk about an Adrenalin rush!

I’ll share some real life stories upcoming in this series.

Till the next…

Shalom

BOB MITCHELL

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>