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Rockridge ramblings: for great bear hunting and friendly traditional competition, head north to Saskatchewan.

THAT THE BIG BEAR was ornery was obvious--over the course of three straight evenings the aggressive, silky-black bruin had run every other black bear to visit this remote Saskatchewan bait site quickly and decisively up a tree! After watching and photographing this bear's antics during those three nights, I decided to get down to business if he came back. Following the script perfectly, the trophy ghosted into the clearing along Indian Bayou like a wisp of black smoke.

This evening in late May was different though, as the object of my desire seemed spookier and more alert. On the three preceding nights the big bear had swaggered straight into the bait with scarcely a glance in my direction, but on this night he circled, tested the wind, and just generally acted more like a cagey black bear with some years under his belt--until the upstart 125-pound boar strolled in from behind my treestand.

Watching my quarry pace back and forth about 20 yards behind the bait, I was beginning to think a pointblank shot wasn't in the cards. Suddenly, the bruin's head snapped around, his ears cupped forward, and his beady little eyes stared intently into the dark spruce behind me. Scuffling sounds hinted that another bear was approaching, and when the 125-pounder came into view, my bear let out a guttural woof and charged at the interloper, rocketing directly under my treestand in the process. Running the new corner up a huge spruce 15 yards behind me, he followed the young bear halfway up the tree, all the while snarling, woofing, and sending a shower of dead branches raining down to the forest floor. Then the boss bear slid back down to earth and strode confidently toward the bait barrels 11 yards away.

Tracking the bear's movement with my 59-pound longbow, I waited until the trophy broke into the open in front of me before expelling air from deep within my lungs to simulate the huffing sounds made by an aggressive bruin. Normally this will stop a curious bear in mid-stride for a perfect shot, but I hadn't taken into account the ill-tempered nature of this particular bear. Instead of stopping, the bear spun instantly to face me and immediately began the staccato grunting sounds of a bear that is about to charge. Luckily for me, junior in the tree behind me picked this inopportune moment to start climbing down, and this insolence was more than the bigger bruin could stand. The big boy tore past my tree, and instantly the two bears were once again shooting towards the crown of the ancient spruce. Then, just as he had done previously, the victor descended and made his way back to the bait.

Having learned my lesson on the first try, I simply followed the bear's progress this time until he reached the bait barrels. When he stopped at a distance of 12 yards, quartering away, I eased the bow to full draw, concentrated intently on a tiny spot in the middle of the bruin's ribcage, and sent the 750-grain lodgepole pine arrow on its way.

MAY 2004 MARKED the 18th consecutive year that I've headed north into Canada to match wits with spring black bears. To be honest, I can't imagine not spending some time in May or June bowhunting bears, as it is one of the most enjoyable hunts, if not the most enjoyable, that I have ever experienced. Black bears are beautiful, intelligent animals that offer excitement and challenges for bowhunters like few other animals in North America. They live in some of the most remote and strikingly beautiful country on the continent, the weather is usually pleasant and warm, and after a long, cold winter of relative inactivity, I love to be out bowhunting again--especially when few other hunting opportunities exist.

My choice of destinations over the course of nearly two decades has always been either Saskatchewan or Manitoba, or oftentimes both as I regularly spend two or three weeks in the North Country chasing big bears. In 2004, I was making my fourth consecutive visit to the Carrot River region of eastern Saskatchewan to hunt with Kent Wolowski and Lori McGown of Rockridge Outfitters.

Kent and Lori run as fine a bear and deer operation as any I have booked with, and as skilled bowhunters themselves, they understand the special needs of archers. In fact, just this past year Lori arrowed a giant bruin that pushed the scales close to 500 pounds and nearly made Boone and Crockett! The bear was the second largest taken in the province in 2003, the largest by a woman bowhunter. And it provided ample testament to the quality of animals in their hunting area.

Sitting on a high bluff overlooking a rocky stretch of the Carrot River, Rockridge Outfitters' base of operations consists of log buildings built from giant, hand-hewn spruce logs in the heart of tremendous game country. In fact, it is rare to sit around the fire ring overlooking the river and not see bears, deer, moose, or elk at almost any given time of the day. Of course, late-night story-telling sessions around a roaring fire, while the northern lights dance across the black sky, are a special treat as well.

Other elements that really make this spring bear hunt special are the friendly shooting competitions and prizes that were started three seasons ago by Illinois bowhunter and wildlife artist extraordinaire Jim Hoker. Jim is an excellent bowhunter and one of the finest wood carvers in the country, and three years ago he strode into camp with a challenge: Whoever was the first of the half-dozen stickbow shooters in camp to hit a five-gallon bucket lid that Jim had hung in a tree, would be the proud owner of one of Jim's incredible trout carvings. And so, the Spring Bear Camp Trout Shoot was born.

As luck would have it, I was the proud recipient of that beautiful and lifelike Rainbow Trout, and the tradition continues and expands each year as more and more traditional bowhunters visit the Rockridge camp and participate in a variety of shooting competitions--roving challenges, 3-D shooting, aerial discs, and, as always, Jim's five-gallon bucket lid. Many bowhunters, including yours truly, visit Kent and Lori's camp each year as much for the camaraderie and shooting as for the hunting. Regulars come each year from as far away as Virginia to share their love for bowhunting and traditional archery, not to mention the opportunity to win prizes including custom longbows, artwork, custom arrows, and handmade quilts.

OF COURSE, THE THING that drew all of us to Carrot River in the first place was the bear hunting, and that certainly does not disappoint. Kent and Lori's area has an excellent population of bears, lots of color-phase bruins, and some giants, as well. The first year I hunted there I saw a 400-plus-pound red bruin that was steps away from accepting my arrow when an ornery, 300-pound sow with triplets ran him into the next province. And just this past year I had a cagey 400-pound chocolate bear ease in to my home-away-from-home at Indian Bayou only to catch a whiff of human scent on the fickle breeze and melt away into the heavy cover forever. Rockridge bowhunters have taken lots of big bears over the years including several B&C contenders. Among those was a giant black arrowed this past spring that weighed over 400 pounds and green-scored well over 21 inches!

ALTHOUGH NOT THE GIANT I'd seen a few days previously, the ornery bear entertaining me at Indian Bayou in 2004 was an outstanding bear with a long, silky black coat. And as the heavy wood arrow hit home with a crack!, I knew he was mine. Striking exactly where I was looking, the arrow centered the bruin's lungs and sliced the top of the heart before slamming into the off-shoulder. The big bruin swapped ends in the blink of an eye and streaked off to the northwest, passing directly under the smaller bear that was still clinging to branches high up in the giant spruce. His flight was short as he stumbled 25 yards out and then went down for good 35 paces from the bait. I couldn't have been happier, having made another quick, efficient harvest with traditional equipment, and having added another memory to the long list I file under the heading of Rockridge Ramblings.

Author's Notes:

If you're looking for an excellent spring bear hunt, call Kent and Lori Wolowski at Rockridge Outfitters (306/ 768-2617). They offer as fine a spring bear hunt as I have ever experienced. You can expect to see me there for years to come.

For information on hunting in Saskatchewan, contact the helpful, friendly folks at Saskatchewan Tourism (1-877-237-2273). They have been instrumental in helping me plan many enjoyable and successful trips.

After shooting and hunting with stickbows for three decades, I now design and build my own line of longbows, offering limited edition, autographed, and numbered signature bows under the name Prairie Longbows. I build only one model, the Panther, a 60-inch, reflex-deflex design that is quick and smooth. This is the bow I personally hunt with. For more information, or to order a Prairie Panther, contact me at: (218) 338-5316;
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Author:Blake, Joe
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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