SOS TV hunt crew member Diane Hafford and Basin
Black Bear Outfitters guide Carmen Kelly with her boar
In my last column, I wrote the 'Bear Necessities'- tips and advice on what will make you a successful bear hunter. This week's column is all about the actual bear hunt that I recently filmed for my good friend Bob Walker's outdoor tv show Sportsmen's Outdoor Strategies. This hunt will be one of the upcoming shows on SOS TV airing on Versus and the Sportsman Channel this fall. Check your local listings for days and times.
Since I too am a casualty of the recent wave of unemployment, my schedule was wide open when I received the phone call from Bob asking if I could film SOS TV hunt crew members Diane Hafford and Emmy Stephens on their first ever bear hunt at Basin Black Bear Outfitters- formerly Kelly's Sporting Lodge. Having been to this facility on numerous ocassions, I knew that there were 'Bears O'Plenty' and it would be great to see my good friend Carmen Kelly- who many bear hunters refer to as the 'Bear God'. If you want to know anything and everything about bears, he IS the man and has been guiding bear hunters for close to thirty years.
Since I would be driving in from Indianapolis(twenty-two hours, 1350 miles just in case you're wondering), I decided to split the trip up and stop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire just outside the Maine border. I highly recommend the Anchorage Inn & Suites(phone #(800)370-8111) located in the heart of this seacoast region of the northeast. They offer all of the amenities you would expect as well as an indoor pool, a separate whirlpool tub (which is perfect after driving fourteen hours) and a complimentary breakfast for your morning departure- all at a reasonable rate. Conveniently located just off of Rt 1 and I-95, it is the perfect place to spend a night prior to driving the length of Maine into Canada.
(Below)Lodge manager Gary Sabean, guide Carmen Kelly, Denny Snyder and guide Matt Cheney
Day One and Two
The most common method of bear hunting in Canada is over a source of bait from a tree stand. Basin Black Bear Outfitters is no different and has well established bait sites that have been used for years. The stands are quite roomy(great for filming) and are located well within bow range with clear shooting lanes. Emmy Stephens is an experienced hunter from Alabama and has taken numerous game with a bow and gun but this would be her first bear hunt. I could sense her excitement in anticipation of the evening hunt. Unfortunately the 50/50 chance of weather brought us no bears on our first two nights- only a large cow moose and more rain and wind. Even though we saw no bears, this gave Emmy and I both had the opportunity to get all the 'bugs' worked out as far as filming equipment shots,
Author Denny Snyder, guide Matt Cheney, SOS TV hunt crew members Emmy Stephens and Diane Hafford
closeups, and also her thoughts on being included on the bears menu. I guess my comments about 'pack bears' roaming the Canadian woods at nightfall had been taken to heart........
Finally, the rain and wind released their grip and the sun had us dripping with sweat as we unloaded our hunting gear from the truck. 'That's a good sign' said Carmen commenting on the change of weather while swatting at the moose flies constantly bombarding our hunting party. After climbing into the stand, Carmen said "Try not to move and you'll see a bear tonight". Easier said than done.*
* I HIGHLY recommend a Thermacell unit if you venture on any spring bear hunt. You'll never fool the nose of a bear and if they see you wretching around because of the constant moose flies, mosquitoes and gnats, chances are that the movement will have any bears in the area waiting long after dark to visit your bait.
Our stand was located next to a babbling brook on the opposite side of our bait barrel. This helped hide any unintentional noise we might make while adjusting in the stand. Unless you are part statue, at some point you will need to 'adjust' after stoically sitting several hours in a stand- no matter how comfortable. Any movement needs to be slow and muffled to avoid alerting any approaching bruins. A raven broke the lull of the running water cawing as he flew over our stand. I told Emmy that was my own good luck sign after seeing dozens of bears within minutes of seeing ravens.
Sure enough, it wasn't long before my hunting partner excitedly whispered "Bear ! ". In the span of maybe two seconds, I swear Emmy managed to rapidly tap my leg thirty-four times pointing in the direction of something approaching that was black- and very big. I have seen many bears while hunting with Carmen over the past ten years and there was no doubt that this one was definitely a shooter. The large boar tried to circle downwind but hunger over-ruled caution and he slowly walked the same exact trail we had taken to the bait. His shoulders stood well above the 35 gallon bait barrel. He definitely owned the place.
Prior to climbing in to the stand, I had told Emmy to not wait for my signal, that the camera would be rolling to capture the events as they unfolded. She was already at full draw when the big boar decided to sit down facing us- at only a mere thirteen yards. I could see that this was going to be a test of wills- who could hold out the longest and the bear decided things didn't look quite right with this particular fast food stop. He stood and started to walk away.
I could remember Carmen saying "The best two shots on a bear are a killing shot or a clean miss" as I watched Emmy's Luminok sail harmlessly over the big bear's shoulder. If you ever think you can outrun a bear, think again. The three hundred pound plus boar covered a hundred yards back into the brush in the blink of an eye. I don't know of ANY hunters that have not missed a shot- myself included. I tried to consol my hunter whose face had the look of a star athlete who had just missed the game winning shot at the buzzer. The shot will be played over and over in both of our heads for quite some time.
The good news is that the big bruin lives to put on another 30% of his body weight for this coming fall's hunts. Now the woods were silent. There are only so many things you can say to your hunting partner after what we both knew was a golden opportunity.
A shot rang out in the distance followed by two more. We both guessed guide Matt Cheney must have also had an opportunity at a bear. With only our two lady hunters in camp, Matt was taking full advantage of hunting this last week of the season. Carmen confirmed Matt's kill when he came in to get us from our own stand.
Author Denny Snyder with B3O guide Matt Cheney and his bear
This break in the weather had all the bears up and moving that evening. We checked in with fellow guide and lodge manager Gary Sabean who was sitting with SOS TV hunt crew member Diane Hafford. They too had seen a large boar from their stand right at dark but it did not offer a shot. I believe Diane's description was "it was as big as a Volkswagon ! ". Changing roles from videographer to buwana, my back felt like we just carried a small German car after finally getting Matt's bear back to the truck.
Day Four and Five
Just knowing that last night was a gift(any time you can capture a monster bear on camera at a stone's throw away, at least I consider it a gift), we all knew that the unpredictable weather this week would make any other opportunities at trophy class bruins come few and far between. I would rather be lucky than good and was hoping that luck would smile on my two lady hunters this week.
Once again, Diane and Gary saw another 'Volkswagon' at dark and the only thing big and black that Emmy and I saw was a large cow moose- also well within bow range. Now that I think about it, there was only one day while in New Brunswick I didn't see a moose while traveling to and from our stands. Emmy did see another bear her last night hunting but as luck would have it, her first bear would not be on this trip. Emmy would be flying home with the classic tale- "you should ave seen the one that got away"........
The Last Day
There has been more than one hunting trip that I have said to myself "just one more day". Diane Hafford is the owner/operator of the trophy whitetail hunting operation Rocky Branch Outfitters in southern Illinois and is too familiar with the term "one more day". We have been friends for many years and at her request, we gave it one more day. This would be my first night to film with Diane and sometimes that is all it takes. Tonight would be no exception to the rule.
A half hour into the drive to our stand I realized I had forgotten a crucial piece of equipment. When bear hunting, I have the habit of traveling in the truck in my house slippers and then pulling on my boots after getting out of the truck. Today, the knot in my stomach said I distinctly remember sitting my boots by the door of my cabin- to not forget them.
"Diane, tonight I GUARANTEE you will get a bear" I said from the back seat. She inquisitively looked at me with her eyes asking how I can make such a prediction. "Gary and Matt are both gone and my boots are back at the lodge- I guarantee I'll be helping carry out your bear with you and Carmen in my slippers tonight." Carmen and I both laughed because we knew of course this is what would happen. No extra help and me in a pair of bedroon slippers........
I absolutely love first time bear hunters. You can not fake that kind of excitement- which will be quite evident when this show airs. Nothing short of Emmy's rapid leg tapping, Diane's reaction to the approaching 'Volkswagon' this last evening had my own heart racing in anticipation of the upcoming shot. "Bear !" she announced as she quickly grabbed "Ol' Nellie"- a Remington 30-06 that has been feeding my own family for many years which I insisted she use for this evening's hunt.. I wanted to put the odds in our favor hoping that a rifle would at the bare minimum(no pun intended)extend her range if necessary.
"If you have a shot, take it" I told her as the camera was rolling. The bear must have sensed eminant danger and never came the entire way to the bait but was doing an about face and exit stage left. The shot rang out and just like an old Star Trek episode, the bear transported itself to another planet.
Her face said it all- she just shot her first bear. Seeing her not knowing whether to laugh or cry, I gave her a big bear hug(yes, I said it) and congratulated her on her first bruin. In the distance, we heard the classic death moan as the large boar expired probably a hundred yards through the thick Canadian brush.
"Is that good or bad?" she said pensively waiting for my response. "That's good AND bad" I responded- looking down at my footwear. "Good- that he is down for the count- Bad for where he is". Just as I predicted, Diane shot a beautiful boar all captured on camera for an upcoming episode of Sportsmen's Outdoor Strategies this fall. Tonight was ladies night and definitely a night to remember.
After the initial cell phone calls, congratulatory back-slapping and laughing in celebration of the hunt, it would be another late night trip back to the lodge. We all sat quietly while riding home thinking about the events - myself remembering old friends from hunts in the past and also the new friends I had made on this adventure with Basin Black Bear Outfitters. Once again, Uncle Carmen was and still is the 'Bear God' of New Brunswick- but most importantly my friend and I was glad to see him once again.
For more information on hunting bear, whitetails and moose, contact Basin Black Bear Outfitters at www.basinblackbearoutfitters.com.