Photos and Story By: Larry Weishuhn
“Change of plans! We’re not going to be able get into the deer area I wanted us to hunt because of recent destructive storms. But don’t worry, I have a plan! Let’s get you a black bear license!”
Not quite what I had planned nor expected. But I liked how my guide, Sean Lingl, thought.
Initially I had come to British Columbia’s Vancouver Island during the fall to hunt Columbia blacktail deer. Sean continued, “There’s simply no way to get where I had planned us to hunt either by land or sea. We have deer around the lodge and where I keep my boat. Problem is, we can’t hunt those areas. We can hunt deer across the lake, but not many deer there, still we’ll try….” Shaking his head, “Maybe we’ll see a buck. But with a bear license, we’ll have another option. Tomorrow we’ll make our way to the head of the lake. We should see several bears. I have seen some legitimate eight-foot bears there.” I nodded approvingly, “We’re on the tail of the salmon run, but there should still be some fish coming in to the streams that feed the lake!”
“Big bear you say?” I queried. “Possibly an eight-footer? You got my attention!”
“Would you like to borrow my .375 Ruger. I know you’re .257 Roberts could kill a big bear, but wouldn’t you feel more comfortable shooting a .375?” I was honored Sean would allow me to use his rifle, topped with a Trijicon scope and of course shooting Hornady 300-grain DGX ammo.
“Yes Sir! I would love to!”
“We’ll head out onto the lake in the morning and start out hunting deer by crawling up into the mountains, do some glassing, and hopefully find a buck. But I need to remind you deer are few and far between. After lunch we’ll head toward the back part of the lake. But now, let’s go get you legal for bear, come back, have a great evening meal and get ready for tomorrow morning.”
That is exactly what we did! After purchasing a bear hunting license, we headed back to Sean’s lodge and had a fabulous meal, thanks to Marnie, Sean’s gracious and talented wife.
Morning arrived way before first light. A quick, delicious breakfast, then we headed to Sean’s comfortable boat. A half-hour later, he beached the craft and headed up the mountain in search of deer. Wish I could tell you we saw a nice buck, or even a doe, we did not.
We did find a set of tracks which looked like they had been made a week earlier. So it would be the rest of my deer hunt.
Noon, we were back at the boat and headed toward the back of the lake where Sean had previously seen some big black bear.
Headed to our destination, I admired the absolutely fabulous scenery but also reflected upon previous fall bear hunts I had done, starting with hunting with hounds in the morning and then sitting on water holes in the late afternoon in New Mexico near the Mescalero Apache Reservation. It was there I shot my first black bear as it drank from a pond. That memory brought to mind other bears I had taken in northern New Mexico during the fall season. They too, had visited late afternoon waterholes. I had also shot fall bears hunting spot and stalk, incidentally, to deer and elk hunts.
Back then, I came to understand black bear living in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona during the early fall tend to come to water daily, mostly during late afternoon. By setting up where I could watch a remote waterhole around which could be found numerous bear tracks, I knew I would have an excellent chance at shooting a bear. Sitting on a particular waterhole in northeastern New Mexico just below Johnson Mesa, I watched eight bears come to water one afternoon. That occurred two days before the season opened. Opening day afternoon, I shot a really nice six-feet plus squared bear, one of which had been eating acorns. He was fat and delicious!
But now I was in Canada, on an island. Water was everywhere. Water was not a premium as it had been in the Southwest desert. Still, water seemed to attract bears even on Vancouver Island, however for a different reason. Water meant not only something to drink but also food in the form of salmon swimming upstream to spawn.
The back side of the lake and the two streams that fed it were filled with “dog” salmon. They were everywhere, some dead and dying and some wildly alive. Fish carcasses littered the shoreline, obviously fed upon by bear. Numerous appeared to only have had their brains and eyes eaten. “No doubt the bears are here, now likely bedded, digesting their feast. With the first snows only a few days away, they’re likely getting a bit sluggish, but still trying to eat all they can.” I nodded an affirmative. “Let’s head to that point there on the left, the one with stumps and fallen tree trunks. Got a feeling about that place,” said Sean, surveying the area with an experienced guide’s eye.
We did not have long to wait before the first bear appeared, a boar approaching the seven-feet squared size. He headed our direction and fed on salmon within a few yards of where we were sitting on a tree trunk, hidden behind upturned roots. He was a beauty. Had I not previously taken numerous really nice black bears and the fact Sean had seen bigger bear in the area, I would have taken him.
Until near sundown we watched little bears, middle-sized and bigger bears, although no monsters. “Gotta leave in about five minutes to get across the lake while we can still see,” Sean whispered. “I noticed on our way here there were several floater logs. Don’t want to hit one on my way home. We gotta be back at the dock before it’s totally dark!” I couldn’t argue with his logic.
I cast an eye to the far right just as a distant, huge black blob appeared. A quick look through my 10x binos confirmed it was not only a black bear, it was a monstrous bear. “That’s one of the eight-footers I told you about!” I nodded and kept watching. “Unfortunately, by the time we could get to him we’d be out of light. Then we’d have to try to get home in the dark. Wouldn’t recommend that.” I nodded in agreement. “Besides…got a feeling he’ll be back. Tomorrow, we’ll set up on the right rather than the left side where we were this afternoon.”
That night at the lodge, over a fabulous supper featuring delicious prawns and fish, Sean and I talked about his involvement with DSC and DSC Foundation and the fact he annually donated hunts in support of DSC’s mission of conservation, education and hunter advocacy. Sean’s Canadian Guide Outfitters was “DSC’s 2013 Guide Outfitter of the Year.” Frankly, because of outfitters like Sean, DSC does wondrous work and with a very limited staff.
The following day, we saw several bears but no huge bear. At least not until just before we had to leave when the monstrous bear appeared once again. This time however, on the left side of the stump and log covered bay where we had been the previous evening. It seemed he had gotten an advanced copy of the script!
That evening back at the lodge, we heard high winds. No doubt a front was blowing in. Likely, there would be too much wind on the lake for a hunt in the morning.
Sure enough, at first light the winds were blowing force! So we decided to hunt an area in the mountains where Sean had seen a really big bear just before I arrived in camp. By noon, we had seen several really nice and big bears, easily approaching seven-feet. But not the BIG one! Sean checked the weather forecast. “Gale force winds. Not a good idea to get on the lake this afternoon. Let’s head to the nearest village, grab a bit to eat and come back.” Sounded like an excellent idea to me!
That afternoon, secreted along a remote stream’s edge, we had several bears almost in our lap. It could not have been a more enjoyable or fun-filled evening hunt. I took a great number of photos of bears.
The next morning we left the lodge driving through dense fog. Sean checked the weather, “Fog, likely not lifting until late afternoon. Then, another front is blowing in bringing high winds and rain.” We turned around, headed back to the lodge. At that point, a second and third cup of coffee seemed in order. "After that we’ll head to another area where I’ve seen some big bears during the fall,” said Sean, followed by, “This weather thing is one of the reasons I don’t usually book bear hunts during the fall…”
The coffee was strong, hot and delicious. The conversation stimulating and fun. Mid-morning, we headed into the hills. In spite of fog and intermittent rain, we saw eight bears, likely sows based upon body confirmation and size.
The front blew through during the night and the wind calmed by dawn’s light the following morning. We headed to the lake in hopes of finding the big boar we played cat and mouse with a couple days prior. This time we brought lights in case we needed to head back in the dark. On our way we spotted a really “nice” bear walking the shoreline. We beached the craft and set up to wait for him to come to us. He did! He came so close I feared I would have to shoot him in self-defense. He passed by at eight-feet.
We spent the day glassing and watched the areas we had seen the eight-foot bear the previous evenings. We stayed until it was dark. He did not show. Several other bears, although not equal to his size, put in an appearance. What a fabulous day of watching bears!
Next morning avoiding forceful winds, we again headed into the hills. It would be my last day hunting with Sean on this trip. If I saw a bear bigger than those I had taken in the past I would do my best to take it. If we did not see a monstrous bear, I was fine going home with my unused bear tag. The hunt had been extremely successful as far as I was concerned, a true adventure in the company of a good friend, fabulous food and scenery and having passed on many bears.
We did see more bears, sows and young boars, but not “the big one.” That night over another fabulous “Marnie Prepared Meal” we made plans for my early departure to the airport and trip back to Texas. I hated to leave but knew come January and our annual DSC Convention I would sit down with Sean and plan another future hunt with him. I still have an appointment with a Vancouver Island Columbia blacktail deer and an eight-feet squared black bear!