Story and photos by: Jim Kinsey
Spring is in the air and that means bear season in most western states.
Looking forward to another exciting spring, I can’t help but think back to my last bear hunting adventure in Saskatchewan. The memory of the hunt, specifically, a three-second period when I was face to face with a giant, is vivid in my mind.
Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to bow hunt black bear in Northern Canada while filming for Skull Bound TV. It’s here I got addicted to the adrenaline rush found by sitting on the ground one-on-one with giant black bears who are afraid of nothing. In Saskatchewan, the bears show very little fear of humans and aren’t afraid to come in close to check you out. In my home state of Montana, bears act much different. They will run at the first sight or smell of a human.
I’ve taken big bears from a tree stand and a few more while sitting in a ground blind in Saskatchewan. There really is nothing equal to a heart pounding bear encounter on the ground, especially when it's close. On a previous hunt, I faced off with a beautiful six-foot cinnamon color phase bore at less than five yards. I was in a pop-up blind at the time, but the fabric walls do little more than provide a slight feeling of security.
That particular hunt was one for the books. As the cinnamon boar walked by the window of my blind, he suddenly stopped, faced me and began to growl and snap his jaws. When he turned to walk away, I slipped an arrow into his boiler room. He didn’t make it more than 20 yards. What happened next was something I’d never witnessed before. With my camera rolling, I filmed a much larger jet-black boar coming in to see what was causing all the commotion. Posturing up, he walked in stiff legged and headed straight for my dead bear. In those few moments, I captured footage of the largest bear I’d ever seen rough up the lifeless body of the bear I had just taken. I’m sure that giant weighed around 450 pounds and would have squared well over seven feet. All I could do was yell at him hoping he’d leave. An hour later, he finally sauntered off and left me with one of the biggest adrenaline rushes of my life
Hoping for a repeat performance, I headed back to Saskatchewan last spring. As fate would have it, I faced off with another giant, but this time - without a blind.
I headed to Saskatchewan with my brother Al, friends DeeAnn and Paul Servey, and host of Skull Bound TV Jana Waller. We were filming a two-part series for Skull Bound TV out of the Thompson Camps on Otter Lake. It was a five-day hunt and both Jana and DeeAnn filled their bear tags on the first evening. My brother Al filled his tag the second evening with a beautiful jet-black boar. That left me three days of the five-day hunt to look for a bear. Unfortunately, I was unable to fill my tag. The bear rut was in full swing and most big boars had left the bait sites looking for love.
After the hunt I headed home, dreaming of the big bears we’d seen on the trail cam photos. I knew those bears would eventually show back up on the baits over the next week or two. The bear rut would be winding down by then and the old bores' focus would shift back to food. I made a game plan to fly back up Otter Lake and try to notch my tag much later in the season. It was a decision that would pay off with the biggest bear of my life.
Two weeks had passed and the north country was much greener. Visibility had dropped off significantly with all the new growth and that meant the bears would be close. Real close. I met up with my good friend Jim Brennan and his buddy Rockie Jacobsen to see if all three of us could fill our tags. Jim was excited to show me several bears the outfitter had back on camera. One such bear was a beast named “No Ears.” This bear had a head so big he didn’t look real. Our plan was to sit baits along a line the bear was known to use, but it didn’t work. We didn’t connect with “No Ears.” He seemed to have simply disappeared.
Working through a Plan B, I remembered the location where my brother Al had taken his bear a couple weeks prior showed promise. On day two, the outfitter dropped me off at the bait around 5:30pm. I knew I had a long sit ahead of me since it wouldn’t get dark until 10:00pm at this latitude. I brought a small plastic lawn chair - the kind of chair you’d use at a picnic - that made zero sound when I moved and being white in color, helped me blend with the stand of poplars surrounding me.
The set up was tight at this location. To my left was a matted down bear trail one step away. Twelve yards in front of me, the steel bait drum. I set up my main Sony 4K camera, wired myself up with an omni directional microphone and set up two go-pros. One go-pro in front of me and one clamped onto the upper limb of my Mathews bow. After that, all I needed was a bear to come in.
It was Father’s Day and settling into my chair, I thought of my dad. I even said a little prayer thanking him for bringing me up in the great outdoors. Two hours into the sit, I caught movement to my left. Through the stand of poplar trees and roughly fifty yards away, something resembling a jet-black bigfoot was standing up on two legs. It didn’t take me long to realize it was a large bear rubbing its back on a poplar tree. The bear dropped to all fours as I tried to power up all three cameras. I could catch glimpses of black hair creeping through the trees toward the bait and it was hard to focus on the cameras. Self filming only adds to the challenge of the hunt.
The bear was breathing heavily as he moved closer. Getting a good look him, something didn’t seem right. I didn’t recognize this bear. He wasn’t on any of our trail cameras. His head was massive and when he emerged from behind a root wad of a fallen tree at 15 yards, I knew this bear was a giant. At 12 yards, I noticed he was limping badly off his left front leg. Step-by-step he limped with his left front paw curled up under him. A massive wound across his nose was a fresh sign of a battle he had endured earlier that day, probably why he was breathing so heavily as he approached.
Sitting on my chair and totally exposed as the giant approached is something I’ll never forget. The massive boar stopped to survey the landscape at nine steps. He took a quick look down the trail I was sitting on but didn’t spot me. My heart nearly pounded out of my chest as I slowly came to full draw, but the bear caught my movement. He turned toward me and our eyes met. In those few seconds, time seemed to slow down. All I could see was his massive chest heaving with each breath and his face dripping with blood from the recent fight. The feeling that came over me can only be described as primal fear. We were two predators damn near face-to-face, neither willing to relent. The moment lasted only a few seconds in time but will hold in my memory forever.
Finally, the old bear began to turn back from where he came. Slowly, I moved my single pin Option 6 sight to the mark and touched off the release. The arrow passed clean though. He spun off in a flash just making it to the top of a small ridge 40 yards away before I saw him lay down in silence.
Kneeling down next the bear, I thanked him for his life and tried to show him the respect an old Monarch deserves. Battle worn and broken, this bear had a broken front left leg, multiple bite marks across his head and chest and a slash across his nose cut deep down to the cartilage. The battles this bear fought must have been epic.
Squaring out at 6 feet 6 inches and with his skull green scoring 20 4/8 inches B&C, he is the largest bear I have ever taken. I am still in awe of the experience and will always remember locking eyes with him at nine yards. Over the 30 plus years I’ve hunted these apex predators, the three seconds in time I shared with this bear where the most exciting.