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  • Writer's pictureAlex Willis

A hunting first: black bear

Five years after my first hunt and after only ever harvesting two animals, I was asked, “Do you want to come bear hunting?”

I didn’t start hunting until later than most. My dad brought my brother out for his first hunt when he was little, but my first harvest came later when I was in high school, and even then, I didn’t know I was going to do it until it happened — but that’s a story for another time.

Five years after my first hunt, and only harvesting two animals in between, my dad asked me, “Do you want to come bear hunting?”

He had gone the two years prior with an outfitter in New Brunswick that he befriended at the Great American Outdoor Show. Both years he was unsuccessful, though the year before my brother got one. Bear hunting wasn’t anything that had crossed my mind before.

I had just graduated, and wasn’t finding any good job prospects, so I had the time — what harm could it do? Why not just go and see what happens?

I still didn't own any camo at this point; the little bit of hunting I did in Africa didn’t really require it. So I borrowed some from my brother, bought some scent-free soap, and we packed up the truck and were off.

I was a great co-pilot and slept pretty much the entire way from Pennsylvania to Canada.

Alex with her father standing in front of a large moose statue.
Canada, Eh?

Once we got to Lawrence Dyer & Sons Outfitters, we unpacked and met the other hunters in camp for the week. Most of the guys were bunked together in shared rooms, but I got to have my own — a new addition that was just built for a frequent guest: Ted Nugent (who was supposed to be in camp with us, but canceled last minute — I was a little bummed).

Danny Dyer, the owner, rounded us up and gave his standard welcome and rules speech on the laws of the land, where to shoot, and the basics of what the day-to-day would entail. I’m sure for everyone else, this was already known info, but it was all new to me and I was paying attention to each detail, taking mental notes.

Bears aren’t super active in the morning, so we didn’t need to get up crazy early like you typically would for other game. We all had breakfast together, then you could play pool, darts, practice shooting, or just hang out — I chose to spend my time reading or going for a run along the backroads.

Danny brought us to a range where I could sight-in the 30.06 CZ rifle I would be using. Dead on.

We were all given our bag lunches and then Chris Dyer, Danny’s son, brought everyone out to their stands. Since my dad and I were together, we were placed in a ground blind.

In front of each spot were two large barrels, one standing upright, and one down on its side. This was a traditional hunt over bait, meaning once we were in place, Chris would throw out some pastries and swab vanilla icing onto the barrels and squeeze vanilla water around the area to attract the bears.

After a while.. bears! I couldn’t believe it. I had never seen an bear before outside of a zoo, and here they were, slowly making their way in for the sweet reward.

The standing barrel was to be used as a guide. You knew you had a trophy bear if he was “top-of-the-barrel.” Many of the bears were well below that, but you could tell when a bigger bear was coming in by the actions of the others. It was a neat experience watching them be and interact — there was more action than I had anticipated, a good sign of a healthy bear population.

Did I mention we were in a ground blind? This meant that although we were hidden, we were on the same level. My dad had handed me a pair of Walker game ears (fancy headphones that protect your ears from the blast of a gun firing while amplifying the sounds of nature around you). I heard a bear circling us. CIRCLING us as we were in the blind, on the ground, with only a thin piece of fabric between us. My heart was pounding. What did I sign myself up for?!

“Alex get ready! He’s HUGE, do you see him?” my dad whispered.

I scrambled to get into position while being as quiet as possible. I saw him emerge from the other side of the clearing. At first he stood behind the barrels, but a minute later he fully came into view. He was an OVER-the-barrel bear. Absolutely massive! I had him in my sights, as I was trying to remember back to the proper shot placement from Danny’s lecture the night before.

“Alex, shoot!”

My heart was POUNDING. The gravity of the situation always hits me when I’m about to pull the trigger. One shot. One perfect shot was all I wanted. There would be no suffering if the shot was placed perfectly, and I put a LOT of pressure on myself to get it right.

He quartered away, and was gone.

“What was that?! You had him!” I could tell my dad wasn’t happy with me.

It just didn’t feel right, and I couldn’t line it up the way I wanted. I could have shot, but it would have been rushed, and something likely would have gone wrong.

We headed back to camp and I held my head low. “Did I just blow it?” I thought. “He could be gone for good, and I missed my only chance.”

The next day I felt more prepared — I even pre-unwrapped my granola bars (taking off the noisy plastic wrapping)!

That monster never came back, but another large top-of-the-barrel boar (male bear) did. And I was ready for him. My shot rang out and we saw him react to impact. He ran to the right just out of view into thicker vegetation.

I was told that right before a bear dies, they bellow — the “death moan” — one last big roar before they collapse. I listened. Nothing.

I wanted to go after it, something was wrong, if I had wounded it, I needed to finish the job — I wasn’t letting an animal suffer at my hands. My dad stopped me, “we need to wait.” I didn’t understand at the time, but I obeyed.

I later learned that you never want to walk right up to an injured animal, especially a bear. That’s when they can be the most dangerous, or make it more difficult to recover.

It wasn’t much longer until shooting light was about done and Chris was back to pick us up. We emerged from the blind and went to look for my bear. Not even 20 yards from where I shot him laid his body, hiding in the vegetation. This mature boar met his end ethically and humanely. My shot landed perfectly through the heart, explaining why he didn’t bellow.

The following night my dad got his bear with his bow and we got to hear the bellow — it was intimidating to say the least.

Two tags, two bears, and a freezer full of meat: Bear Chili for days!

Since we both tagged out, we spent our last day fly fishing the Tobique River.

My first time hunting something that could eat me was an experience I won’t soon forget. Even typing this out five years later gets my heart pumping! I am forever grateful that I get to share these memories with my father.


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