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As an avid hunter who has never made bear hunting a primary focus, I decided to start my 2019 hunting season with a new challenge – to harvest my first spring black bear over bait. I am fortunate enough to have multiple friends who have successfully bear hunted in the past that were able to provide me with valuable information on techniques, bait choices, and other tips to start my own bait and produce.

As the season changed into spring, and ice fishing season ended, I began searching for places I could place my bait. I was talking to my friend Dustin about locations when he offered me a spot I could take over, as he hadn’t used it in a while (which I later came to realize why).

Knowing I now had a place to set my barrel, I began my search for bulk bait – classic oats, bacon grease, and honey. Another friend of mine who happens to be a local guide was getting ready to place his upcoming “treat” order, so I was able to get a quick order in with him and was now ready to go!

As the excitement built, I was eager to start my bait; however, waiting for the snow to melt seemed to take longer than the duration of our long Alberta winters.

April 3, 2019 finally came and Dustin took me to the site where we were able to start our baits (this was also the day I came to find out why he hadn’t used the location he told me I could take over). Getting to where my bait barrel would be was at the bottom of a dirty ravine and would prove to be no easy task. With sacs of bait over our shoulders and a wet skiff of snow on the ground, we were slipping, falling and sliding down the hill (which was quite comical for the bystanders). I knew this would be no easy task from here on to simply quad to the bait and stock it. Adding a rolling barrel and a beaver strung from a tree 10 feet off the ground, it was time to wait to see what would come to the dinner table.

On the way out after setting the bait, we decided to take the long way around the field knowing it was shed season. As if I wasn’t already on a high from getting my first bait going, I spotted what appeared to be a shed in the middle of the field. When we drove up to the shed in the side-by-side, not only did we find out it was actually a shed, but also it was a matching set of BIG elk sheds! Being it was my first bear bait and first set of elk sheds, I was having a great day!

Once the weather began to warm up and the bears started to manifest themselves, I noticed the bait was being hit and the beaver was gone. I was so excited to rebait the barrel and check the trail camera to see what I was bringing in – just as anyone is who checks their trail cameras! The anticipation didn’t let me down one bit, as the first couple of pictures revealed a monster black bear reaching up for the beaver. Now, knowing I have a shooter on my bait, I was even more excited and couldn’t wait to get out there to sit.

In the next week, there were more photos of him in the early morning before shooting time, and a couple of him during legal shooting time. It was reassuring this bear was regularly hitting the bait, although I had to control my excitement for a week to get back in the stand as I was off to the Dominican Republic.

Once I returned home from my vacation, the first thing I did was rebait the barrel and check the cameras, but the big bear hadn’t been seen for a few days. On May 9th, Dustin caught a picture of him on his camera at 7:00 pm at his bait a couple of miles away. He sent me the picture and not only was he a very big boar, he was  chocolate coloured as well! That was one of my goals – a colour-phased bear, and he was a GIANT! As if I wasn’t excited already, I was even more excited now and couldn’t wait to get back into the stand.

I was in my stand early in the morning hoping to catch him coming in as he had previously been doing. As the morning sun rose and the forest began to come to life, it wasn’t long before a couple of small bears worked their way to the bait. The sheer beauty of a bear and having one mere feet away from you will get your heart going. Although there was lots of activity, the big boar I was after did not show up that day. I couldn’t hunt for a couple more days and was back in the stand on May 12th.  

I sat both morning and night with small bear after small bear appearing and was getting a little discouraged. My next sit I was going to try my luck at another bait I had set, and let Dustin’s better half, Jodi (who was almost due with their first child), sit in my current location. The other bait I had set up was showing another big black bear coming in often, however, Jodi wasn’t feeling well so I decided to sit in my original stand one more night.

It was the night of May 13th and I had a bottle of vanilla extract that I sprayed the whole area – that was one of the best smelling sits ever! Not seeing the bear on my bait in the evening, and knowing he was at Dustin’s bait not long ago, my hopes weren’t too high for the big brown. After an hour or so, I looked up to see a bear in the distance sitting on the trail. I grabbed my binos to try to see through the bushes. It only took me a second to realize that the bear was brown!

The bear sat on the trail for a good 10 minutes before it slowly started working its way towards the bait. He ended up crossing paths with another decent sized black bear, where he put a full-on charge and chased the bear out of the area. The big brown would sniff, take a few steps, sniff some more, and then take a few more steps. Making his way to the tree I had sprayed the vanilla on, he started licking it. After stepping over a downed tree, he made the final 50 yards into the bait. I was shaking like a leaf at this point and could hear my heart pounding so loud I thought for sure the bear could hear it too. I came to a full draw and all I saw was brown in my sight. I pulled my eyes away from the sight and refocused on the bear. Just as I was about to touch my arrow off, he moved a few feet and then stopped. I released my arrow. It hit him dead on and passed right through. The bear turned and ran down the path for about 50 yards where I watched him tip over.

At that point, I was shaking and filled with excitement. It took a few moments but once I calmed myself down, I sent a text to Dustin who was a couple of miles away hunting – “BIG BROWN IS DOWN!" I climbed out of the ravine and met Dustin who assisted me in recovering the absolute giant. When we first laid eyes on him, we both agreed the trail camera pictures didn’t do him any justice as to his sheer size.

Dustin made a phone call to Jodi and she, like a trooper (as in had the baby the next morning kind of trooper), brought the side-by-side out to us to try to get the bear out of the ravine. It couldn’t have been better timing; we hauled the bear out of the bush, took some field shots of the brute, the sun had set, and the sky had turned black.

The bear taped out at 7-foot 4-inches, 491 pounds and a 19 14/16-inch skull after a 60-day drying period. He is an absolute giant and I highly doubt I will ever get another as big as him again.

This experience not only provided me with the opportunity to successfully meet my goal of hunting a black bear over bait, but has also led to a newfound passion of mine with many more years of spring bear hunting to look forward to. BIG thanks to Cody, Jodi, and Dustin for everything! ■

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