• Bruce Penninsula Bears Part 2

    Bruce Penninsula Bears Part 2

    The legal and regulated pursuit of black bears seems to evoke debate and divide amongst both hunters and non-hunters alike. Many have opinions on the topic of hunting Ontario bruins, yet the vast majority of those have never spent time hunting anything let alone a bear. I had some preconceived ideas on chasing black bears, but that was before I dove into the task that was to become my introduction to hunting a bruin.

    A trail camera placed on a route to a bait site snapped this picture of a fat Bruce County black bear near Wiarton Ontario.My journey into bear hunting began this summer during a chat with a fellow bass club member. He showed me trail camera pictures of a bear. The bruin was massive, easily over 300lbs with a white chevron patch on its chest. “I have pictures of 3 other bears with those patches”, exclaimed Chris Barfoot. “You should try hunting them, pretty wild experience and good meat”, he added. I thought about it for a second than agreed. He was totally correct; I should give it a try. But where and how would I start? I didn’t know the first thing about hunting bears. Barfoot must have seen it coming, as I pestered and pleaded that he introduce me to bear hunting. Besides, when talking with those in the hunting community, Barfoot is known as a very successful bear hunter who knows exactly how to get it done. Chris agreed and so began the next 40 days of what would become my 1st season chasing black bears.

    In order to become familiar with my quarry, I did an extensive amount of research on the local black bear population, much of which I summarized in my last column. The amount of information, skills and knowledge I gained over the past 4 weeks in relation to actually hunting bears has been incredible. Barfoot was going to show me how to hunt bear, with a bow, from the ground in close quarters. He seemed to make it sound so simple, easing the worry of perusing an animal that could and has killed humans. I had no idea that the amount of planning and work that went into this pursuit would be so great.

    First off, any good bear hunter knows that hunting black bear over bait is the way to go. Many may scoff at this idea, but here is why it works. Baiting bears and hunting them on a bait site allows the hunter to pattern a bear’s behavior. Hunting bear over bait allows for close inspection of the animal that is to be harvested and also ensures a close target and clean kill. The idea of stalking a bear in a heavy peninsula forest is very unproductive and likely dangerous. Bears are not dumb animals and become very wary when hunted. Hunting bear over a bait site may sound easy, but I can assure you it is anything but. When it comes to bait, Barfoot and other productive hunters rely on sweet baked goods. Stale donuts, pastries, and breads get the nod as prime bear bait. Securing these tasty bear attracting treats is the hardest part of baiting a bruin. The key is to start and not stop with the baiting program until you are done hunting for the season, or harvest a bear. Barfoot likes to begin baiting a few weeks before he intends to hunt. Not early in the summer as some hunters, as Barfoot believes this may contribute to the bears becoming more nocturnal as the season progresses. The preferred bait site for Barfoot is located in a small clearing amidst a large conifer forest. His prime bear hunting sites come on private properties greater than 50 acres in size. Our hunts would take place on a large forest property of Barfoot’s near Wiarton.

    Barfoot has been hunting local black bears for just over 15 years now. In that time, he has baited dozens upon dozens of local bruins. Some years, Barfoot will bait 2 or more sites across his part of the county, and in some years, he may not even harvest a bear but he always baits. Most of his sites draw the attention of 3 to 4 different bears, and notably, they are usually male bruins, also known as “bores”. The thousands of trail camera pictures Barfoot has accumulated seems to prove this idea that bores, especially younger ones, frequent bait sites the most. When the spring bear hunt in Ontario was cancelled, the major argument for cancellation revolved around the harvest of female bears with cubs at spring bait sites, yet observations show that females and their cubs are not the most common visitor. Within the first 3 days of baiting the site we were to hunt, Barfoot had 4 different bears on a trail camera, which overlooked the bait station. Each one of these bears, upon picture observation appeared to be bores. It is true that dominant bores will kill cubs within their home range, and when a dominant bore begins to visit a bait site, sow and cubs all but disappear.

    The local bears of Grey-Bruce are no slouches in terms of size. Thanks to longer growing seasons, and shorter hibernation periods in comparison to northern populations, our bears grow big. Also, the ample amount of food sources in the area serve up a buffet to hungry bears. Winter wheat, apples, corn crops, beans act as major weight gainers for a Grey-Bruce bruin. In 2002, under guidance of her husband Chris, Kim Barfoot harvested a fall bear near Wiarton that tipped the scales over 500lbs. The skull measurements, which is the scoring system used to judge trophy bears, topped out a 19+ inches, making it one of the largest bears harvested in the province by woman, ever! That is trophy black bear, grown in our own backyards and it was good to know we were hunting the same area this season. Barfoot estimates that the average size of male black bears that visit his bait sites weigh 250lbs. With that being said, we had pictures of one that was close to 400lbs the night before my first hunt.

    Clavering native Kim Barfoot and husband Chris show off the sheer size of the massive black bear she harvested in 2002.  The bear surpassed the 500lb mark and had a skull measurement of over 19 inches; a trophy bear anywhere in Canada.

    My first night in the ground blind with bow in hand was a chilling experience. I have come close to black bears before, usually in Lake Superior provincial park, somewhere near a garbage can or along the highway. Knowing I was sitting quietly a chip shot away from a bears desired dinner plate was slightly scary considering all I had for firepower was a bow with no gun or bear spray as backup. Barfoot assured me that we were safe as can be. “Don’t worry, they wont even know we are here. The bears will head straight for the bait can and ignore us”. The first night ended with no bear sightings, as did the third and fourth attempts at anchoring a bear. We couldn’t quite understand why. We tried to hunt as often as possible, getting to spend time in the blind 3 nights a week, while still obtaining photos of bears on the camera every other evening or so, just not on the days we hunted. We would find out later that our chosen wind to hunt was incorrect, as the bears decided to enter the bait site from an unexpected trail, which we did not consider.

    When discussing the popularity of local bear hunting with Barfoot, it becomes apparent that more and more local outdoorsmen are taking up the chase on black bear. When he started hunting, Barfoot knew of no one who baited bears within 30 square miles of his home. Now, this season there were at least 4 other groups of hunters baiting within the same distance. I can attest, as a number of my outdoor acquaintances have also taken up bear hunting, albeit unsuccessfully. This increase in local hunting not only makes tagging a bear more difficult, it makes obtaining bait that much harder, as more hunters seek out bakeries to secure stale and leftover goods. I can tell you this, in my search for a steady supply of bait, it was not above me to dive in dumpster behind a grocery store in search of leftover bake goods….and, that dumpster was already emptied by a hunter you arrived before me.

    In my previous article, I mentioned the importance of hunter involvement in local bear research. This seems even more important now as the number of local bears hunter climb. We do not know nearly all there is to know about Peninsula bears. Greater hunter involvement means more material for MNR research. A greater number of hair and tooth samples, as well as completed mandatory bear hunter questionaries’ from the MNR will result in better bear management on a local scale. This benefits not only the species, but the hunter as well. We cannot predict the future of bear management, but changes could come down the pipeline, which would regulate our local bear hunt based on information provided by the hunter. A set number of tags based on an accurate population number with reproduction rates factored in sounds like a system that could ensure bears are a part of our local ecosystem for a very long time.

    After diving feet first into local bear hunting over the past few weeks I have come to a few conclusions. One being I am horrible at obtaining a steady supply of bait! Baiting bears is not easy, but if done properly it is very effective. Secondly, understanding bear behavior and taking into account their ability to smell is paramount in harvesting a bruin. I also learned that baiting bears is the most productive, safe and efficient way to harvest a male bear of large size. The system of baiting bears locally ensures that the hunter is familiar with its target before he or she decides to pull the trigger or let an arrow fly. I can also tell you that hunting bears with archery equipment from the ground can produce a serious adrenaline rush, even without seeing a bruin. I now know why Barfoot and bear hunters alike target bear. Not only do they provide another early fall hunting season, but they fill the freezer with meat for the winter and provide an aura of hunting a local animal that is by far the most powerful and dangerous of our provincial big-game. I know I will be back in the bear game next fall, with plenty of sweet goodies to draw the attention of big bore bruin. Maybe I can visit the topic again, and describe the aspects of actually harvesting one of these mysterious monsters of the Bruce. I may not feast on fine cuts of local bear harvested on my own this season, but the time to peruse whitetails with the bow has begun and so begins another season for an ardent outdoorsman.
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