By Bobby Dale Welch
Naptime was over for the day, and the truck, with me in it, was leaving for the first evening Canadian black bear hunt.
A friend of mine from North Carolina was the first hunter on the board, and it was a real trophy. Getting a Boone and Crockett black bear is an extremely difficult accomplishment, and our friend had gotten it done on the first evening hunt. His guide, Grizz, was almost as happy as he was.
Grizz was exactly as you are imagining him, a real Woodsmaster-looking man with long hair and a full beard. He had leathery skin, tough, strong hands and a voice that let everyone know he meant what he said. What he said was direct and didn’t take any interpretation to understand. He had lived and hunted in this part of Canada for his entire 55–60 years. In the offseason he worked in the oil and gas industry.
We spent most of our first evening sitting around the dinner table and eventually around a nice, open fire listening to Grizz, Smitty and the rest of the guides and camp hands tell us bear stories. Be very quiet and still, they said. Pay attention out in the forest and not just close by. We learned big bears sometimes circle around and push over small dead trees to intimidate smaller bears and run them away from the bait site. We learned not to shoot a sow with cubs and received several lessons on how to gauge just what size bear you were looking at. The only bears I had seen before this trip were either in a zoo or in Gatlinburg. After all, I am a deer hunter.
Around the fire, guides were assigned to hunters. I am not sure how that process works. Smitty is the outfitter and main guide. He owns the lodge, acquires all the permits and takes care of the business portion. He’s a regular-sized man who is also tough as nails. He takes good care of his hunters, even if it means sacrificing equipment. One of our hunters came back to camp telling a story of Smitty trying to get them into a place and leaving a four-wheeler, which they call quads, at the bottom of a huge ravine because that’s where it quit rolling after Smitty let go and dove off.
Then there was Blair, a younger guide with aspirations of becoming an outfitter. He knew wildlife. He had worked for several guides and had hunted and trapped with his grandfather for most of his life. He was assigned to my dear friend from Alabama.
There were six hunters in camp: one from North Carolina, one from Chicago, two from South Dakota and two from Alabama. Everybody was assigned their guide, and it was time to hunt.
My guide and I drove for about 45 minutes and unloaded the quad. We loaded a bag of oats, two buckets of grease and molasses and three skinned beavers. We had to freshen a couple of baits before we got to the one we would hunt.
At the first bait, bugs were everywhere. The mosquitoes were like a cloud of smoke, and I was starting to wonder if this was a good idea or not. We wore mesh clothing over regular hunting clothes with lots of insect repellent, and the spring temperature was pretty warm. Unfortunately, Thermacell was not out on the market yet. Freshening the bait consisted of finding the barrel, standing it upright and pouring oats, grease and molasses in the barrel. We took a big stick and stirred it around, and we took a skinned beaver to the beaver tree nearby and tied it about 6 feet off the ground.
Finally, we made it to the place for my very first Canadian black bear hunt. We unloaded two buckshot climbing tree stands, using two because the guide sat with us on the first evening to make sure we did not shoot a sow with cubs or a small bear. We freshened the bait. We put the tree stands in two separate trees, close enough together that we could whisper and signal without much movement.
I saw a bear 45 minutes into my very first stand. To say I was excited is an understatement. All of the anticipation, hard work and travel were about to pay off. My first bear sighting was turning out to be interesting. A bear that wasn’t big enough to shoot and its traveling companion were walking directly towards the bait. Then they were walking past the bait and right towards my tree.
This was not exactly what was in the brochure. Both bears were standing right underneath the tree where I was perched about 18 feet off the ground. I began to panic. I began pointing the gun at the small bears and preparing to defend my life. At that point my guide, Natalie, whispered, “Those are not very big bears, and they aren’t going to hurt you at all. Please put your gun down!”
At the fire on the first evening, I remember thinking Natalie was an odd name for a tough woodsman. But then again, Canada is different. Turns out, Natalie is Blair’s wife, and she got assigned Bobby Dale Welch from Gadsden, Alabama. I will tell you she was one tough person and a fantastic bear guide.
Our first evening in the stand ended when it was too dark to see. We saw 14 bears total, several sows with their cubs and a few bears just not big enough. It was time to head back to camp, enjoy the celebration of North Carolina’s trophy and hear how everybody’s hunt went. And, of course, listen to Natalie tell the story of the redneck hunter freaking out because a harmless bear leaned up against his tree.