CINNAMON & HONEY IN MANITOBA
I’ve had many great trips across the beautiful province of Manitoba. Whether fishing the Red River for cats, hunting migratory waterfowl and whitetails in the Inter lake region or flying North of Lac du Bonnet into the remote boreal forest to hunt black bears, every trip is an adventure!
My latest trip there was with Josh Johannson, owner of Outland Outfitting. Josh and I have been exchanging phone calls and e-mails all winter long talking about his operation and the great bear hunting he has to offer his clients. He operates two camps. The south camp is located in Eriksdale where they harvest huge black bears. The north camp is located in Grand Rapids and affords a great opportunity to harvest one of the high number of color phase bears frequenting his baits. Josh rotates from camp to camp every second year so this past spring would have us travelling to his north camp in Grand Rapids.
Accompanying me on this trip was my good friend and taxidermist Alfie Misco. Alf had never been bear hunting in Manitoba let alone on a hunt out of our home province of Ontario. After a short uneventful flight, we collected our luggage, rented a vehicle, and were on our way to bear camp, leaving the big city of Winnipeg behind us. Our adventure truly had begun!
We made our way north, the flat land stretched for as far as the eye could see with field after field of grain in every direction. Manitoba is one of our prairie provinces with very fertile soil and a climate that best suits wheat, canola and barley. In the sloughs and drainages along the highway, we saw many different duck species in their brightly colored spring breeding plumage. We also saw many whitetails that had made it through the hard Manitoba winter. After a few hours of driving, we made our way through the Inter lake region.
The topography now had changed to a more familiar look. We were out of the prairie and into the boreal forest. Lake Winnipeg was to our east as we neared our destination of Grand Rapids. The camp is located on Cedar Lake in a secluded bay with many shoreline fishing opportunities. The hunting area consists of 500 square miles of lakes and rivers that are solely managed by Josh and his guides. With limited hunters each year, the bear hunting is running at 100% shooting opportunity with a sixty-five percent harvest rate on color phase bears.
After arriving in camp, we met Josh and the other gentlemen that we would be sharing this experience with, a father and son from New Mexico with a good friend in tow and two guys from Wisconsin. We all hit it off right away and decided to unpack the fishing rods to see what the lake had to offer. It was a great way to unwind from the long day. We caught several pike and walleye from the rugged shoreline.
The next morning we had an excellent breakfast and checked to make sure our equipment had made the long journey without any damage. I put together my Tenpoint Stealth SS and double checked its accuracy on the makeshift range. It was hitting the 12 ring just like it did back home. Typically on many bear hunts, the mornings and early afternoons are spent not in the tree stands but in camp either resting or out fishing for the day. We elected once again to go back out fishing, and this time we kept a few fish for a meal later in the week.
Josh and his guides split up the group and took us out to our respective stands. The baits were about twenty-five miles away from the camp down old logging roads that were well away from all human activity. Steve, one of the guys from Wisconsin, was with us in the truck and the first to be taken to his stand. Alf and I waited patiently for Josh to return to take us to our location. We stood there in awe hearing nothing but the quietness of the Northern Manitoba bush reflecting on all of the preparation and time that had brought us to this point.
It was a good feeling! We were brought back to reality by the sound of Josh on the Ranger as he got closer. Josh said he scared a bear off the bait as he drove in to drop Steve off and that the bait was almost empty so he should have a very eventful evening! We loaded our gear and bait and headed to our stands. It was in a section of black spruce just on the edge of a swamp at the end of a lake. As we came into the bait site, we too scared off a bear! It was a cinnamon colored bear!
As Josh got to work re-baiting, we got ourselves into our stands and prepared for a long evening sit. He finished the baiting and wished us luck, saying he would return after dark to pick us up. I whispered to Alf “Here we go, buddy! Game on!” It didn’t take long for the bush to settle down and for our first visitor to arrive. A gray jay swooped down on top of the bait to grab some of the corn left there for the bears. He fed undisturbed until he and I both caught movement back in the swamp. It was our first bear of the trip! The cinnamon colored bear that we had scared off was coming back.
He made his way in cautiously with his nose in the air smelling the new aromas of the re-freshened bait. Once his fears had subsided, his stomach took over,and he covered the final few yards into the bait. His coat was a tawny light brown with long hair that stood out against the dark surroundings. I looked over at Alf, and he gave me the thumbs up; this was his very first encounter with an off-colored bear. He said to me, “Aren’t you going to shoot?” Even though the bear’s back was almost up to the top of the barrel, I elected not to shoot. After all this was only our first visitor, and we had all week to see what else might come in.
As the evening progressed, there were other visitors to the bait. In total we had 3 black bears and the cinnamon, but none of them was the one I was looking for. As darkness set in, we could hear Josh coming to get us and our first evening in Manitoba had come to an end. When we arrived back at the truck, we found that Steve had shot a bear! He told us that he always had wanted a red bear. As luck would have it, a red bear walked into his life the first evening of the hunt! Everyone in camp had seen bears that night. We went through the footage of everyone’s hunts to size up the bears at the baits. I was very impressed with the number of bears seen that first night.
Day two once again found our baits hit. This day Josh tried something a little different. He strapped a beaver carcass to a tree not five yards from my stand to get “a little excitement” for us. Well, the beaver trick worked. A nice black bear showed up and ate the whole beaver. That up close encounter and another bear were our only dinner guests for the evening, but it was an exciting sit.
Back at camp we discussed with Josh how he likes to move the hunters around to different baits after three days of hunting if they’re not seeing a bear they would like to harvest. I knew that Alf would love an opportunity to step out from behind the camera and become the shooter so I asked Josh if the opportunity presented itself tomorrow would it be all right if Alf shot the cinnamon bear we'd seen previously? Josh said, “Absolutely, that would be great!”
I hoped Alf would get his chance at the bear of his dreams. We got to the bait, and Josh replenished the site as we got into our stands. Once again he wished us well and drove off. Not five minutes into the hunt, I caught movement behind us on the quad trail: it was the cinnamon bear! He must have heard Josh leave and was now making his way to the bait. Alf followed him with the camera as he made his way to the bait. The bear was feeding contently and relaxed so I decided that now was the time to pass the Tenpoint over to Alf. He took it out of my hands with a big smile and positioned himself so he could shoot and run the camera at the same time.
I watched as Alf steadied the bow and waited for the bear to turn and give him a perfect broadside shot. The shot came as a shock to me as well as the bear! He felt the sting and turned and ran down one of the many trails that led away from the bait. The Ramcat broadhead did its job quickly, and the bear piled up less than fifty yards away!
Alf was visibly shaken and I told him to calm down and hang on to the bow and the stand. He took a few breaths and regained his composure until the bear let out the death moan which put Alf over the edge again! Excitement and adrenaline ran through both of us! A lifelong dream for my friend had just come true, and I was there to share it with him! It doesn’t get any better than that! We called Josh on the radio to let him know what had just happened. With the camera running, we followed the blood trail to Alf’s bear. He was speechless--his cinnamon colored bear lay at our feet. This was a moment that neither of us will ever forget!
The next day Josh told us of his plan to hunt a new bait. He called this one the "Rocky Road" bait. It was down a rock strewn trail that we had to crawl along for about two miles until we crossed a creek back into a dried up swamp. He told us there had been numerous bears at this bait and with it being the first week of June, the rut should be on so he hoped the big boys would be on the prowl. He wasn’t kidding; the trail was very rough and it took us a long time to get in to the new bait site.
It looked very different from the other baits we'd hunted with an open swamp to our backs and the forest edge off to our left. Josh checked the trail camera and freshened the bait while Alf and I got set up in our new stands. Not long after Josh left the area, we started to see bears come out of the surrounding bush to check out the bait. At one point we counted six different bears on the bait. One bear in particular was a beautiful honey colored blonde phase bear. It’s interaction at the bait with the other bears seemed to give us the impression that it was a sow because of its aggressive manner.
With the rut being on, we thought the big bears might come for a visit so we just sat back and watched the show waiting for a tank to come in. The bears came and went over the course of the evening, but none of the monster bears we'd hoped for showed up.
Our last day of the hunt in Manitoba was upon us, we’d had a great time. Alf fulfilled his dream to take a colored bear, and I had the pleasure to be there with him. We saw only a fraction of what this beautiful and rugged province had to offer.
As we slowly crept along in the Ranger down the “rocky road, ” I thanked Josh for giving us an experience of a lifetime and hoped that one day I would return to see this great area again. As we came into the bait, we scared off two bears, a black and the blonde bear we had seen the previous evening. Josh asked if it was a shooter bear, and I told him we thought it might be a sow so we didn’t shoot.
He thought differently after seeing the trail camera pictures and said there will be a way to find out. Just like he did at our first bait, he hung a beaver carcass in the tree so that the bears had to stand up and reach for the prize thus giving us a clear view so we could see if it was a boar or a sow. “Great!” we thought. The honey coloured bear was a trophy in anyone’s eyes; and if it was a boar, I would love the chance to take him!
Again, not long after the sound of the Ranger faded away, the bears started to come out of the woodwork. First, two blacks and then our blonde. They made their way to the bait, and the blonde rushed the others out of the way so he could get at the beaver. He stood up on his hind paws, and just like Josh thought, he was a boar! Showtime!!!
My heart started racing and Alf was giving me the go ahead to get ready to take the bear. As the blonde started to circle away from the bait, I picked up my Tenpoint and flipped off the safety and settled the crosshairs on the now quartering away bear. I glanced over at Alf to see if he was on the bear and that the camera was rolling. I took a deep breath and let the arrow fly! Whack! The blonde boar ran behind us, across the swamp, and into a stand of spruce.
What just happened? Did I just kill my first colored bear? Like Alf before me, I was shaking in my stand and had to sit down. Laying not sixty yards away was my trophy of a lifetime. A blonde color phase black bear! All I could think was how exciting the hunt was and how it all transpired!!
Over the course of the last five days of our hunt, we saw over twenty bears and had multiple bears at the bait. Outland Outfitting in Manitoba is the place to contact if you want an adrenaline rush like no other! I would like to thank Josh Johannson, Alfie Miscio and Travel Manitoba for this awesome experience!
(Editors Note: Outland Outfitting can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting www.outlandoutfitting.com)