RETURN OF THE ONTARIO SPRING BEAR HUNT
In 1999 Ontario hunters lost the opportunity to hunt bears in the spring due to political pressure put upon the Provincial Government and the Ministry of Natural Resources from anti-hunting groups. This decision was based on unfounded science and anti-hunting propaganda rather than facts.
Recently, however, it was announced that a “Pilot Project” will occur in a handful of Wildlife Management Units (WMU’s) with high levels of nuisance bear activity. The hunt will run from May 1st through June 15th for two years in the chosen WMU’s and then a study will be conducted to determine if a full-inclusion hunt would return to the north for 2016.
After the announcement I ran out to purchase my bear licence and started making plans to get up north to participate in the hunt. I researched many outfitters offering the spring hunt by checking references, phone calls and e-mails. One outfitter stood out from the rest: Appelo Lake Lodge. They offer fly-in fishing adventures along with drive-in and quad to back country lakes for a wide variety of fish. They also offer great hunting packages for small game to bear and moose. With a very high success rate and great feedback from past guests, I sent my deposit on its way in order to book my bear hunting adventure with them.
I arrived in camp Sunday morning and was greeted by owner, Mike St Amand’s head guide, Alex Ylitalo and his dog Repo. Alex was to be my guide for the hunt and after settling into my cabin we talked about the lodge and the many services they have to offer for their clients. The camp has been in operation since the 1960’s and is the only lodge on the lake. They have exclusive rights on their 144-square mile Bear Management Area (BMA) that covers four townships. It is a very successful operation with international fishing and hunting clientele.
The bear hunt usually takes place in the early evenings so I had time to catch a few Pike off the main dock and go over the game plan with Alex. He told me the last group of bear hunters (that left on Saturday) all got their bears and enjoyed some excellent fishing. He decided to take me on a bait run to show me options for my hunt. We, along with Repo, jumped in the truck and headed down the logging road to WMU 41 on the other side of the river.
Appelo Lake Lodge’s BMA includes multiple WMU’s and 41 is one of the Pilot Project areas. Alex told me that all of the baits we getting rocked by hungry bears and I should have no problem getting an opportunity to cut my tag. Arriving at the first bait we found it had been “hit”, so we rebaited and got out of there quietly. We then went to a second bait that was five miles away from the first. They don’t like to have the bait sites too close together. It too had been hit, so we again stood up the barrel and rebaited. Once again we loaded into the truck and set off to check one last bait site.
The outfitter has a policy that each client will have access to at least two active baits during their stay. The first two baits we checked were both great setups and somewhere I would like to hunt, but Alex said he had this last bait in mind for me because of its location. The bait was on a logging trail and the treestand wasn’t a treestand at all, it was a bunker—dug out of the adjacent hillside overlooking the trail and bait. With a southwest wind blowing in my face, and the bait clearly having been hit, I had high hopes that this location would be the one!
After getting back to camp I took a few shots with my TenPoint crossbow just to see if I was still sighted in after the long drive up to the lodge. It was perfect! Now I was ready to get changed into my hunting clothes and then out to the bunker for my first sit. This hunt was a long time coming for me (since 1999) and I was excited to finally have the opportunity to hunt one of my favorite big game animals here in Ontario!
Two-thirty (by bear hunting standards) is early in the day to be on stand, but the anticipation and my overall anxiousness to be in the bush got the best of me, so out I went. I silently walked into the bait and got myself prepared in the bunker. I setup a tripod with my camera pointed at the bait to get some footage—when and if—a shot presented itself.
I sat patiently for two hours and then the rain came, soaking everything and washing away any scent we had left at the bait earlier in the day. At five o'clock things were drying out nicely. The sun came back out and so did the bugs. I was sitting back in the bunker doing my best impression of a stump while daydreaming of a monster bear walking into the bait. As I was envisioning him wrestling with the barrel to get at the hidden treats inside, suddenly a black shadow appeared from behind the bait—my first visitor!
It was a younger boar who had just woken up from his afternoon slumber and came in for a snack. He cautiously approached the bait, surveying the area before committing that final step out of the Tag Alders into the open. I could tell by his nervous demeanor that he wasn’t the dominant bear using this bait. He was not a shooter, so I gave him a pass. He sat, yawned and gave himself a scratch before gingerly taking a meat scrap from the top of the barrel. And then he was off, back into the swamp to savor his prize.
After the encounter with that young bear my senses were on high alert! Would that downpour get the bears up and moving early or would it be another three hours while waiting on that magical last hour of daylight? As it turns out, it wasn’t until eight-fifteen that evening that I was snapped out of my daze as another black shape caught my eye off to my left. It was a young sow standing on the trail looking back over her shoulder from where she had come. She suddenly let out a 'huff, huff, huff' and ran away from the trail bounding deeper into the swamp and out of my sight.
Now I was transfixed on the trail down to my left from where the unknown danger might lurk. I soon got my answer as a mature sow—with a good boar in tow—made her way into view. She walked into the bait like a prize fighter; confident and cocky, knowing she was the queen of the area! The boar on the other hand was more cautious. He stood back and let his girl 'be the boss' as she tipped the barrel and start eating. After a minute, he slowly started making his way into the bait and one of my shooting lanes. When he turned broadside on the logging trail, I put the crosshairs on his chest and stopped him with a grunt. I squeezed the trigger on the Stealth SS and the PX2-tipped Lumen arrow was on its way! It was a perfect shot!
The boar recoiled from the hit, ran into the thick swamp and let out a death moan! The adrenaline raced through me like nothing I have ever felt! My first night on stand and I had a trophy bear laying just 60 yards away! What an awesome experience to have had the opportunity to hunt once again in the spring. It is my hope that it never gets taken away.
I would like to personally thank Mike St Amand and Alex Ylitalo for my great adventure at Appelo Lake Lodge!