TROUT CAMP CHOCOLATE
Winter’s grip had finally lessened, and spring was well underway in Northern Saskatchewan. It had been a long cold winter and the ice on the northern lakes had melted only a few weeks prior to our arrival. With the ice gone, the hectic rush of opening and preparing camps that can be accessed only by boat or float plane was now underway.
Outfitters and guides had been working feverishly to get everything in order for their hunting and fishing clients from all over the world. Just like most of the nonresident hunters and fishermen who visit Saskatchewan, we landed in Saskatoon and rented a car. After a quick stop at Cabela’s for extra supplies and to purchase our licenses, we were on our way North to Reindeer Lake.
Reindeer Lake is a vast expanse of water stretching out 185 miles. It holds the deepest water in the province. Almost 140 million years ago a meteorite struck here leaving a huge water filled crater that is now called “Deep Bay.” It is reported to be over seven hundred feet deep and approximately six miles in width at its widest point. The deep cold water of the bay holds great numbers of lake trout and grayling. Along the shoreline of the lake and in numerous bays, the northern pike and walleye are plentiful. The fishing is excellent on Reindeer Lake, but that’s not the only reason we are here. The black bear hunting is also excellent.
David Vandenberg and I will be staying with the Millward family at their lodge “Reindeer Lake Trout Camp”. Andy, along with his family, hosts numerous hunters and fishermen throughout the year,offering a full American plan with excellent meals and lodging. Trophy pike, grayling, lake trout and walleye are the norm at this rustic but very modern water access lodge. The bear hunting affords a 100% opportunity to see bears with a high number of color phase bears taken every spring.
Andy employs local native guides who have spent most if not all of their lives on the lake fishing, hunting and trapping. As luck would have it, we were partnered up with Harvey, one of the most experienced guides that Andy has in his camp. Harvey has been guiding hunters and fishermen on the lake for over forty years, working for various camps along the way. I learned that as soon as the ice had left the lake, Harvey was busy baiting his stands to get the bears coming regularly to the baits. Harvey’s territory that he manages for his hunters is forty miles away from camp in a stretch of unforgiving land of swamps and mature timber called “Wapous Bay.” There were three baits getting smashed and from the trail camera pictures, it showed that one had a big chocolate hitting it regularly so we knew where our first stand to hunt would be.
After a hearty breakfast we packed up the boat with all of our hunting and fishing gear and left the dock, knowing that we would not return until after dark. Since Wapous Bay was a long distance from camp, we were gone for the day. Fishing would be on the morning’s agenda followed by a shore lunch and then into the bush for an afternoon sit.
After an action packed morning of fishing the rugged shoreline and back bays landing many great pike on spinners and spoons, Harvey pulled the boat up on a secluded beach for our shore lunch.
The quiet calm of the north was like heaven! The eagles and gulls were our only companions, with no one else in sight. As Harvey cleaned the pike, the birds started to congregate around us, the eagles in the trees and the gulls waited patiently on the rocks and in the water for him to finish. When he was done, they had their feast and now it was our turn to have ours!
It was a special moment, standing on this Northern Saskatchewan shoreline taking in the sights and smells of a shore-lunch fit for kings! After eating our fill we had time to take a nap and prepare ourselves for the long evening hunt to come. David was to be the shooter on this trip to Reindeer Lake Trout Camp; he had never killed a color phase bear before. From what we had seen and heard he might have his chance this week.
Bear X Crossbows had just released their new line up, and I was given the opportunity to take one along on the trip for David to use. The Fortus from Bear X and the Wac-em broad-heads should make quick work of any bear he decided to take!
We made our way down the lake to the bait that the trail cameras showed the chocolate bear was visiting. As we landed on the rocky shoreline, Harvey went ahead and checked the bait; he returned and said it had been hit! We collected our gear and made our way up the trail to the waiting stands while our guide refreshed the bait.
David and I were setup in the same tree overlooking the bait that was only ten yards away. After Harvey wished us good luck and left, we decided that it was too close and that we should move the bait back another ten yards to give us a better angle if a shot was presented to us. After re-positioning the barrel and with the Ozonics unit pumping out ozone to cover our scent, we were ready! Now the wait…
Just like many other bear hunts over bait, your mind wanders, ”What direction will a bear come from? Will the big chocolate make an appearance? Did we make too much noise? Will we even see a bear tonight?”
After an hour and a half, I caught movement behind the barrel. A rabbit was making his way in to eat some of the oats spilled on the ground. He fed contently, getting his fill of the easy meal laid out for the bears. Suddenly he took off like a shot! David tapped my leg and whispered “bear coming!” We didn’t have very long to get prepared--the bear was there seconds after the rabbit ran away. To our surprise, it was a big chocolate bear!
The bear seemed a bit confused with the new position of the barrel. He stood up to smell the top of the barrel, not giving David a clean shot. He then walked straight at us, getting closer and closer to the original location of the barrel. There at only ten yards stood the magnificent bear looking directly at us wondering what was going on.
David had the crossbow firmly pressed to his shoulder and the cross-hairs on the bruin waiting for him to turn. The bear turned his head and made that fatal move to his right allowing the opportunity for David to send the Wac-em broadhead through its lungs! It all happened so fast! The bear piled up not forty yards away and took its last breath. David, on the other hand, couldn’t catch his! He was ecstatic! After a series of “high fives” and taking a moment to relive what had just happened, we contacted Harvey on the radio and told him of our accomplishment! He congratulated us and was on the way!
We climbed down and walked over to the fallen monarch with apprehension and disbelief that it happened so fast? We were in the tree only two hours and David’s trophy of a lifetime now lay at our feet! We took a moment to compose ourselves as the sound of the boat got closer. We met Harvey on the shoreline and told him how the hunt had unfolded. After a few pictures and congratulatory handshakes, the work was about to begin. The big bear was about to go on its first ever boat ride!
The ride back to the lodge flew by as we recounted every moment of the hunt over and over again, praising Harvey for his efforts and guiding prowess! He just sat back with a smile on his face, happy that it had all come together and that David had made the perfect shot!
Returning to the camp, we found out that we were not the only ones who had taken a bear that evening; two other hunters were also successful in tagging trophy bears!
The remainder of the week was just as exciting; we fished all over the lake catching many lake trout and pike with shore lunches every day. The evenings had us back in the stands with me hoping for the bear of my dreams. We did have many encounters with some great bears but not the one I was looking for.
Our stay at Reindeer Lake Trout Camp was incredible! We were truly blessed to have the opportunity to spend a week with the Millward family and experience their piece of heaven in Northern Saskatchewan!