In the fading light on the 7th day of my Northern Alberta spring bear hunt, I came to the realization that I, in fact, was leaving one of the most densely populated bear areas on the continent without a single arrow loosed from the string. This area boasts one of the highest success rates for 2 bear harvests. It is continually producing Pope and Young class bruins’ year over year. For a Western Montana and now Western Wyoming guy that bleeds all that is bear hunting, it was like going to Mecca! I had never once toyed with the idea that I would not shoot at least 1 19” bear in my time with Boss Outfitting in Northern Alberta. I mean I had honestly thought there was no way I was coming home from Canada without my biggest bear to date.
The stats on Alberta are all there. 7’ giants are killed every year in Canada. Many outfitters including, Boss Outfitting will take several seven-foot Pope and Young bears on a single weeks hunt. I have heard all the stories of grandeur from Canada. Stories of hunters getting on stand and taking 2 book bears the same night! There is no lack of video footage and magazine articles written about such tales. Basically, Alberta in my mind has become the go-to spot for big black bears and I was going to kill 2 this spring.
When you have a long drive to your hunting destination you have plenty of time to get excited. You tend to focus on things that are based solely on a harvest. I mean you have already contemplated what bear to shoot first when a 7’ Chocolate Phase and a 7’ Blonde phase come into the bait together. You no doubt have already decided the head size of said bears. The picture pose, the stories you will tell when you get home. You even have the particular mount of your 2 “7’ Giant boars” picked out and where you will place them in your house. I promise many of you already have the dialogue with your wife on said mount placement rehearsed down to the letter.
Never does the thought of not harvesting a bear occur. Not in 21 hours of travel does failing to connect on a trophy bruin pop into your mind. Talk about setting the bar high! I am a forever positive person. The mere thought of not succeeding on a hunt may pop into my mind while shooting my bow or prepping for a hunt but I will never dwell on such negatives. To me, it is much more appealing to dream of success than failure.
With this forever positive outlook on life comes disappointment. You simply cannot be successful every time you go out, can you? I mean we all know that guy in the bar or local sporting goods store that kills 180” mule deer and 360” bull elk every single year. But, how honest are we to assume that every time we “lay people” go out we will be as successful as this modern-day Daniel Boone.
It was in that last day in my 12th continuous hour on stand that the thought of coming home unsuccessful became as real to me as the pain in my backside from such a long sit. This was literally a tough pill to swallow. A dream hunt for me was potentially ending in defeat. I was extremely picky on this hunt. Having the luxury to sit several stands if I wanted. I brought my own ATV on the trip and ran the Baits with Terrance every single day. I checked cameras and saw the tracks. As a fairly seasoned bear hunter, I saw the evidence. There were some true slobs hitting baits and those where the bears I had come to Alberta to hunt. I had my chances all week. I saw over 12 bears that I could have taken easily with my bow at ranges under 15 yards.
Around the 3rd day of the hunt, I settled on a stand called Wolverine. It is just truly everything you dream of when you think of Canada bear hunting. Surrounded by beaver ponds the bait is stationed on an old cut line. This acted as a superhighway for bears coming down from higher denning locations. This site has been active for several years. It has always provided hunters with great opportunities at bears. It sits on a high point of land and is surrounded by thick Birch and Spruce stands. The higher elevation of the site helps disperse the scent. Never mind the fact that last year a true Alberta giant hit this bait. And by every piece of evidence in Wolverine, he was hitting again.
For me settling on Wolverine meant I had settled on that bear. I would lay at night in the wall tent, the fire in the wood stove popping dreaming of this bear and this bear alone. I had made the decision that I would only take a bear of this caliber over Wolverine and I would only hunt this site the remainder of my trip.
By making this decision had I set myself up for a higher chance of being unsuccessful? In all honesty? Absolutely! Any bear hunter that has been around a while knows that a 20”seven-foot bear doesn’t come by very often. And rarely do they get harvested over bait. You may see a lot in magazines and on TV but what you don’t see are the thousands of bears that are harvested every year by happy hunters that won’t reach this mark. Simple fact, killing a bear like this is damned tough!
The Oxford Dictionary defines success as “The accomplishment of an aim or purpose”. Outfitters utilize success rates as a way to advertise their achievements to future clients. We are continually being inundated with ads for products that will give us success in the Field. Everything we are being told as consumptive users of outdoor products and media is that unless you harvest a record book animal your are not a success!
By this very definition of success, my aim or purpose was, in fact, the giant bear that lived at Wolverine. Going home with anything else meant I was not successful. As I sat there contemplating this I came to a realization that I, in fact, was not going to kill this giant bear. At least not this year. But did this single factor determine my success as a sportsman, a conservationist, or a bear hunter? I learned a long time ago that the true success of a hunt should never hinge on taking your sought-after game. Sitting there it had dawned on me. I had got caught up in a “trophy hunt” and lost sight of the true meaning of Success to ME.
Look what an amazing experience I had just had. Don’t get me wrong, I was a little disappointed but being disappointed and unsuccessful are 2 very different things. I was disappointed I didn’t lay eyes on this giant bear but by no means was I unsuccessful. See I found a way many years ago to be like that previously mentioned guy in the bar. I hinge my success not on harvest but experiences and memories I take away from a hunt. Whether it is single day fishing on the bank with my daughter or a DIY bear hunt in remote Alaska they are all successful trips to me because my aim or purpose is not to just harvest an animal. My purpose on trips is to learn, see, and be there 100% in the moment.
I absolutely obsess over bears, probably to an unhealthy level…. Ask just about anyone that knows me and they will tell you I’m consumed. So this opportunity, going to Northern Alberta, baiting sites, seeing new country, and being surrounded by bears that have not seen a human is something I have dreamed about for a very long time. Leading up to this trip, while I was still thinking clearly and before a giant bear clouded my judgment you would have been hard pressed to even hear me say I was determining the success of this trip on a harvest.
I, in fact, was just happy to go and be surrounded by bears, In fact, I learned more about bear behavior and how they interact at bait sites in my time With Terrance Boss than I have learned in all my time hunting bears in Montana and Wyoming. I had a week of “firsts” that I will never forget. The knowledge I gained by being surrounded by multiple bears in a bait is actually priceless. Very rarely are we Rocky Mountain area bear hunters afforded an opportunity to sit and just listen and watch multiple bears for hours. The vocalizations and behavior I saw were truly remarkable and something I’ve yet to experience.
We as hunters have to change the way we view our time in the field. We are so consumed these days with social, and digital media it’s often hard to get to the true essence of the sport. Each person may view success in a different way. I may view a successful hunt much different than you but that is okay. I encourage you all to be individuals and determine what being successful means to you. We should determine what success is to each of us based on our own personal situations. Never let anyone fault you for that.
For me, this trip was a success without harvesting a bear. However, I have been fortunate to harvest a few bears so just killing one is not something I am after anymore. If you’re a first-time bear hunter in my shoes your determination of success may be very different than mine. That is something you should embrace and be proud of. If I am on a late hunt to harvest a cow elk to fill the freezer I may change my idea of success. For that hunt, we need meat for the freezer and we live off that meat during the winter. Success may, in fact, be killing an elk.
I walked away from Alberta more proud of myself as a bear hunter for not pulling the trigger on a bear I wasn’t crazy about then if I would have just taken 2 bears just to say I did it. As I sat well after dark waiting for my ride, three bears sit underneath me feeding in the moonlight. I could hear every single sound as if I was literally standing next to them. The quiet night air was filled with the sounds of bones from the days bait ration being crunched like you or I eating potato chips. The occasional woof…woof …pop…pop from behind me signaled all bears and me of yet another approaching bear. In those few moments, with the hunt over I regained focus and could truly appreciate all that was happening. I felt so alive at that point. I could never call this hunt unsuccessful.