GO TO BEAR CAMP
IN BRITISH COLUMBIA, THE “SPRING” BEAR SEASON EXTENDS INTO THE MIDDLE OF JUNE, AND IT’S JUST ABOUT THE MOST THRILLING START TO SUMMER THAT YOU CAN IMAGINE
In British Columbia, the “spring” bear season runs well into June—and it’s a wild way to kick off your summer.
One year later, I can still hear the cries. Our stalk along the edge of a forest-service road in east-central British Columbia had come to a halt before that first wail broke the silence, followed quickly by another. They came in short bursts and sounded like panicked screams for help, which is what made them so disturbing. It was also the precise effect we were going for.
“I want to sound as much like a crying baby as possible,” my buddy and hunting partner Ryan Callaghan, of First Lite, told me. The cries came from the fawnmoose distress call he was carrying, and we were hoping they’d sound desperate enough to lure in the predator we’d seen moments before—a mature boar black bear. We let the area fall silent again and waited. Callaghan was crouched along on the left side of the road, while our guide, Jeff Lander, and I stood on the right edge. Just ahead, the road curved to the right, giving Callaghan a longer vantage. Five minutes hadn’t passed before he turned to
look at us and mimed his right index and middle fingers to his eyes, as if to say, “Are you seeing this?” We weren’t, and I whispered back to ask if the bear had re-emerged.
“He’s coming right at us,” Callaghan said.
I dropped into position, resting the fore-end of the .300 WSM Kimber on my left knee. Lander hid behind me, and when the bear came into view, there was no doubt: He was a shooter. “That’s the kind we want,” Lander said. The bear lumbered down the road, and you could’ve added thunderous sound effects each time one of his giant paws landed. He kept to the roadside where an escape into the thick bush was only a stride away for him. He got within 60 yards when he began to turn to his right.
“Take him,” Lander said.
If you want to get your summer off to a wild and adventurous start, you need to go to bear camp. I’ve hunted bears in April and September, and both experiences were great. But last year, I hunted bears in June—and that experience was incredible. It was incredible for several reasons— the people I hunted with, the friends I made, the wilderness I explored. But the fact that I was hunting in June also played a big role. Opportunities to hunt in the summer months are rare, especially for big game, so when you do get that chance, you almost feel like you’re getting away with something— like you won a lottery that granted you extra time to hunt. Many “spring” bear seasons in the U.S. extend into mid-June if you’re inclined to set up your own bear camp. Or you could do what I did, which is join a group and book an outfitter.
Our crew of six arrived at the Primitive Outfitting headquarters, near Sinclair Mills, British Columbia, for the last week of the bear season. As Callaghan told us before the trip, “This place ain’t the Ritz,” but, to be fair, no one wants to stay at the Ritz for summer camp. There was a pair of cabins and outhouses, each of which was built for a singular purpose—cots and constitutions. There was also a main house, where Jeff and Lana Lander welcomed us like family. Lander has been outfitting spring bear hunters in British Columbia since 2005. The area he hunts—nearly 1,000 square miles of gorgeous mountains and valleys—has one of the highest densities of grizzlies and black bears in the province. In the fall, Lander also guides bowhunters for trophy mule deer in Alberta.
That first evening, after a supper of caribou meatballs and spaghetti, we set off to hunt. I teamed up with Neal Emory, of Hornady ammunition, and Primitive guide Ben Jackson. The plan was to cruise the forest-service roads, which the bears frequent this time of year. They browse the roadsides’ abundance of clover and grass, and they use the roads to cover ground as they search for mates. “The bears have a onetrack mind right now,” Jackson said. “The rut is on.”
The road wound us past vast and jagged clear-cuts, over winding rivers that made you long for a fly rod, and through thick, thick bush. We drove slowly, and as we made each turn, I’d rise out of my seat, anxious to see bears around the bend. It was just past 6 P.M. when we had our first sighting. Jackson killed the engine and reached for his binoculars. The bears, a boar and a sow, were feeding about 300 yards away. Jackson could tell that the male wasn’t big, but the wind was in our favor and we had time. “Let’s go take a closer look,” he said.
We hugged the edge of the road where the finer gravel muted our footsteps as we trotted ahead. We stopped to glass a few times before continuing on to get closer—and to escape the relentless mosquitoes. The final time Jackson halted us, the rangefinder read 170 yards. One last peek confirmed that the boar was medium-size, at best. I wasn’t after a trophy, but this first stalk was already thrilling enough that I knew I wanted more like it. Jackson turned back to me and whispered, “You willing to pass on a bear tonight that you’d kill on the last night?” I was. We retreated to the truck and continued the hunt.
We made a few more stalks and tried calling but had no success. In all, we saw 10 bears that evening—the last of which we encountered back at camp.
Rachel VandeVoort, who worked for Kimber at the time and is now the director for the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation, was the first to tag out. Even with headlamps, it was tough to get a good look at the black bear in the dark, but we could see enough to know that the bear was big and beautiful. Knowing this was VandeVoort’s first-ever bear, I was grateful to share in the experience
Open Wide This B.C. black bear rug really ties the room together.
Camp Collage A front paw from the author’s bruin; a post-hunt fire; Callaghan and Lander watch for bears.