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

Field and Stream - - CONTENTS - By colin kearns

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.

Sum­mer Game

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.

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