Did I Just Miss?

Sponsored by: Nikon Sports Optics & Wildlife Research Center

We’d worked hard for six days, trying to sucker one of Manitoba’s whopper black bears into making a mistake and showing itself during legal shooting hours at the bait. Guide/outfitter Jason Lambley of Lambley’s Interlake Safaris/Hunts From the Heart (204-372-8504; www.huntsfromthe heart.com) has been hunting these bears hard for more than a decade, and his track record is such that every season virtually all his bear hunters — both here, near his home in Fisher Branch, and in his Alberta camps, get shots at good bears. Of course, that was before I arrived with my camera bag and notebook, two items sure to jinx even the best of hunts!

I was hunting May 13-18, prime time in this area, and I was pumped.

Bait sign: I hunted this bait, where some huge bears have been taken in the past.

Lambley and his wife, Wendy, run their Manitoba hunts out of their home. Comfortable lodge, great food, super people — all the things you are looking for. And the hunting is just the way a guy like me likes it. It’s a bait hunt, but it is much more than just driving on the highway in the pickup, then hopping out and sitting over a bait. A typical day for us would begin at noon or so, when Jason would load a couple of serious off-road vehicles — a tracked Argo, Polaris 6-wheeler, or even a customized swamp buggy — onto a big trailer, and we’d drive an hour to the river. The river is high enough that we had to ford it by first taking a skiff across with a rope, and then attach the rope to the off-road vehicles so we could pull/guide them across the swift, deep current.

Once that was done, we loaded up and ran through the swamps for a bit more than an hour, often stopping to check beaver traps along the way. Jason would then run one of this two very lengthy bait lines, checking baits and the Moultrie trail cameras. If things looked good, a hunter would sit until dark. The it was the return process, with the crew arriving back at the lodge after midnight. To avoid the ride every day, we actually stayed in the bush two nights in Jason’s little trapping cabins, which are well appointed and quite comfortable. This is a true wilderness hunt, run by a man who truly loves it. As I do.

Ellie from Montana killed her first bear the first evening with a shotgun slug.

But I digress. Jason was trying to get me on one of the rally big bears he had on camera, which of course is much different than trying to shoot an “average” bear. I’ve done a lot of black bear hunting, and Jason showed me pictures of multiple bears that I am sure as the sun rises in the east weighed well north of 400 pounds. I wanted one.

So we hunted hard for four days. I saw one dandy the first evening but the big dude never offered me a shot. Then, on day four, it changed.

The bear came out early, with easily an hour of good light left. He was a good one, maybe a 275-pounder, with flawless black hide and a good-sized noggin. He went right to the bait and started feeding. At 20 yards, it was almost too easy. So I drew the bow, put the top pin right on the sweet spot — and watched in horror as my arrow flew right over his back! The Thunderhead sounded like a chorus of metallic bass drums as it clanged off the barrel. The bear, an old mature boar, flew out of their like his hair was on fire.

Oh … my … goodness. All that hard work by Jason to make it happen (and if you have never baited bears on your own, as I have, you really do not know how much work is involved) was for naught. All the mornings I had spent tuning the new Hoyt, setting my pins, and practicing my shooting, out the window. Of course, the next morning the first thing I did was walk out alongside the cabin, set the Block target out at 20 yards, and take a shot, knowing that it had to have been something to do with my sight pins being knocked askew by the rough wilderness travel. After the third broadhead center-punched the bull’s eye, I finally had to admit it to myself, and to Jason. I had missed an uncontested lay-up, fouled off the fastball down the middle, dropped the sure TD pass while wide open. I had choked.
So, now you know. Even us writers occasionally miss an easy shot. And they do not come any easier than this one. I do hope that Jason will have me back in camp next spring. If you’re looking for a top-quality black bear hunt — he also offers excellent hunting for whitetails in both Alberta and Manitoba, as well as some wide-open waterfowling — check him out. If you like hunting with a top-notch outfitter and a real wilderness experience while still enjoying the comforts of home, you might even want to join me.

I promise you one thing. Next time, I will not miss!