Stalking Black Bear in BC

Sponsored by: Limbsaver, Victory Archery, Dead Down Wind, Leupold Optics

By: Tony Pannkuk

British Columbia, Canada offers the best place in the world for black bear hunting. 140,000 to 160,000 black bear inhabit the Province. Each spring I make the trek to Bear Lake, (which the name is convincingly right) located just 30 miles north of Prince George, in British Columbia. On my first two black bear hunts, I took a rifle to bag the beasts of the forest. Now I take a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow to make it more of a challenge. You will encounter so many bears that if you blow a stalk you just move on and look for another one. It is all spot-n-stalk or you can use hounds. With the highest concentration of black bears in Canada, there is no need to use dogs.

The Pacific Northwest has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Living here for 64 years, I never get tired of looking at the Cascade Mountains, which are home to Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and our famous Mt St. Helens. Then it’s the Olympic Mountains located inside the Olympic National Park. In addition, the whole State of Washington disappears into the Pacific Ocean.

Living in Washington State, it is just a 12 to 14 hour drive to my destination. The route I take has some of the most scenic landscape on the west coast and each time I make the trip I will see something that I had missed in the past. It is the Frazier Canyon Highway. I will also stop and peruse second hand shops to see if there is anything, I can add to my trophy room.

Author and son Michal in front of an old trappers cabin.

I will be hunting with friends of mine Steve Saunders and Roy Pattison owners of Sentinel Mountain Safari’s. I make this trip three or four times a year hunting for wolves and lynx in January or February then spring black bear in May then in the fall, it is for moose and elk. They also have other animals, like wolverine, coyotes, fisher, whitetail and mule deer plus the over abundance of grouse to hunt. I have taken many grouse, several coyotes and a nice wolverine over the years.

Each morning is a leisurely start, as we eat breakfast around seven then load into a pickup and head out for the scenic tour knowing we will see several bears. Bear Lake has a good number of color phase black bears so I hold out for the first three days before taking a bear, unless I see one that is exceptional then I will take it.

Tony and Michal glassing the area.

Stopping on a seldom-used logging road, we took out our Leupold binoculars to glass a 50 acre plus clear-cut. It was not long before we spotted a nice bear out about 300 yards. After studying it, Steve said it will go over seven feet so I decided to try a stalk, which will be a challenge out in the open. I will be using a LimbSaver DeadZone 30 bow mounted with a Vendetta rangefinder by Leupold. Studying my route, I spotted several stumps and low spots that I could use in hiding my movements. Steve would stay back and watch, as I would try to get close enough for a shot with the bow.

As I started my stalk I noticed the bear was feeding my way, this challenged me to alter my stalk. Making my way in a caricature path I found a nice large old growth stump around 50 yards to my left, it could be useful in hiding my movements. This forced me to move to my left around 15 yards. Bears have poor eyesight but when moving sideways they can pick up the movements easier. I would need to watch the beast and while he was feeding, I would slowly take small steps with each one calculated making sure not to step on any dry branches.

It took me several minutes to go the 15 yards needed; now I need to move forward keeping the stump between the bear and me. Making it to the stump I stood behind it planning my next route, I noticed the bear suddenly look up. The wind was in my favor as I could feel a shallow breeze in my face; I could see the beast was looking away from me. All of a sudden, it came charging. By this time it was only 75 yards and closing fast.

I looked back a Steve and he had already brought his rifle up into a shooting position but he was around 35 yards behind me. I knew nocking an arrow would be useless, by the time I was ready for a shot it would be on me. The stump I was using for coverage was just over my head. I raised my bow up, placing it up onto the stump, and climbed as fast as I could. By the time I had climbed up on top of the past fallen tree, the beast was at the base of the stump. With my heart racing, I looked around to find a place to jump knowing the bear would climb my perch with no effort. Needing to be where I could find cover if Steve shot, the only place was behind the stump. I was going to be shot or mauled by a seven-foot bear. Not much of a choice.

Watching the beast and getting ready to jump, the bear went right by me. I noticed he did not even look up so something had spooked him. Watching the bear as it ran past I took a step back and found myself on the ground. In the excitement, I took one too many steps backwards. I quickly moved around the stump to see where the bear was. It was still running and by this time was 30 yards past me.

Knowing something had spooked this bear I quickly reached up for my bow. Finding it, I turned to see what had frightened the bear and could see a pack of wolves coming my way. I quickly nocked an arrow hoping to get a shot at one of the canines. Looking back I could see the wolves had already turned and were heading for thick cover. With their binocular vision, they had spotted me when I was getting ready for a shot. Within twenty seconds it was all over, the bear was gone and the wolves had entered the thick bush. It may have been over for the bear and wolves, but it would take me several minutes to settle down and get my heart back to normal. My legs were so weak I could hardly stand.

After making my way back to Steve, we both had a good laugh. Steve said he could have shot the bear as it went by him at less than 15 yards. It was leaving a rooster tail as it fled, not stopping until it was probably up a tree or in the next Province. After around 30 minutes, we decided to move on.

Author comes across an old relic of days gone by.

It was not long before we spotted a sow with three cubs. Not shooting sows, we watched them for several minutes. The cubs continually played with each other. One would climb a small tree and the other two would follow. Each time, the small tree would bend over placing the cubs back on the ground. It was time for us to move on, hopefully, finding another big boar. We did encounter four more black bear before the day was over but decided not to take any of them because of their small size or the difficulty of the stalk.

The next morning we were off to an area that I have taken several bears from over the years. This is a scenic area with a small mountain called Teapot. Teapot is located just 10 minutes from the lodge and has rocky bluffs on three sides. Trees growing on top with out-cropping of trees on the south side. Off to the east sits the Rocky Mountains, the mountains look ethereal as they reach up into the skies above and always covered in snow. The sunrise each morning reminds me of a picture post card as the bright sun climbs into the sky.

There are several clear-cuts throughout this area with logging roads crisscrossing the valleys, along creeks and between the cuts. Most clear-cuts have pine trees that have been planted three to five years ago, making it a perfect place to glass for these beasts of the forest.

Entering the first clear-cut, we drove to a high plateau just at the northern edge giving us full advantage to see the whole area. In just a few minutes, we had spotted three moose and two black bear. Studying both black bear, we decided to drive to another area. Both bears would measure under six feet.

Seeing nothing in the second area, we headed out for the third clear-cut. On the way there, Steve mentioned that last year a hunter from Indiana had taken a nice cinnamon bear on the second day of his hunt in this third clear cut. Driving the main logging road to the area, we spotted a nice black bear before we cleared the tree line. Steve pulled over so we could get a better look to determine if it was something I could stalk. The bear was just off the road about 75 yards into the clear-cut about 200 yards in front of us. The bear looked to go well over seven feet and was pure black with very long shiny fur. We both knew was the bear I wanted.

Not wanting to spook the bear, we both slowly got out leaving the doors open. I checked the wind and it was blowing from my right to my left. I could stalk without it catching my scent. To help my advantage, I took out my Dead Down Wind 3D Evolve scent eliminating spray and sprayed my clothes. After putting on my camo-face mask, I picked up my LimbSaver DeadZone 30 bow and slowly moved forward. Knowing black bears have poor eyesight but excellent hearing, I would plot all my movements as if written down.

Author with Limbsaver Bow ready to go for bear.

Watching, I would move slowly while it was feeding. When it would cautiously look up and around I would drop to one knee and drop my head using my hat to cover my eyes. Not wanting to make eye contact, I would slowly raise my head to see what it was doing before I moved. My plan was to move just below him and find obstacles that I could use when I needed to move into the clear-cut.

Reaching to where I wanted to be, I looked back at Steve and he was ready with his rifle in case it was needed. Studying the trail that I needed to take, I spotted several stumps and slight depressions between the bear and me.

Having hunted for several years with Steve and Roy, I knew time was on our side. If it took 60 minutes for me to get close enough for a shot, the bear would still be there feeding. I took a Victory VAP arrow with a G-5 broadhead out of the quiver and started my surreptitiously stalk. My LimbSaver bow had a new Leupold rangefinder mounted to it.

Working closely with Pat Mundy of Leupold, sometimes I get to preview products before they go on the market. This was one of the new products Leupold has introduced into the archery-hunting field. It is called the Vendetta, a bow-mounted range finder that operates by the push of a button mounted on the bow at its grip. The Vendetta gives you an instant and precise digital readout of your target range – at full draw – with no excessive movement.

The Vendetta will mount to virtually any compound bow (left- or right-handed) and is built to the uncompromising standards of the legendary Leupold name. It takes the guesswork and the game-spooking movement out of your next hunt.

True Ballistic Range – The Vendetta automatically calculates incline/decline and distance to your target, and bow-specific ballistics to deliver the most accurate measurement possible.

One-Touch Continuous Scan – Hold the trigger pad down and continuously range an animal as it moves.

Compact Size – At less than 10oz and just 3” tall, the Vendetta will not adversely affect the weight of your bow or your visual field.

With the bear less than 75 yards, I entered the clear-cut. Moving slowly I put a stump between the bear and me. The stump was about ten yards to my front. Taking several minutes to reach the stump I stopped and studied the bear. It was still feeding and working away from me. Still around 70 yards I found where I would stalk next, it was a small depression to my right/front around 30 yards. This would be more of a challenge, as I would be in the open.

The bear turned away from me while feeding giving me the advantage. I slowly started moving, keeping low to the ground I closed the distance in about three minutes. I stood still and ranged the bear at 42 yards but I wanted to get within 30 yards before taking the shot.

There were several small bushes and stumps between us so used them to my advantage as I moved forward. After advancing a few yards I paused again to range my target, it was now at 28 yards. This is where I decided to take the shot.

Stalk and shot success for author.

Keeping my eyes locked on the bear I nocked the Victory and slowly raised my bow. Drawing back, I pushed the Vendettas button to confirm the range at 28 yards; I placed the 30-yard pin on target and slowly squeezed my Cobra release sending the arrow on its way. I watch the arrow disappear just behind the shoulders for a perfect double lung shot. The bear gave a woof and took off in a leaping run. After going 20 yards, it slowed to a fast walk. In another 15 yards, the hunt was over as it stumbled and fell to the ground.

This was another successful hunt with Sentinel Mountain Safari’s. If you would like to hunt with Steve of Roy, give them a call or check them out on the web. 250-965-7788 web sentinelmountainsafar.com. They will let kids ages 10 to 14 hunt for bear free with a paying parent. This will give you two black bears for the price of one and the priceless memories of taking your son or daughter hunting with you in Canada.

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LimbSaver DeadZone 30 bow
Leupold range finder and binoculars

Victory Archery arrows

Dead Down Wind
Cobra release
Rivers West clothing
Danner/LaCrosse boots
Crooked Horn Outfitters

G-5 Broadheads