Over the past few years I’ve went out on occasion with the intention of capturing photos of black bears but this spring was different. Come April 1st I was hoping my right index finger would be firing more than just the shutter on my Canon 1D. I had finally made the decision to pursue with lethal intent a black bear.
Black bears while numerous in Ontario are seldom seen, until I moved away I spent a lot of time travelling through unpopulated areas, wild tracts of land and the bush; I only recall ever seeing one bear in my twenty-seven years there. In fact if I came across a bear track while hunting or hiking I would get ridiculously excited, it made the woods seem more wild. Upon moving to British Columbia black bears were so common that I was convinced Whistler had them on retainer, they appeared to be common characters playing almost clown-like roles for the tourists.
Seventeen years now I’ve been renting the same apartment, technically you could say its at the base of Whistler Mountain in the sense that if you walk straight off my back deck you will be starting to hike up the mountain. In those seventeen years the bears have been frequent visitors to our yard, I’ve walked out to see a steaming pile of bear shit on our driveway and I’ve had a black bears on my deck, knocking on my door and scaring the shit out of me at three a.m. when I answered it. They are so common that even without the introduction of human food sources they still become accustomed to us and lose a little of their wildness.
Reading Ted Kerasote’s book Blood Ties was one of the reasons for me to renew my hunting license. The desire to collect my own food, to know the origin of the meat on my dinner table and lessen my environmental impact was a driving force. Ethically I didn’t want to shoot anything that I didn’t intend on eating and the stories I’d heard of black bear were that it was inedible. As I spent more time reading over the winter something came to light that black bear when not handled with care is exactly as the old timers said, inedible but when processed properly it is mouth-wateringly delicious.
I was in, I wanted something to hunt in the spring, and there it was, the bonus of potentially filling the freezer had me excited.
The spring weather was strange, colder than normal with less precipitation. My gut feeling was that the weather was putting off the bear movements, the whole month of April was light on bear sign and I didn’t really start seeing sign until the the end of May. This didn’t keep me inside, every week I got out and wandered around, the hunting was excellent just the spotting of bears was lacking. Being immersed in nature was gratifying in and of itself, while I may not have been seeing bears I got lots of scouting for deer and grouse done. In fact, by the end of spring bear season I’d seen more blacktail deer than I did bears.
Twice I was close to deer including a nice buck that I have designs on for this coming fall. By the end of the spring hunting season I had only seen one bear, a chocolate boar who caught our wind and skedattled up a tree. I probably could have found a shot, but I didn’t feel comfortable shooting him while he was hugging the bark and not just because it was an unsafe firing angle. Though I may not have put bear meat in the freezer I did shoot several through the lens of my camera and they reminded me that outside of the village and back in the woods they are still a wary and wild animal.
See you on the water or the mountain.