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July 13, 2012

You can shoot a bear with a camera and still have a successful hunt

Last week, I talked about how animals protect themselves. My wife read the column and wondered why I didn't tell you about the baby bears in Canada.

Honestly, that story was lost in the back of my mind. Even after all the years of writing this column, I'm not sure if I ever told you about our bear incident.

Some 20 or so years ago, Pat, my dad and I went to New Brunswick, Canada, to hunt bears the first week in June. As was typical, we would sit in a tree stand or ground blind and watch a bait barrel for hours on end, hoping a bear would come along.

After years of hunting bears, I learned some outfitters don't do their jobs and couldn't care less if you get a bear. Well, that was the case that week.

After the third day of donating most of our blood to hoards of mosquitoes and black flies while sitting in an absolutely boring tree stand, Pat decided to take the truck and explore the backcountry. After we returned to camp and sat down for dinner, she said, "In the morning, I'll take you out and show you some bears. I saw two big ones tonight just driving the roads."

She was excited about seeing the big bruins, and that excitement quickly spread to my dad and me. The next morning, we started out. After a few miles of seemingly endless dirt roads _ turning up this narrow path and down that one _ we spotted our first bear. It wasn't a big one, but it was black and furry.

The little critter walked into the road, watched us approach and then walked _ totally unconcerned _ back into the underbrush, never to be seen again.

After a few more miles, we came to the spot where Pat had seen her first bear the night before.

As expected, the bear had wandered off instead of waiting for us to return. We drove on and ended up in a large clear cut. The paper companies cut every tree and stick off an entire mountain side when they harvest pulpwood. When everything is gone, crews come in and replant. After 20 years, they repeat the process.

Anyway, out in the middle of some 1,500 totally cleared acres, a big black bear was feeding on grasses or whatever. The bear watched us approach and quickly walked behind a large boulder. I jumped out of the truck with rifle in hand, ready to harvest the big beast when it came back into the open.

To our surprise, the bear had gathered up her family of two little cubs and was heading for the tall timber. I immediately put my gun back in the truck and grabbed my camera instead. We could hear her grunt and growl to the little balls of fur that followed her across the cut. I wasn't far behind, snapping pictures as we went.

When she got to the edge of the woods, she sent her cubs scampering up the side of a tall, white pine tree as fast as they could go. Once they were safe, she stood her ground at the base of the tree and watched me very closely. I never felt I was in danger because I kept my distance, but I knew she meant business.

I snapped a few more pictures of the small cubs up on the sky-high branches before backing away. It certainly was a memorable experience.

Whether I saw another bear that trip or not, I didn't care. It was a successful hunt, and probably the best bear hunt I ever had.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at robrockway@hotmail.com.

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