Weather Or Not: Spring Bear Hunting In Alberta

My excitement had been building for weeks, as this would be my first bear hunt—and also my very first hunt outside the United States.

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

Alberta’s wide-ranging spring weather will test any bear hunter’s gear (and mettle). Here’s what happens when you combine the HuntStand app, with Can-Am’s new hunter-friendly side-by-side and Mossberg’s deadly new Patriot rifle.

BearLEAD 600May in Alberta is a great mix of northcountry scenery, pine-scented air and active, abundant wildlife. Bear hunting season is in full swing and the spring weather, as always, is predictably unpredictable. Back home in Georgia a pre-hunt check of my HuntStand app weather forecast had called for chilly, wet conditions for my own hunt, a forecast I found quite accurate when I finally arrived in Alberta bear camp: Grand Slam Hunting Adventures based in the province’s Wandering River area. My excitement had been building for weeks, as this would be my first bear hunt—and also my very first hunt outside the United States. As you can imagine, the anticipation of encounters with massive Alberta bruins was quite a thrilling prospect, and I was ready. Once in camp, I found Outfitter Clayton Royer preparing his guides for the final week of bear season, and anticipation was high for continued success. It had already been a productive season for Grand Slam, and not even the forecasted high winds and rain could dampen our spirits for the week ahead.

Bear002 600Spring bear hunts in Canada demand versatile, rugged transportation. Whether you’re hauling large bruins or simply attempting to make your way to remote stands while traversing miles of water-logged muskeg and other challenging northcountry terrain, your vehicle had better be up to the task. Thankfully, on this hunt our group was tasked with testing Can-Am’s new Defender HD10, powered by a 72-horsepower Rotax V-twin engine. Rigged and ready with accessories aimed at serious hunters, all of us were eager to put the vehicle to the test. Actually, I had been introduced to this very capable machine just a few months prior, and knew the Defender could hold its own in the working arena. But Can-Am had now taken the ride to the next level; the Can-Am Defender Mossy Oak Hunting Edition we used was decked out with equipment to help us get the most from our Canadian bear hunting adventure.

View More: checking out the fully rigged Can-Am Defender I was soon summoned to the rifle range to make sure that my Mossberg Patriot Rifle (a .30-06)/Bushnell Trophy scope combo was still driving tacks. Airline baggage handlers are notorious for messing with rifle accuracy; it’s always a good idea to check (and recheck) rifle zero at your hunt destination. After loading the four-round magazine in the Patriot’s beautiful walnut stock, I found the Federal 165-grain Trophy bonded tip ammo every bit as accurate as back in Georgia. I felt very comfortable with this setup, and was confident I could put a bullet where it needed to be at most any reasonable range. I was ready.

BearPack 600Preparation for this type of week-long adventure also requires plenty of personal hunt gear, and the outfitter had sent out a specific, helpful list of “must-haves” prior to our arrival. As I checked them off back home and loaded them into my Browning Buck 2500 RT pack, I was instantly thankful for its many handy pockets. There was plenty of room for my Hunter Safety System HSS-330 safety harness, as well as my HSS Lifeline—no one wants to fall out of a tree in bear country. Also stuffed in my pack was a Bushnell Trophy Extreme rangefinder, extra rounds of Federal Premium Trophy bonded tip ammo, and my all-important Thermacell mosquito protection. As soon as we arrived it was evident the local mosquito and black fly population was healthy, and if you stood still for a bit, relentless. Not until you’d climb into your stand and hung your Thermacell unit could you expect any peace from flying insects. Besides my Mossberg rifle, my Thermacell unit was the week’s “most valuable” equipment.

BearWeather 600Sunday evening it was finally time to load up our Can-Am Defender and roll out to bear stands deep in the bush. The skies were darkening and a gentle rain was falling as we crossed the open, wind-swept fields near camp, but even with clues all around me, somehow I’d managed to make a grievous error: I’d soon realize that I’d forgotten my rain gear back in camp.

View More: temps at my new stand site dipping quickly, and the rain still falling steadily, a check with my Bushnell Trophy rangefinder confirmed I was perched 22 yards from the bait. Two long, uneventful hours later I began to shiver from the cold, wet and wind, and shortly after 8 p.m. I figured it was time to make a prudent decision. I texted my guide and let him know I had to get out of the stand and get warm. As I stood to pack my gear, the first bear of the evening appeared. My adrenaline kicked into overdrive, and suddenly, I was feeling a lot better. I texted Zach to have him slow his return, but in that instant, the bear was gone. Once again I began quietly gathering my gear. A few minutes later I noticed a bright-colored hair blob bounding along a previously unseen trail. A striking blonde bear! Again blood was flowing as I slowly gripped the Mossberg Patriot. Seemingly nervous, the bear seemed to know something was not exactly right. I decided to take the shot. At the rifle’s bark the bear bolted forward, head-butting the bait barrel, then turned and dropped in sight. The excitement had certainly been a warming experience; as my guide drove up some 30 minutes later he did not know I had shot a bear.

Defender600Winching off-road vehicles is a relatively a common occurrence in the unforgiving Canadian bush, but getting stuck is something you must be prepared for whenever and wherever you ride. In the Canadian bush, one unfortunate reality is that suitable winch trees can be few and far between, especially in the seemingly wet, endless muskeg bogs. You’ll often be “maxing out” your winch line, so knowing just how long your cable is can be important. Before your hunt, unlock the drum and allow it to “free spool” so you can pull out the entire cable; then use some red or other bright-colored duct tape to mark a spot that leaves at least two coils of cable on the drum, which will prevent pulling the cable from the drum at an inopportune time. Also, after every hard-fought winch job it’s wise to “respool” your cable at the first available opportunity. Again, stretch out the full length of the cable, and tie it off to a solid anchor point. Then place the machine in neutral and allow the winch to pull the machine along, winding the cable back on the drum evenly. This helps prevent winch cable kinks and binding and prepares you and your rig for the next winch job. Finally, as you winch remember to use short winching “bursts” rather than a long continuous operation. This can overheat your winch, and cause premature failure.

BearAtBait 600With Alberta’s two-bear limit and my first bear tag filled, I spent Monday on stand studying the actions of bears, and fine-tuning my ability to judge bear size—a somewhat confusing task. Six different bears traveled in and out of the bait site area during my sit; after my earlier success I had decided that only a massive bear would make me reach for my rifle. Monday’s activity gave me increased confidence and I was hoping my preparations would pay off in the days to come.

Bear007 600After an early dinner Tuesday, I again dressed in my Nomad hunt gear, covered in Mossy Oak camo. As the temps were dropping and with my earlier, bone-chilling experience still fresh in my mind, I made sure to don two sets of base layers, tops and bottoms. Outerwear included my Nomad Sward hunting pants and Integrator jacket, complete with warm fleece-lined pockets my fingers appreciated once on stand. I also coated myself in H.S. Scent Away Max spray, to keep my scent from spooking incoming bears. Again, I was ready for bear action.

View More: you think about hunter-friendly ATV accessories, the list can quickly grow long. But Can-Am had done its research and combined some premium essentials in its Defender Mossy Oak Hunting Edition package. Included were some Can-Am staples such as dynamic power steering, but so was a massive winch, full skid plates for under-belly protection, and a versatile half windshield. You’ll also find a headache rack for the cargo bed with a removable 12-volt light, improved (and very functional) Kolpin gun scabbards, as well as custom wheels wrapped with Maxxis Big Horn 2.0 tires. More nice touches include an front-mounted brush bumper, and Q-link accessory clamps with bed rails on the cargo box. All can be important on a dedicated hunting machine.

BearBomb 600The remote, sweet-looking ladder stand that would be my home for the evening was tucked neatly into the Alberta wilderness. As I climbed into the perch nestled approximately 25 yards from the bear bait, I watched as my guide set off a “Bear Bomb” scent can (note the bear-tooth holes in the can above), then slowly backed the Can-Am Defender down the trail. And just like that, I was alone again. Earlier talks with other hunters in camp confirmed the Bear Bomb to be a favorite of the local bruins, and my confidence was high. My heart was racing; the anticipation of glimpsing the evening’s first bear had me on edge, and I didn’t want to get caught off guard. By my count there were four well-traveled bear trails coming into the bait site, and it was impossible to keep my eyes on all of them at once.

OnStand 600It wasn’t long before a mid-sized black bear came bounding down the same trail that my guide and I had traveled coming in. Yet again, I was amazed to see just how quietly these large animals can move through the woods. Much stealthier than deer, black bears can sneak right up to you before you realize it. This first


bear wandered around the site for some 20 minutes before its attention seemed to turn to something out in the bush, to my right. And then it appeared. Suddenly a much-larger bear strolled into view, and I knew this was the one for me. The large bruin seemed to dwarf the bait barrel it stood beside, and soon I was leveling the crosshairs of my Bushnell Trophy. It took just seconds following the bark of my Mossberg Patriot to know that I’d filled my second Alberta bear tag, and I was one happy bear hunter.

FinalBearAfter a few field photos it was time to load the big bruin into the Can-Am’s dump bed and get back to camp; the Defender proved every bit as maneuverable with a heavy, hairy load. Back at camp it was great to share the exciting story of my hunt with new friends Andrew Howard, Brad Fenson, and Pat Apling. All of us agreed that our Alberta adventure had been a resounding success—challenging weather and all.



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