By Gus Congemi
The unmistakable snap of a twig alerted me that something was coming. As I slowly turned my head, I saw the largest black bear I had ever seen making his way to the bait barrel. Now all I had to do was to compose myself and make a shot that I’ve made a hundred times before.
I had hunted with Mike Adey and Whiteshell Outfitters the year before with my friend Rick Affuso and know the size of the animals in that area. Mike is a bowhunter himself and runs an incredible bear camp in the Whiteshell Provincial Park.
The year before, Rick had seen a huge bear on stand but couldn’t close the deal. While I harvested a nice bear that year, I returned determined to get that monster Rick had seen.
After sitting 4 days on that same stand Rick used the year prior, seeing a few bear but no shooters, I decided to move to another stand where we saw signs of activity. Another hunter had been hunting this stand, and although he had been seeing a lot of bear he didn’t see one that he wanted to harvest, so he gave up the stand to me so that I could get some footage for the TV show.
This stand would require me to take a boat across the lake. My first night on stand was uneventful. Although the other hunter was seeing a lot of bears on this stand, I saw one small bear.
Preparing for my second night, hoping my luck would change, I took a second trip across the lake. Once to the other side, the engine was killed as we glided to a silent stop along the lake bank. I gathered my pack and bow and took one last look across the lake before heading into the dark spruce forest. It wasn’t long before I was settled into my ladder stand, and listened to the boats’ engine growing more distant as it headed back towards the lodge.
The same small bear showed up on the second night, feeding and circling me. I did not consider this a good sign. Then, as the bear continued to circle, I could sense that something was coming. The woods began to darken and the bear that was working the bait retreated hastily into the dense Canadian bush. What little sunlight had been filtering through the treetops was now replaced by black sky. Waves from the smooth lake could be heard crashing violently onto the shore. There was no doubt that a storm was coming and it was coming fast. Thunder began to boom louder as the storm edged closer. Lightning now lit up the sky as I clung to my pine tree which threatened to launch me to the ground. I thought about the two way radio that Mike Adey had given to me and quickly realized that it would be useless to call, being on the far side of a remote lake with the current conditions and lightning made a boat ride out of the question. I pulled my rain gear over my head and hunkered down. I sat crouched in my tree stand for what seemed like hours, but in actuality this storm lasted only a matter of minutes. While I vaguely remember seeing the sunlight coming through the trees towards the lake after the storm, I distinctly remember hearing the unmistakable sound of a branch breaking at the bait. I turned my head and what I saw shook me more than the storm. There at the bait was a bear, not just any bear, this one was big and dark and judging by the huge scars on his face, just as dangerous as the storm that had just passed. This was the bear I had traveled to Manitoba for.
After I started the video camera over my right shoulder and took my bow down off the hook, I stood motionless waiting for the opportunity to take a clean shot. What happened next was just a blur. The bear turned and gave me what I thought was a quartering away shot. I released my arrow and thought I hit my mark as the bear ran off into the bush. As I waited for the bear to expire, I radioed Mike to head up to the lake. While waiting, I got down from the stand and checked my arrow. Something wasn’t quite right and it became clear that the shot was further back than I had originally thought. As Mike arrived, we viewed the video tape which confirmed that I had made a poor shot.
As the light was fading, we started tracking the bear, marking what blood we could find, and we decided to come back the next day. I spent the evening in camp reviewing the footage, not sleeping, and feeling sick that this happened.
The next morning we headed back to the stand, and this is the part of the story that needs to be told, Mike Adey is a master tracker. He was finding the smallest signs to get us a direction on the bear, he was finding grease and blood under hanging leaves, signs so small, and signs that I would’ve never thought to look for, and could be easily overlooked. As we moved through the morning, what was once infrequent small signs, became a blood trail, which led us to the recovery of my bear.
Had it not been for Mike, his determination, knowledge and amazing skills in the woods, I would not have recovered what ended up as the #1 Archery Black Bear taken in North America in 2010. The Bear Skull scored 22 1/16.