Spot and Stalk bear hunting in the mountains with a bow and arrow brings some serious challenges, but everything about the hunt was exhilarating. Oh, and I shot the 43rd bear I saw.
By Bernie Barringer
What makes a dream trip for a die-hard bear hunter? I suppose a dream trip is different things to different people. To you, it might be an exotic hunt in a far off place, or the opportunity to shoot the biggest bear of your life, or maybe the chance to experience new sights, sounds and smells while bear hunting. A dream trip for me may be a combination of several of those things.
If a dream trip for you means a rustic lodge in the heart of stunning mountain scenery, seeing multiple bears a day, waking up to loons calling, catching a rainbow trout on literally every cast, and moose steaks on the grill, then read on, because I found your dream trip.
My trip to Eureka Peak Lodge in the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia was first and foremost a bear hunt. I shot the 43rd bear I saw. I’ll relate the events of shooting that bear in a moment, but since this trip was so much more than just a bear hunt, let me tell you the story from the beginning.
Just getting to Eureka Peak Lodge is an adventure in itself. I was in four airports during my trip, and the airplane that flew me into Williams Lake, BC was a small one. Let’s just say that every seat is a window seat! From Williams Lake, I was driven nearly three hours back into the mountains, about half of it on winding gravel roads. I was told I would typically see my first bears on the drive to the lodge. I saw three.
Like so many of my bear hunts, this one was characterized by rain. It rained six of the seven days of my hunt. The outfitter, Stu Maitland, expressed that we I would see the majority of bears when the sun was out, and that proved to be true. When the sun would peek through the clouds the bears would appear.
My first day hunting with my guide Joe Morhart was rainy nearly the entire day. We hunted from breakfast until 5:00 p.m. when we headed in to have supper. Our cook Cherie had seen four bears on her drive down to her house about an hour away. One of them was a cinnamon that she had seen on the entrance to a deactivated logging road just a few miles from the lodge.
After a great dinner, we headed back out to hunt for a few hours until dark and our first stop was that logging road. It had been more than an hour since Cherie saw the bear but Joe said the bears don’t move far when they are feeding, so we should go have a look. We walked about 200 yards down the old logging road when we came to a fast-flowing stream. I looked up on the other side and sure enough there was a cinnamon bear. He moved out into the open 60 yards away, and if I was hunting with a rifle instead of a bow, my hunt would have been over right there. But with the stream in between us, we couldn’t get close enough for a shot and my cinnamon moved out of sight.
I need to relate how disappointing this was for me. You see I have this silly idea that I want to shoot what I call a “Grand Slam of Color Bears.” My grand slam would be each of the four major color groups: Blonde, chocolate, black and cinnamon. I need the blonde and cinnamon to complete the slam. One of the primary reasons I booked a hunt in this area was because they have a large number of color phase bears in this geographical region. So I was really disappointed to let this cinnamon get away, but it was only the first day.
The next few days were spent cruising logging roads, glassing the logging cuts, and walking deactivated logging roads. In the spring, bears love to graze on the lush greens that are found along the roads. The woods are thick with little sunlight getting to the forest floor, so the food is found wherever the sun can get through. That means along roads and in logged off areas referred to as “Cut Blocks.”
The best way to encounter a lot of bears is to cover a lot of ground; that means driving a lot of these roads. If you see a bear, you slam on the brakes and plan your stalk. We alternated that strategy with hiking down roads that had been removed from use. These roads grow up into grass, dandelions and clovers, the exact things bears love in the spring. It was a nice combination of exploring these old roads in the pickup, mixed with hiking up the slopes and glassing. It’s quite a fun way to hunt.
The bears proved Stu’s theory right. It rained off and on, mostly on, for the next five days, but when the sun would peek out, we would start seeing bears. Some of the bears bolted off into the brush when we saw them, and some were sows with cubs. Some were in position where we could make a stalk but they were smaller specimens and after all I was looking for a cinnamon or a blonde. We attempted a stalk on a handful of big ones as the week wore on and the list of bears I would not shoot began to shrink. Steve, another hunter in camp who was bowhunting Grizzlies with Stu as his guide, came back to camp one evening with photos of both a blonde and a cinnamon and of course they teased me to no end about that.
On the fifth evening Joe told me we were going to go on a “grand adventure” the following day. He was not kidding. We drove two hours to the shore of Quesnel Lake and loaded Joe’s ATV on the front of an 18-foot jet boat. Lake Quesnel is the deepest lake in North America at 2300 feet deep and that thought was with me as we headed across the lake with the “Quad” in the front of the boat. The scenery was stunning and it was nice to finally have the rain clouds lift so I could see the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
We spent the day about six miles up the lake on Joe’s registered trapline. We cruised logging roads and glassed cut blocks again, and since there is no road access to this area, I was a little bewildered about how they built the logging roads and hauled the logs out. Joe explained that the trucks and equipment is hauled up there on barges, and the logs are strapped together in big rafts and floated down the lake with tugboats.
We stopped off for a few moments at a pristine mountain lake and ate our lunch, then pushed a canoe out into the lake and did a little trout fishing. There were so many times I just had to pause a moment to drink in the gorgeous scenic views.
When we saw a big black one feeding across a valley, we had to make a try for it. But we came to a river that was pretty high from all the rain. Joe took one look and said we could make it so we plunged in with the Quad. About half way across, the quad began to lose its footing but Joe gunned it and we hit the opposite bank. I had to bail off the quad as it seemed like it was going to tip over backward going up the steep bank. Climbing back on the quad after Joe got it up on level ground all I could think about was how we were going to get back across, especially if we had a big bear with us.
We didn’t have to worry about that problem because when we got to the area, the bear was gone and we never did see him again. We spent a few hours hiking and glassing that side of the river before coming back across. We did find a couple moose shed antlers while looking for bears. Now you have to realize that there was a small falls and then rapids about 20 yards downstream from the river crossing. I was not looking forward to trying to get back across that river.
This time it was worse. When the quad lost its footing in the middle of the river we began to be swept downstream and the quad turned sideways. Somehow Joe kept it upright while we were swept up against the boulders on the opposite shore and I grabbed my bow and climbed out onto the rocks just above the falls. Joe tossed me my back pack with my cameras and then gunned it, making his way upstream against the raging current to a point where he could get his wheels on dry ground. We were both wet up to the crotch with the cold, snow-melt water but happy to be safe. Grand adventure, you aren’t kidding.
After a long day of hunting in this remote area, we headed back to the rocky beach were we had left the boat. We discovered that the wind had come up during the day, splashing over the transom of the beached boat, filling it with water and sinking it to the bottom. It took a lot of bailing but we got it back afloat and got the motor started. We got back to the lodge well after midnight and I had to get a fire going or suffer hiking in wet boots all day the following day. Finally, I fell exhausted into bed.
The following day was the final day of my hunt and I had decided I needed to shoot the first representative bear I see. I didn’t want to go home without a bear; the time for being picky was over. We saw some smaller ones and attempted a stalk on a nice big black. But the swirling mountain winds betrayed us.
Early in the afternoon, we were heading towards an area with more logging roads we had not hunted before, when we rounded the corner and there was a bear on the side of the road. It was not a really big one, but it looked like it had good potential for a stalk. In fact, it just moved off the road a short distance and sat there.
Earlier in the week, I had given my rangefinder to Joe and asked him to use it to give me a range right before I shot. I had also asked him to video the shot. But when we bailed out of the truck, I grabbed my bow and in the excitement, Joe forgot both the rangefinder and the video camera.
The bear made a half circle and came back to the side of the road. It was clear he wanted to cross, so we started sneaking up the road, trying not to make too much noise crunching in the gravel. The bear came to the edge of the road again, but soon disappeared. We hurried a little farther and sure enough, he appeared at the side of the road and I drew my bow. I asked Joe the range and that’s when he realized he would have to guess. He said “40 yards,” and then suddenly the bear was moving across the road. Joe tried to stop him with a call but I had to shoot at the bear as he was walking quickly and I didn’t lead him enough so the arrow zipped through him just behind the rib cage.
I hate that feeling, but Joe was convinced we would get this bear. He said the bear would run about 100 yards and hang up. We drove down the road a little ways and then Joe said, “let’s go in right here.” Well I was skeptical but I have learned never to guide the guide. Sure enough, we got about 50 yards into the thick bush and Joe threw up his rifle and said he could see the bear through the scope. The bear was sitting there sniffing the wound on his side when I crept within range and put the finishing shot into him. Another lesson in trusting your guide.
This truly was a dream trip for me. The natural beauty of the Cariboo Mountains, the incredible fishing, the accommodations, the food and the hunting were all terrific. With the benefit of hindsight, I would have bought the second tag (this is a two-bear area) and shot the cinnamon with a rifle on the first night, then bowhunted for the second one. This is one dream trip you really should put on your bucket list.