Monday, February 26, 2007

The Bear Creek Road Bear

Mid-August in Minnesota means one thing to me - bear baiting. There's nothing like kicking the season off by loading molasses, dog food and grease on to waiting ATV racks and heading out for the bear woods. Every year you can bet I'll be running the ever familiar bait route while always keeping an eye out for new areas to establish another successful bear pit.

The 2006 baiting season found my four-year old daughter, Layne, and me rumbling down the backwoods trails traveling from bait site to bait site laying down food that only a bear, and the occasional coon, could love. We checked our pits one by one as we dumped food, threw molasses and cleared shooting lanes from the stand trees. Layne helped out by dutifully performing the all-important bear baiting job of assaulting small trees with sticks at every pit we tended.

A week and a half later Layne and I were thrilled to find all five pits were being hit regularly. One of the bait sites, which I nicknamed the Bear Creek Road Pit sported a pretty nice front pad track in the fresh dirt. I was thrilled with the four inch track because, this being a new pit, I had no idea if the area was conducive to decent sized bears. The track hadn't been left by a Boone and Crockett class bear, that's for sure, but it definitely could belong to a good sized sow.

September 1st was bitter sweet. Two days earlier, while driving to bear camp, my bear hunting buddies Al and Chris and I stopped for some last minute supplies at an area sporting goods store. The folks there gave the bad news that many of the local bear hunters reported their pits going cold over the last couple of days. We finished the last several miles of our journey crossing our fingers that our pits had not suffered the same fate. Wrong!

Later that day we sadly discovered that two pits had gone cold all together, two had sporadic hits in which we obtained some trail camera pictures of a couple decent bears. We also learned the reason for the slow down - acorns, and lots of them. Curses I thought. One pit though, the Bear Creek Road Pit, continued being slammed. All the work, travel time, expensive gasoline bills, and time away from family had seemed worth it when each of the pits looked promising. But now, spirits were a little low in the Lease bear camp and the reality of a tough 2006 season set in. Oh well, you know what they say - a bad day hunting is ALWAYS better than a good day working. The good news, besides the trail camera pictures we'd gotten at the other pits, was we also retrieved over 60 great pictures of the bear whose track I'd seen a week and a half earlier at the Bear Creek Road Pit. Although not overly long or tall, this gorgeous bear looked like a 55 gallon drum with legs, which is usually a good indication of a mature sow. Al and Chris had already committed to other pits which meant only one thing - the Bear Creek Road Pit was all mine.

At 3:00 on opening afternoon I was high in a basswood tree 12 yards from the pit. It was a beautiful, slightly overcast and cool day which seemed like the perfect conditions for Ms. Bear to make her appearance. It was also perfect for filming and I hoped to get good daylight footage with my video equipment for the boys at Because many of the trail camera pictures tipped me off that the bear was making numerous fast food visits as early as 4:00 p.m., I was hopeful of getting my first up close and personal look of the year at a Minnesota bruin in broad daylight.

At 4:25 I happened to look to my left and was lucky enough to catch a millisecond-long glance at the rear end of a bear as it walked through an opening in the early September foliage only 30 yards away. A minute later I caught movement to my right as the bear apparently looped around the backside of the pit while contemplating its next move. Again I lost sight of the ghostly bruin as it changed positions for a second time. A moment later, after seeing an extra shadow right next to the bait opening, I knew it was time for the bear's grand entrance.

With videotape rolling, the bear slowly emerged from the shadows and sauntered onto the scene, sucking up marshmallows and candy peanuts that were scattered around the ground. Because I didn't have a cameraman, I let my bow hang as I tracked the bear with the camera until the pit and the bear were centered in my viewfinder. After making sure the zoom and focus were correct, I left the camera in the care of my trusty camera tree arm and slowly reached for my bow. Only a minute passed when the bear presented the perfect shot. I set the arrow free and watched it disappear just behind the shoulder. In a flash the bear was gone. I listened as the bear loudly bolted through the thick brush until everything went quiet. Did it pile up? Did it run out of earshot? I didn't know. That familiar little tinge of doubt penetrated my thoughts as it usually does after a shot. This time however, it appeared my worries may be valid as I realized the shot could have been a tad low.

While giving the bear ample time, I watched the shot several times on video. After what seemed like 1000 reviews, I felt better and was sure I had accomplished the famous heart shot. My renewed hope was validated when I climbed down and found ample blood all over the bait logs.

A short track job past the blood-soaked pit and I was rewarded with my 2006 Minnesota bear. The mature sow proved to be one that anyone would be proud of, especially when I realized she had a tint of chocolate coloration to her full and flawless coat.

A short track job past the blood-soaked pit and I was rewarded with my 2006 Minnesota bear

The Bear Creek Road pit was added to the ranks of special bait sites creating lasting memories I hope to share with Layne one day. You can bet that next year I'll be watching the Bear Creek Road pit closely with the hopes of capturing another successful hunt on video.

Submitted by our good friend Greg Lease.

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