January 22, 2018
Two hours after I had settled into my stand, I caught a glimpse of black ears far into the oaks. A big bear had come to investigate. The cautious old bruin sat watching for more than 20 minutes before he edged closer. I didn't move, and at times, caught myself holding my breath. Just when I thought the bear would venture out into the open, he turned and walked off into the thick timber.
This was my fourth night of bear hunting in The Narrows of Lake Manitoba, and I in the previous evening I had watched juvenile boars, along with some big sows and cubs, filter out of the dense scrub oak. It was like watching a National Geographic documentary on black bears. Although I have hunted black bears all over the Canada and the U.S., I always enjoy my time in Manitoba, for you never know just what the province's wilderness holds for hunters.
Truth is, Manitoba is one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to black bears. Across the province, from the patchwork of agricultural field and wetlands of the Interlake Region to the central part of the province around Riding Mountain National Park all the way to the far north, black bears abound, with many of them reaching the level of maturity and size that would makes a hunter's heart skip a beat. Yet few hunters look at the central province of Canada as a black bear destination.
The fact that Manitoba often gets overlooked give hunters in the know an edge. Many of the province's outfitters specialize in hunting for black bears, focusing their efforts on providing a quality hunt for hunters who prefer to avoid the crowds. Plus, the smaller number of hunters, when compared to some of Canada's harder-hunted provinces, is just one factor in why the black bears in Manitoba grow big.
Bruins in the south and central regions of the province tend to have a growing advantage with protein-rich agricultural fields and long summer days for an extended growing season. They forage on everything from berries to acorns and do marauding runs into oat, barley, and wheat fields if they have the opportunity. The area's farmlands and forests are fantastic places to target large, mature black bears. Some of the biggest bears harvested in Canada come from this region.
The population of big bears stretches north through the Interlake country, where baiting is the most popular and productive way to hunt. Bears do extremely well in this unique habitat of scrub oak and boreal forest. Big lakes and wilderness areas are the final pieces of the puzzle to grow big bears.
Farther north, the habitat is a unique checkerboard of water, woodlots, and riparian areas, with some agriculture just to spice things up. Bears in this country aren't always visible, and they don't have to be to have all the comforts and security of home. Outfitters do even the odds and find ways to sneak a peek at the secretive bruins.
Whether you're in a popular area near one of the provincial parks in Manitoba or scouring the vast tracts of parkland, boreal forest, or Canadian Shield, you are going to find big bears.
And that's just what my friends and I found on my recent trip to the Narrows. Of the six hunters in camp, three tagged great, mature bears of the size that would be compete with black bears found anywhere in Canada. The incredible hides glistened with long, dark fur, but things got interesting when a bear of a honey-brown color was brought in by one of the bow hunters. To say he was excited would be an understatement. Brown, blonde, cinnamon, and a variety of other colors are always possible on a Manitoba black bear hunt.
Besides afternoon and evening hunts, my friends and I enjoyed some spectacular fishing for walleye, pike, freshwater drum, and schools of other gamefish native to the area. Mid-afternoon we trekked to our stands and sat until the sun had set well below the western horizon.
On that fourth evening, my guides put me in a spot where a cagey old bear had been giving them the slip for years. After my initial sighting, I sat another two hours before I caught another glimpse of black moving through the brush. The old boy had returned, just before dark, utilizing the long shadows to sneak into the open. This time, I didn't give him the opportunity to leave and anchored him as he entered an open shooting lane. My scrub oak bruin was just what I came to Manitoba for.
There are many considerations when it comes to bear hunting, so dialing in on what is most important to you is the best way to whittle down your options. Do you want to do a spot-and-stalk hunt or sit on a bait site? Do you want long-range shooting opportunities with a special rifle and optics, or do you want to be up close and personal with your bow? Are you hunting for fun, excitement, and personal gratification, or are you looking for a the most mature black bear you can find. Is color phase important to you, and what are the options when it comes to color-phase black bears?
All this may seem overwhelming at first, but in Manitoba, you can have your cake and eat it too with big black bears and the chance that a color-phase bear could show up at any time during your hunt. Yes, Manitoba is a dreamland for bear hunters, and with the help of the Travel Manitoba website, it isn't that hard to find the hot spots.