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David Sparks Ph.d Manitoba Bear
by David Sparks Ph.d, click here for bio

Program: Sportsman's Spotlight
Date: May 17, 2018

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The Bear At Last Light After an unsuccessful week at black bear camp during the spring season, Field & Stream’s Editor in Chief Colin Kearns returns to Manitoba the following fall for one more crack at filling his tag. Kearns battles howling winds, residual doubts carrying over from the previous trip, and slow-to-move bears on his second trip to the Canadian wilderness.

Black bear woods—a half hour after sundown and a quarter hour more since the rifle crack. It is dark. The only glow for miles, besides three lamps sweeping for blood, are two headlights from a revving UTV behind us. The threat of a wounded bear in these woods keeps us from walking too deep; none of us dare tread beyond the reach of the vehicle’s shine or hum. I stop often to look back and listen. The shot felt good, I remind myself. Keep going. But doubt and fear creep in after each step and every second that passes with no trace of encouragement that I’m on the right track. We search as far as we’re willing for the night, then turn back toward camp. We’ll look tomorrow, when there’s light.

SPRING

Five of us return to the spot the next morning: Jake Edson, a communications manager for Vista Outdoors, three guides, and me. After I describe how the bear reacted to the gunshot and indicate the direction it took into the bush, we split up and hunt for blood. There’s none where I last saw the bear standing, none at the point where I watched it vault and vanish into the woods. I walk deeper, wishing at any second to discover the bear or hear shouts from the others that they’ve found what I cannot.

Meanwhile, when the bear woods darken, everything else seems amplified. Ravens’ wings pulse overhead. Red-winged blackbirds flutter into the bait and pick at the molasses-soaked oats. Field mice rummage beneath dead leaves. Wolves howl. But the one constant, the soundtrack of my hunt—something I hear, and look forward to, every night—is the mating call of a male ruffed grouse. The drumming sound—the way it starts slow, then rapidly picks up speed—is so natural that it’s almost internal; the first few times I mistake the vibration for my own heartbeat, quickening with the hope that a bear is near.

I hear shouting. “Colin!” I rush toward the noise, hopeful that when I come through there’ll be a bear. “Colin!” I hear the revving UTV. I emerge through the bush, finally, and try not to seem or sound too hopeful. “Any luck?” I ask. They shake their heads. Not a drop of blood found. Edson opens a hand. In his palm are a few small black hairs he found near where the bear stood when I fired. The ends of each look shaved.

“I think you missed him low,” he says. “Gave him a buzz cut.” The guides agree with him,

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