No better time to book a black bear hunt

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Spring hunts for Ontario black bears, once a staple “off-season big game hunt” for thousands of Canadians as well as U.S. nonresidents, are finally back on the calendar during a five-year pilot period that should easily prove the multi-faceted positive results of an annual bear season.

Indeed, many hunters made a spring bear hunt in the Canadian wilderness a “must do” each year, often introducing friends and family members to the activity that bought smiles and dollars to Ontario camp operators. Over decades, the camps came to depend on early season hunters to supplement the income from anglers and families who book summer trips.

But the curtain closed on spring hunts in 1999 when political persuasion overpowered common sense, science-based, and proven game management practices.

Canceled

Spring black bear hunts were canceled by a government that bent to an emotional crowd that claimed that hunters were killing large numbers of black bear sows with recently born cubs, leaving the little ones to almost certain death from predators and/or starvation.

Canadian spring bear hunts are always over bait, the only possible way to hunt in the dense bush of the near north. That means hunters sitting near bait piles have plenty of time to watch approaching bears giving them more than enough time to determine if a bear has cubs.

Of course, in the course of harvesting hundreds of bears, some mature sows are actually taken, but of that number, even fewer sows with cubs were killed by mistake.

But like almost every time the established need for game management becomes political currency, the unchecked increase in numbers of the newly protected animal causes a myriad of problems.

For starters, the millions of dollars lost put a significant dent in Ontario’s pocketbook — plus other desirable species such as moose calves and deer fawns were targeted by the unchecked and steadily increasing bear numbers. And of course, more bears caused more human/bear interactions, mostly unwelcome and certainly dangerous.

Pilot

After 15 years of unchecked bear numbers and increasing problems, Ontario’s spring black bear season was reintroduced in 2014 in a tightly controlled pilot program. Residents only, strict territory boundaries, limited harvest allowances, and a strict limit on permits were all part of the measurable results.

In 2016, the pilot program expanded to allow nonresident hunters to take part by booking a hunt with an outfitter who was allowed a handful of permits. That continues today.

Most published, unofficial information suggests the test period is expected to run through 2020 when a decision will be made as to its future.

At this time, U.S. hunters have the opportunity to take a part in Ontario’s spring bear hunt during a short annual season running through May and half of June. To be sure, black bears in the province are plentiful and one does not have to travel far to experience the rush of facing a big black bear at a very close distance.

Hunts come in many forms, from camping, cooking, and hunting on your own to sleeping on clean sheets, sitting down to great meals, and hunting established and active baits.

Keep in mind that bear permits are limited and hunting territories are highly treasured by camp operators and outfitters.

Olive the Lake

According to David Smetana, who owns Olive the Lake cottages near Marten, River, Ontario, his 2018 hunts are already sold out and spots for 2019 are already filling up.

The demand for spring hunts is typical for most of the established camps. Hunters who hope to find a spot or two for this year can still find them but it’s recommended that they contact camps owners very soon.

Outfitters can’t take any more than the number of permits they are allowed.

Smetana entertains just 16 hunters for the spring season. He and his wife Cara provide a cottage, bedding, meals, and transportation to widely spread bait stands. He helps successful hunters retrieve and field dress downed bears and a nearby processor skins and packages the meat for transport.

He reported that 85 percent of his spring hunters have opportunity to shoot a bear but some choose not to for various reasons. The average bear, according to Smetana is 200-plus pounds with those weighing 300 pounds and up considered real trophies.

He says that the majority of spring hunters are archers.

Olive the Lake is an hour north of North Bay, 11 to 12 hours from Ohio. Contact Smetana at 705-892-2204 or online at info@olivethelake.com.

Hunters heading north will need a current passport and can expect to spend the cost of a camp or outfitter plus $240 for a license, $35 for an export permit, and $25 to register a gun at the border.

When costs are listed in Canadian currency like these are, it makes for a very affordable big game hunt. The current rate of exchange is $1 U.S. buys $1.30 Canadian.

What all this means is that there will never be a better time to book a black bear hunt than right now.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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