Feature Articles from BHM
May 07 2014
By Bernie Barringer
Stunning scenery, an amazing historical lodge and plenty of bears; this trip had it all
By now I’m sure you are aware that there is a referendum in place that could end all bear hunting and trapping in Maine. If this passes by a vote on the ballot next November, the state’s rich history of black bear hunting will come to a screeching halt and outfitters across the state will be crippled. I have been and will continue to be active in this fight and I hope you are too. There’s plenty of information about it elsewhere in this issue and I hope you take this very seriously because if it can happen in Maine it can happen where you are.
I have always been fascinated by the prospect of trapping a bear, and of course I love to hunt bears but I have only been on one hound hunt, and it took place in the mountainous west. I knew that hunting bears with hounds in Maine would be a lot different.
So when Nathan Theriault of OMM outfitters in Eagle Lake, Maine invited me to come out there and do a hunt, I got pretty excited. I could get two bear tags, one for hound hunting and one for trapping. I really wanted to learn more about both, and I felt it was important for me to see what bear trapping was really like. After all, if I was engaged in a fight over it, I wouldn’t be any better than the animal rights terrorists if I was coming from a place of little to no experience and knowledge of the subject, just like they are. Animal rights activist operate from a basis of ignorance most of the time and they depend on the ignorance of the masses to raise their funds and push their agenda.
So I went to Maine the end of September 2013 with two tags in my pocket. This article will be about the great hound hunt I enjoyed and the remarkable place I stayed while hunting there. Next issue I will cover the bear trapping segment of the hunt and believe me you will find it very informative I’m sure.
Driving through the 20 miles of logging roads to Eagle Lake Sporting Camps, I kept thinking I hope Hertz rental car company doesn’t find out where I am taking their little Ford Fiesta. This camp was a long ways from the airport and the last section made it clear that we weren’t staying in the city.
Eagle Lake Sporting Camps has been around a lot longer than you and I. In fact, it was built in 1890 and the log cabins still stand as a testament to the skill of the craftsmen who built them on the shores of Eagle Lake nearly 125 years ago. If these walls could talk, they would have many remarkable stories to tell. Teddy Roosevelt stayed and hunted here while he was president of the USA. In the middle of the last century, this remote resort was a get-away destination for such Hollywood celebrities as Bing Crosby and Ted Williams. It is a remarkable place teeming with history of the great north Maine hunting lifestyle that is so important to the state’s economy and culture.
But wait, this story is mostly about a bear hunt. Nathan had arranged for his friend Jason, who I would learn is an extraordinary houndsman, to conduct my hound hunt. But I wouldn’t be first in line, which was good because that allowed me to get in on another hunt with Greg Walter from Fenelton, Pennsylvania. Greg passed up a 150-pound bear the first day, which put him behind Mark Peterson, who was there filming for a Sportsman Channel TV show. Mark shot his bear first thing in the morning the second day. I went to check my bear trap so Jason took Greg out again and by the time we got back from checking traps, the dogs were treed a half-mile out in a cedar swamp.
Of course I was going in there with them! A half-hour later when our large group arrived at the tree deep in the cedar bog, we discovered that the bear wasn’t much bigger than the one Greg passed up two days before, but this was a fat specimen and good representative of the species, so Greg dropped the hammer on his first bear. He was very happy as he should be. He wanted a bear rug and he got the perfect bear for a rug, just the right size with a perfect pelt. The next day would be my turn again.
That night, Dennis, a lobster broker from downstate arrived with 22 large lobsters, and we feasted on some fine dining. The night before I had one of the largest grilled ribeye steaks I had ever eaten, so I needed some hiking in the hills and swamps to keep from gaining a bunch of weight on this trip. Dennis would be hunting after me the next day if we had time. The weather had been warm so Jason was trying to get the dogs out of the woods by noon each day.
Early the next morning, we checked the trail camera at one of the baits. And there was a really nice bear on the camera. Jason turned the dogs loose and off they went. They jumped the bear within the first 100 yards. They made their way west for nearly three miles until they were right down in the cedar swamp near where Greg had bagged his bear the day before. We watched them on the Tritronics unit, tracking every move. I secretly hopped they did not tree down there. Sure enough, as if they read my mind, they began to head back out of the swamp and headed across the forest road we were sitting on. “Wouldn’t it be nice if they treed on that hardwood ridge above us,” Jason said. Sure enough, within ten minutes the Tritronics unit showed its little pictures of dogs sitting down, signifying that they had been in one place long enough to be considered treed. They were the hardwood ridge only 350 yards above us. The chase has lasted an hour and 40 minutes.
It was a steep ridge and we hoofed it up there pretty fast. When we got there the dogs had treed a medium-sized bear, which was plenty fine with me. I came 1800 miles for a good representative Maine bear and there was one 30 feet above me so I readied to shoot. Mark was there along with Tom, his cameraman for the Sportsman Channel, along with my guide Rick and Jason. By the time Jason got the dogs tied back the bear was getting edgy and started to move. He moved to another branch, exposing his chest to me and sent an arrow right through his heart.
Now I have seen bears die fast when shot with a good sharp broadhead many times, but this bear immediately wilted as the copious amounts of blood poured out of him. He was dead on the ground in four seconds. I post videos of all my hunts on my Youtube channel and my website bowhuntingroad.com but when the Ulmer Edge expandable broadhead sliced open this bear’s heart the view was so graphic that I decided not to post this one. Let’s just say you had to see it to believe it and leave it at that. He couldn’t have died any faster with a gunshot.
The good news about hiking to the top of a hardwood ridge to shoot your bear is that the trip back to the truck is all downhill. While we had quartered and packed Greg’s bear out of that swamp, we simply loaded mine into a large plastic sled and towed him down the mountain to the truck.
It was just after 10:00 a.m. so we decided to see if we could put Dennis on a bear. We went to another bait that had trail camera photos of a big bear late at night and turned the dogs loose. This one wouldn’t be quite as easy. The bear was a bigger bear and didn’t want to tree, rather he chose to fight the dogs on the ground. Over the next couple hours, the dogs bayed him several times, and once it was right beside a logging road. Jason and Dennis got out and got ready to shoot, but even thought the dogs appeared on the road at one point during the fight, the bear stayed in the thick stuff and no shot was available.
Eventually they headed back down into a cedar swamp, where the bear finally treed in a giant Hemlock tree. We hauled our equipment including packboards in there. It wasn’t tough going except for a couple spruce thickets that we had to push and pull and wedge our way through. This was a nice big bear and Dennis made a perfect shot on him. It was pretty clear that this wasn’t a bear we were going to drag out so we quartered and skinned him and loaded the pieces and hide on packframes for the hike out. We were pretty sweaty and thirsty by the time we arrived back at the pickups, but what a sense of accomplishment, getting two bears in one day.
It truly is a joy to see great dogs do their work. It’s obvious that Jason has spent a lot of time refining his hounds and working with them and they really do their job well. Jason has his own guiding business when he isn’t running hounds for Nathan at OMM Outfitters.
Overall, the hunt with OMM was a terrific experience. I enjoyed the company of Rick, having spent a lot of hours in the truck with him, both hound hunting and checking the bear trap each day. Nathan was an accommodating host and his mother Gloria does the cooking; she is a master at it. Staying in such a historic log cabin was another highlight of the trip. I can highly recommend this outfitter.
I went there not only to do a hound hunt but also to trap a bear. I actually caught three, all of which got away, two on purpose, one not so much. But wait, that is a story in itself with lots of interesting angles. You will have to wait until the next issue to find out all about it.