By Timothy D Fowler - @timothydfowler
It is worthwhile paying attention to what Paul Frame, Alberta's Large Carnivore Specialist has to say about keeping clear of grizzlies and other large carnivores that can mess up your hunt. As grizzly populations recover in Alberta and expand in other jurisdictions, the risk of a hungry bear stealing your cooling animal quarters increases. There are plenty hunters can do to keep meat harvested safe.
Grizzly Ate My Lunch
Kyle is my neighbor and hunts with his extended family every year. Nearly every year they tag and share a moose. They have been hunting a remote area of Alberta for more than a decade and have never seen a grizzly. Until this year.
“Our moose quarters were gone and we saw what was taking it. Everybody was a bit rattled. 100 yards from camp, where the moose was hanging, there was a big grizzly bear that was coming in and out a couple of nights in a row. You don't want to be the last guy turning the generator off. Knowing there's a big grizzly in the area changes your mindset. We've hunted here for ten years and heard people talk about how there were grizzly bears in the area––but we didn't really think about it––we've never actually seen one,” described Kyle.
Be Prepared to be Surprised
Kyle reminisced, “We've never had a problem with bears and never had a problem with a bear in camp. We've seen fewer than ten bears in 11 years of hunting. We raised the meat up further to prevent it from being taken, but we set up a game camera in case the animal came back. We thought maybe a black bear or even a cougar was taking the meat. The next day we checked on the meat at 11:00 a.m. and the remaining two moose quarters were gone. We all circled around the game cam––that's when we got the shock––it was a great big grizzly bear. It was a weird situation. Our collective winter moose meat supply just disappeared. It felt like the whole thing was wasted. I know animals die all the time, but you put in a lot of work obviously: going back there ten miles from the road, getting your moose, quartering it, hang it, and then it is just gone. It was shocking for everybody at camp. We were very upset to lose our moose and I'm still upset about it because of my strong preference for moose meat.”
When I got home from my own hunting and camping trip, Kyle popped over to chat and I asked how they fared with the moose. “It’s gone,” he said. “A grizzly took it.” He showed me a few photos from the trail cam. This story prompted me to connect with Paul Frame, Large Carnivore Specialist with Alberta Parks and Environment to check in on grizzly recovery and to see what advice Frame has for big game hunters in expanding grizzly country. It turns out Alberta already has a great online resource for hunter advice in bear country. (Check out https://www.alberta.ca/bears-and-hunters.aspx for expert advice.) Alberta is 13 years into the grizzly recovery plan, and it seems to be working well. Early data collection indicates that grizzly bear populations are coming along nicely.
Grizzly Populations Doing Well
Paul Frame explained, “The Grizzly bear population in Alberta is doing well based on our data. That could mean that you might encounter grizzly bears on the landscape where you haven't in the past or where you might not think you would. People should be anticipating that happening. Even when you're out hunting with a rifle, a can of bear spray strapped to your hip is a smart thing to do. A bolt action is not as fast as a grizzly bear.”
Kyle Martin and his extended hunting party had a tough lesson this year which cost the crew a moose. The truth is, as difficult as that is, it could be worse. Frame’s clear advice to hunters and all people on how to enjoy the backcountry is that grizzly bears are about. The goal of grizzly bear recovery was to increase the number of grizzlies on the landscape. The summary is that this plan is working. And now we must expect to find grizzlies on that landscape, and we must prepare for this and behave accordingly.
Carry Bear Spray and Be Prepared to Use It
As Paul Frame and I wrapped up our interview, he said, “We're going out to cut a Christmas tree soon and I'm taking bear spray, even though it's December 5. You never know (when you might bump a grizzly bear). It’s the smart thing to do.”
When the province’s top large carnivore specialist takes bear spray on a Christmas tree hunting excursion, we should all take a cue from that. I will be buying fresh batteries for my temporary electric fence for my outfitter tent in advance of spring bear season, and I will be checking the expiration dates on my magnum bear spray.
Good and safe hunting.