Tracking a wounded Bear by Gildas Paradis
This video footage happened by good fortune. We had purchased a destination spotlight trip through Travel Manitoba at our annual convention. They were in camp that entire week filming some promotional footage for us to use and for TM to post showcasing the great hunting opportunities in Manitoba. It just so happened that this bear was shot the eve before and the guide decided to leave it until morning, and a good decision that was. If he would have tried to find the bear that night it could have either pushed the bear farther into the swamp, or had a run in with a wounded bear because when we found him the next morning he was still alive!
I'll say so myself, if there is one thing i know i am good at, it is reading sign, tracking an animal, i have gained great confidence in my ability to locate sign and track. There are very few, poorly shot animals that i don't find. I learned a lot hunting and guiding hundreds of hunters over the years and it is something that you can only get good at by doing. It also shortens the learning curve if you have a seasoned mentor to show you some things, but most people miss that opportunity because they don't appreciate and value seasoned knowledge. When someone with knowledge and experience is showing me hat they learned, i listen very closely and ask questions! A line my old mentor told me (that was also told to him by his mentor) was "Keep looking for tracks, it don't fly!". Those words themselves have kept my nose to the ground in disipline of my craft. We owe it to the animal and the hunter to give it our best every time.
On a bear hunt what often happens due to unexplainable excitement when the moment of truth comes and a bear is in your sights, bear fever sets in. This along with anxiousness or distractions, weather conditions, can produce a "bad shot". That is what happened on this hunt. The hunter was an EXCELLENT shot on a target and i mean he shot darn near perfect groups at different yardages everytime. Couldn't ask for more from a bow hunter as it was obvious he practiced lots. But throw some hair on that self willed moving block and call it a bear, everything changes! Yes, i can't find the words for it, but when a bear appears after a time sitting quietly in your stand and you decide this is the one to shoot, it all goes crazy especially on your very first bear! When that happens on a bear and the shot is not perfect, good luck finding that bear. When it happens on a really Big Bear, it can get ugly to boot.
A black bear is a very unique animal that has the ability to "dress" it's own wounds if it can get it's paw on it. Add the natural quick blood clotting, the fat and long hairs on a bear, it can hamper a good blood trail. I have tracked many bears and have learned a lot about these tenacious critters. I have seen many times on a poorly shot bear where they found a damp spot in the bush and scraped together leaves, moss dirt etc to form a poultice of sorts to plug the wound. Once a bear does that, let's just say it is not a good sign. We are also tenacious and skilled hunters in the art of extreme tracking wounded animals, so we will sometimes find several of these spots while tracking a wounded bear where it is obvious some first aid took place. Many hunters will walk right over this sign if they don't know what it is or to even look for it. Many hunters will notice this kind of area and think it is a bed where it laid down. If the bear was successful in plugging the hole, it is usually very difficult to find a blood trail from there. It will sometimes change directions or even double back on the same trail for a bit! (a good reason to not have to too many tracking assistants along). At a bear bait there will be many trails in the bush leading into the bait, like spokes on a wheel. Not very often though do bears follow a trail though. They
We found 3 such places on this tracking job but low and behold, while we were nose to the ground trying to find a spec of blood at the last sign, the hunter spotted the bear hunkered down in some willows about 15yds to our left. He announced his discovery and proceeded to claim his prize. But the prize lifted it's head as he approached. Let's just say the "about face" steps the hunter took right then were darn big ones! We quickly chambered a round in Amos's 12 guage but with all the excitement it was decided that i should move in for the kill shot. It was a relief to find this bear as not many bears are found on this difficult of a blood trail.
After some pictures and video, orienteering to make a plan of getting it out to the quads in the shortest direction possible, we marked trail and headed in for lunch and more equipment for the miserable task ahead of us. Skinning it right there was discussed but we figured we'd try to haul it our whole on the stretcher since we had people and time on our side. Now, this was not the first bear we drug out of that bush in fact there have been many, so we knew it was going to be a chore. We actually ask every hunter we take to that bait, to please make a good shot so we don't have to track in the nasty swamp bush surrounding the high bluff. It always seems to be big bears there too!
As you see in the video the ground was sampy and tangles of diamond willow made ATV use impossible. While carrying the bear we sunk to our knees sometimes loosing our boots, tripping and falling. All this extra effort was done so we could get an accurate weight and keep the bear clean for skinning and meat processing. The video is a very condensed version as it took us much longer to find the bear and then to haul it out. If you watch closely you might notice a few "tricks" that help in finding the bear.
- Use toilet paper instead of red flagging ribbon/tape. Toilet paper dissolves in short time which saves us from having to pull all the red ribbon tape on the way out. Since we hunt these baits year after year, if we don't pull the tape down we end up with a bush full of it and that can mess with a tracking job confusing the next trackers.
- Look for blood under the leaves.Yes dripping blood will show on the surface, but when the leak slows down so does the dripping. In this case you should look for blood on the underside of leaves that the bear passes through as the blood on it's fur will wipe of on the underside of the leaves and on the sides of trees and small willows etc. The underside of the leaves is also a good place to look if it had rained before or while you are tracking as it won't be washed away.
- Have one person in charge and tell everyone the "dos and donts". Firstly, we always appreciate lots of help when hauling the bear out, but too many people can ruin a tracking job by stepping on sign and getting in the way, so try to avoid a bunch of people along when tracking. Have the muscle help just walk behind the tracker/s. The head tracker should have a quick meeting before heading into the track, giving very instruction to everyone on what to do/not to do, appoint specific tasks, directions, type of terrain, and tools to carry etc. Do not assume everyone has the experience needed. Once a blood trail is ruined you can't fix it.
- Take your time and know when to quit and make a plan to come back. This is crucial yet many hunters make the mistake of getting after a animal too soon which can push the bear farther away if it is not dead yet. Plus it is much better to start a blood tracking job in the morning going into daylight rather than at end of day going into dark. We have a rule that we only search for 50 yds in the dark, making note of blood sign etc. Mark the trail well and come back in the morning if it not found in the first 50 yds. (this is depending on many factors such as time of day, how long since shot, hunter shot confidence, weapon used, sign on trail etc.) Most important though on any tracking job is take your time and look closely for clues and sign, being very careful to not step on blood sign etc.
I wanted to add this editorial with the video to help explain about the event and also for viewers to see what lengths we will go to in order to recover an animal. Trust me we have done more difficult retrieves over the years but not many on camera. Now please understand, hunters physical abilities are always considered before we take on such a task. We host many hunters who could not and wish not to partake on this kind of effort, and they don't have to as we will do it all. But for many hunters, this is all part of the trip excitement and they relish in the activity start to finish.
If you can add any tips of your own please do so in the comments or email us firstname.lastname@example.org. I like posting tips because it may help a hunter and some critters one day.
Posted in: Bear Hunting
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