A Novice’s Experiences Hunting Bears in Maine

bear DIF&W imageOn The Bear Trail

Many years ago, I was sent to bear camp in the Rangeley region to write a story for The Maine Sportsman. As this year’s bear hunting season kicks off, I want to share that story with you. It’s a long story, so grab your favorite beverage and settle into a comfortable chair, before you begin! I think you will particularly enjoy the story of Bank Bear so be sure to get to that. – george

“It’s the most thrilling experience I know.”

Those were the words of our guide, David Mangin, owner of Kennebago Guide Service in Rangeley, Maine. I took Dave’s comments to be an exaggeration, before our Maine bear hunt began. By the time our hunt ended, I had reached a far different conclusion.

I arrived at the lakeside base camp north of Rangeley on Sunday, August 30, 1987 with an attitude generally shared by many non-bear hunters. I couldn’t generate much excitement for the prospect of sitting over bait for hours on end, waiting for a bear to show up so I could shoot it.

Dave’s sports arrived throughout the next 24 hours from several states with many different weapons. Sunday afternoon we sighted in our equipment at Dave’s gravel pit. The bow hunters shot first. They were from southeast Ohio, with West Virginia accents to prove it. Randy Gilmore of Ironton, Greg Pennington of Hanging Rock, and Glenn Graff of Franklin Furnace has hunted deer in a number of states and black bear in Canada. This was their first trip to Maine.

As I stood off to the side, taking photographs, their arrows whizzed by me at tremendous speed. Those compound bows with 66 pounds of pressure are awesomely powerful.

Next came Paul Hoskins of Walton, Kentucky, with his black powder rifle. Shooting a huge ball, that rifle had all of us with our hands over our ears. What a blast! Nearly everyone fired it at least once, then stood back to wait for their hearing to return! The rest of us carried more conventional weapons. Most had 30.06 rifles, although there was a variety of other guns too, including handguns.

Steve Blood and Scott Lamson of Barre, Vermont, Scott Sahlstorn and Ed Thompson of Nanuet, New York, and Wade Masure and Louie Shattuck of Bellows Falls, Vermont, rounded out the shooting contingent, after Lou Carrier of Winthrop (Mangin’s father-in-law), Chip Woodman (Mangins’ assistant) and I got in our shooting. Everyone was on target and it was clear that we had some very fine shooters assembled to launch this bear attack on Tuesday, when the 1987 season would open.

Scott Lamson and Paul Hoskins were repeat customers. Scott took home a 200 pound bear the previous year. Paul had terrible luck in 1986. One day he found a bear already lunching at his bait stand when he walked in at 3 pm. The bear took off before Paul could get his black powder rifle loaded. The next day his flintlock misfired on a second bear. Paul was determined to succeed in this, his third attempt at a Maine bear. Although he had to set aside his black powder rifle for something more conventional to change his luck, he would finally go home with a Maine bear.

Monday dawned fair and cool, as we struck out to bait our stands and get acquainted with our hunting territory.  Dave had set up almost three dozen stands originally, but was now concentrating on about 15 of them.

Accompanying Dave on his baiting rounds, I began to get a feel for the exciting experience bear hunting can be. Seeing the onion skin bait bags ripped to shreds, some ten feet or more off the ground, examining the massive tracks of some of the bruins now traveling in that area, and studying the tree stands which in many cases are no more than 15 yards from the bait, my eyes were opened to the very real possibility of a supremely close encounter with a large black bear.

All of Dave’s baits had been hit throughout the summer and he reported that prospects for a successful hunt were high. As we traveled from bait to bait that Monday morning, replenishing the many baits that bears had hit the previous night, my enthusiasm rose ever higher. For the first time, I began to think I might actually shoot a bear.

The stands ranged from 100 to 300 yards off the many dirt roads surrounding Rangeley, some in low boggy areas, others on ridges. Each spot was arranged with a large tree stand and seat facing the bait bag attached to a nearby tree. My assigned stand looked very promising, on a high ridge with an active trail passing right behind my bait tree. Very large bear tracks could be seen there in the mud and I began to sweat for the first time, contemplating the size of some of bruins that had by now made my stand a regular stop on their eating binges. I told Dave I was sweating and breathing hard because of the walk up the hill to the stand. However, I knew there was something more, as well.

We spent much of the rest of Monday getting our gear in order and getting acquainted with each other. I found varying degrees of dedication. Scott Sahlstron put his camouflage hunting clothes right next to the bait bucket! Boy, did they stink! The rest of us settled for garbage bags filled with fragrant spruce limbs, after airing the clothes out on a line for much of the day.

Bears do not see well, I learned, but they have an extraordinary sense of smell. That being the case, I expected one bear would find Scott very delectable indeed! Dave provided us all with cover scents which I noticed lingered for many days afterward on my clothes. The scents were very effective.

For the final year, this year’s hunt was scheduled to begin on September first. In 1988, it will start on the Monday of the first partial week in September, meaning the opening might actually be in late August of a transition week from August to September. Unfortunately this year we had to wait all day Monday for Tuesday’s opening bell. That just built up our anticipation.

It Starts!

Tuesday dawned cold and clear, but with a steady wind which made our guide all the more nervous. I was starting to get a sense of the pressure which a professional Maine guide can feel as he seeks to put together a successful hunt for his sports. Mangin takes his job very seriously and strives, successfully in my opinion, to put on an exciting hunt. Dave’s sneakers wore a path back and forth in the rug of our base camp as Tuesday progressed.

We were out baiting again after a tremendous breakfast of bacon, eggs, home fries, beans, toast, muffins, orange juice, coffee, and pie for dessert. Incredibly, we ate like this every single meal. I gained four pounds during the week!

Monday night’s dinner had included bear meat and I was now convinced that the sports who had told me it was inedible just hadn’t known how to prepare it. We all found it positively delicious and were now more than ever anxious to fill our home freezers with those delectable bear steaks.

Our guide wasn’t the only nervous one as the week began. Steve Blood of Vermont was up all of Monday night, sending much of it riding around the countryside, counting moose and deer. I heard him pull into camp about 5:30 am Tuesday morning, much the worse for wear.

Throughout the week we enjoyed glimpses of every wild critter this country holds, including grouse, coons, foxes, hawks and owls, lots of moose, and more deer than I have ever seen in this neck of the woods, a very good sign that our bucks-only seasons are working here.

But of course we were here to see bear and it was finally time to head to our stands. We got into our camo clothing, broke into small groups, and jumped into the vehicles. I rode out to the ridge with Scott Lamson and Steve Blood, who were on stands to each side of me, each about 2 miles distant.

The bowhunters were isolated in their own area and the remaining rifle hunters were dispersed over an area of about 15 square miles. For the first time, we encountered other hunters, some of whom had located new stands terribly close to Mangin’s stands. Lack of sportsmanship began to rear its ugly head, as these other hunters tried to take advantage of our baits. It was troubling, to say the least.

On this first night, Wade Masure was most severely impacts, as one member of a gang of hunters shot at a bear about 150 feet from Wade’s stand. He apparently missed but Wade’s stand was ruined. He moved to another the next night, and found a bow hunter stationed just 30 feet behind him that next night at his new stand!

Dave had us all on stand by 2:30 pm and I had already begun to find my seat rather uncomfortable by 4 pm! Hunting deer from stands has always been a favorite tactic of mine, but I am rarely able to sit still for more than an hour and a half. Now I was called on to sit still for over five hours! Worse, I could not read, eat, or take it easy for even a minute. My stand was in thick growth and Dave had told me a bear might slip into the area without the slightest sound, so I had to be alert at all times.

Have you ever tried to concentrate on a single thing for five hours, to sit still, not day dream, and pay the closest attention to every detail around you? Well, I was some surprised to find out how exciting this could be! The red squirrels and grouse, louder than any bear could possibly be, nevertheless led me to believe that a bear was approaching about every 15 minutes. I also learned that you do not fall out of a tree stand even if your fanny falls asleep!

The essence of bear hunting was conveyed to me on that first very windy night when no self-respecting bear was out and about. Anticipation. Suspense. Nerves as the darkness descends and you spend that last half hour of legal shooting time after sunset on tinder hooks, imagining that every dark rock in the surrounding forest is an approaching bear, bent on eating your bait and then having you for dessert!

As I emptied my gun, bearless on Tuesday evening, climbed down from my stand, turned to the path out with my trusty flashlight pointing the way, wind still howling in the trees, a terrible shiver still pulsing through my body since I had discovered an hour earlier that I had not dressed warmly enough, I could not have been more enthusiastic. Bear hunting had taken a firm grip on me and I was not be denied. I loved it!

What was it that had turned me around on this sport? I gave that question a lot of thought as I sat on that stand for the next few days. Perhaps it was finding out that bear hunting is far from a sure thing. It is in fact tough hunting, requiring incredible patience, fortitude, and will. A certain degree of skill is also involved, although the guide fills in many areas in this regard, from providing proper bait and cover scents to putting you in the right place. But the guide also allows you to do as much on your own as you desire.

Perhaps my enthusiasm developed as I saw those claw marks above some of the baits on that first day, or walked in to the stands in such incredibly beautiful surroundings. I’d never hunted anything in September before and this new experience was so pleasant that I wouldn’t have cared if we were hunting bear or water buffalo. It was great to be out in the woods hunting.

Most of all, after talking with Dave Mangin and those sports who had hunted black bear before, I guess I developed a tremendous respect for the animal we sought that week. Sure, he has a sharp hunger which brings him in to our baits. But he comes in warily, guided by a supersensitive nose, aware of the slightest odor out of place. This heavy beast walks in slippers on the quietest of forest floors. Hundreds of pounds, he moves with the grace of a ballet dancer and the quickness of a flyweight boxer. Terribly difficult to bring down, as we would find out first hand on Wednesday evening, the Maine black bear is a game animal of the first order. I was excited to be hunting him!

Although the wind caused us all problems on Tuesday’s hunt, Louis Shattuck did have a small bear wander in to his stand at 5:45 pm that night. The bear entered the area without a sound and Louie looked up to find the bear nearly at his bait. The approximately 100 pound bruin stayed for more than an hour. He sniffed the bait. Leaped into the bushes. Came back. Walked around, sniffing loudly. He didn’t eat, but simply wandered off the way he’d come. “Too small,” Louis told us. “Maybe tomorrow night he’ll be bigger!”

Glenn Graff also saw a bear about 3:30 pm about 100 yards above him on the ridge but it never approached his bait. Dave was all the more nervous after a night with no bear on the game pole. But Wednesday promised better conditions, perhaps.

Wednesday – Action!

I had to return home for my boy’s first day of kindergarten and a Selectman’s meeting on Wednesday night, so I missed our first real action of the week’s hunt.

Although it was again very windy on Wednesday, at 5:10 pm Greg Pennington had a bear come in to his bait. It just ambled straight in, a nice sized bear. Before he got to the bait, he quartered to Greg and Greg got off an arrow. The arrow went right through the bear, somewhere behind the front shoulders, probably a bit low. The wounded bear took off.

Greg got down and retrieved his arrow and had been back in his stand for about ten minutes when a second bear, about the same size, came in to his bait. Not knowing the condition of the first bear he’d shot at, Greg did not fire at the second. A fruitless search the next morning found a slight blood trail for about a half mile, then nothing. Most agreed that the bear would live to fight another day. Greg, however, felt terrible. He would not see another bear that week.

Also on Wednesday night, a bear came in behind Scott Sahlstorn about 7 pm. He heard him coming but it took a half hour for the bear to arrive at the bait site. At 7:30 pm the bear’s growl told Scott that he was close, but not close enough. Flipping over rocks, the bear came within 50 yards, finally stopping behind a pine tree. Scott neither saw nor heard him again. Checking the area on his way out, Scott could find nothing. But the next morning his bait had been cleaned out. Apparently that bear retreated a short ways until Scott left, then came in for his feed.

As Scott Lamson was approaching camp on his way in from hunting on Wednesday, he and Steve Blood encountered a 200 plus pound bear bounding across the road in front of them. A second smaller bear would also be seen on the final morning by Chip Woodman in this same area, no more than a half mile from camp, as Chip motored by on an ATV, without his gun!

Lou Carrier had a large cow moose walk right up to his stand on Wednesday night, practically looking him in the eye. It was the first of many sightings of moose, deer, and other wildlife from our stands.

Thursday – I Return

I returned Thursday noon in time to join in another big meal and hear about the fabulous moose chopsuey that had been on the menu for Wednesday night’s dinner. I also received word that my bait had been hit after I left it Tuesday night, the second night in a row that a bruin had visited my stand. Unfortunately, it would be the last time that week that my bait was hit.

Tension was building now and our guide had spent a sleepless night worrying about the weather. Wednesday the wind had also blown a gale, leaving us bearless but not surly. The sports were taking it well. No one had lost confidence. Everyone was well fed, fat, and happy! Our guide, however, was close to being a wreck. Two nights of hunting and no bears yet!

The wind was slightly diminished Thursday but still blowing. Conditions were far from ideal although it was cool. We had all added long underwear and heavier clothing after getting chilled on Tuesday night so we were at least comfortable tonight.

At 6 pm Louie had his second sighting, a bear that came in head-on, the wind blowing in his face. Before the bear got to the bait, Louie shot it just behind the front shoulders (Dave had instructed us to go for a shoulder shot first, which prevents the bear from running off, and allows for a quick and easy finishing shot). Louie’s bear took off to his left and he very professionally put a second bullet into its spine. It dropped immediately and Louie began the task of getting his nerves under control. It was only the second bear he had ever seen, the first coming the evening before, and he was shaking like a wind-blown autumn leaf! Shooting a bear was an incredible experience!

Mark Ryan of Rangeley, Dave’s sometime hunting and guiding partner and houndsman, had one of his sports from Maryland shoot a bear on this night too, after taking some photos of the bruin after it walked around the stand! No other sightings on Thursday but Louie has broken the ice and the rest of us couldn’t do enough for him as Friday dawned.

Now I must add a word here about camp life. Evening poker was the order of the day, and although our guide did well the first night, Glenn Graff had cleaned everyone out by Friday. A ringer from Ohio! We all slept cheek to jowl in an attached bunkhouse and some of the guys talked in their sleep. Randy Gilmore of Ohio discussed bow hunting at some length while asleep one night and Scott Sahlstron literally shouted out some rather interesting things another night. I recorded Scott’s remarks, as any good reporter would, but can’t convey them to you. Perhaps Penthouse magazine would be interested?!

Camp life settled into a very nice routine, big breakfast, get the stands baited, swim or go to town to see the sights, big lunch, nap, get ready to hunt, hunt, big dinner, good conversations, beer and cards before bed. Bear hunting is certainly a leisurely pursuit. And by Friday, the only thing most of us lacked was a bear.

Lucky Friday

On Friday we would finally get a break in the weather. It was a very hot day, in the 80s, with a slight breeze. Calm winds were expected for the prime hunting hours of 5 pm to 7:30 pm. We were all confident that bears would be shot tonight. Someone had to connect before our guide self-destructed from worry! Tonight, his spirits would be lifted.

On Friday morning we all took photographs of Louie and his bear, then drove to Cupsuptic Campground to weigh the bruin. Getting lots of stares and comments from campers there, Louie’s bear weighed a very respectable 150 pounds. That’s about average for a Maine black bear. Anything over 200 pounds is big. We would find out how big the next night. We kept the campground stirred up as we brought in our bears on Friday and Saturday mornings.

From the campground it was on to Oquossoc to tag Louie’s bear, then over to Mark Ryan’s house to get it on the game pole. More photos. Mark skinned the bear out while we were there, and later carved out a good pile of steaks for Louie to take home in his cooler. The head and coat were frozen for delivery to a nearby taxidermist. Louie ordered a bear rug, certain to be a topic of conversation at his house in Vermont.

The winds had died almost completely when we returned to camp, and we eagerly ate lunch and got ready for the hunt. By now some of us weren’t going out on stand until 4 pm, finding that 4 hours in the stand was our physical limit. I of course was one of the laggards.

But we knew Friday was going to be a really good chance, with no wind to keep the bears wary and away, so we all got out on stand by mid-afternoon. It really started for us at 5 pm when Scott Sahlstorn shot at a coyote that had wandered into his area. Scott missed and assumed that would end his chances for a bear that night. But he was wrong. Two hours later he heard a bear approach and carefully let off the safety on his 30.06 when the bear poked his head up over a stump.

As the 140 pound sow moved through a small opening to Scott’s left, it smelled Scott and took off at a gallop. Guess the bear didn’t care for those clothes soaked in bear bait, after all! Scott quickly fired four shots and the bear dropped in her tracks.

An hour earlier, a 140 pound boar came in to Glenn Graff’s bait and Glenn embedded a broadhead in the bait tree. The bear took off. But one of the many advantages of bow hunting that I learned this week is that a missed shot does not a missed opportunity make. Unsure of what happened, that bear came right back to Glenn’s bait five minutes later and this time he made a sure shot, the arrow traveling completely through the bear, a lung and shoulder shot.

As Dave had instructed, Glenn stayed in his stand until closing time, then walked out and returned to camp to notify us of his bear. That notification would cause quite a commotion because Glenn pulled into camp right behind Scott Lamson, Steve Blood, and I, returning to report that Scott had also shot a bear!

Herm Giles of Monmouth had just arrived at camp, one of several sports who would stop by for a day or two during the week, and he had dinner underway including some fine moose meat from Herm’s 1986 moose. It looked mighty tempting but it was put on hold as we took off in different directions to try to bring in the bears that Glenn and Scott had shot.

It happened to be Glenn’s anniversary and he had to send Randy out to Oquossoc to phone his wife and let her know that his anniversary call would be late tonight! He had a bear to find! I did not learn how that message was received by Mrs. Graff.

Dave also had Randy call Mark Ryan in Rangeley and ask him to meet them at Glenn’s stand with Mark’s hounds. Dave, Glenn, Herm and Greg headed out to meet Mark at the stand. The hounds took only a few minutes to find that bear where he had dropped about 100 yards from the stand. Glenn’s shot had been a good one. Paul Hoskins came with Mark and was heartily congratulated on shooting his own sow that evening. Things were hopping!

Meanwhile, I had been dropped off to help Scott Lamson haul his bruin up out of a bog. Steve Blood, Wade Masure, and Louis Shattuck joined us for a memorable experience.

The Bank Bear

This is the story of the “Bank Bear.” As you read this, the Bank Bear is in Vermont, preparing to be a magnificent if somewhat scarred rug. He is partially eaten already, by the Lamson family, which professes to love bear meat. Having now had that meat, I can’t disagree. Our guide claimed on Day One that bear meat is his favorite, and by the week’s end he had won many converts, including yours truly.

But prior to this night, the Bank Bear had lived in the bogs and along the ridges of the Rangeley country. Dave Mangin first made his acquaintance in the summer of 1986, when he noticed a deep ravine below a dirt road in the back country where he has so many of his bait stands. Setting a bait about 100 yards into the steep ravine along the bank, Dave found it gone the next day. Without putting up a tree stand, Dave kept baiting that area. The Bank Bear obligingly kept eating.

In the fall Dave moved the bait another 100 yards toward the bog below and in the summer of 1987 he built a tree stand about 25 yards from the bait, now positioned 200 yards off the road at the bottom of the ravine just outside the bog which lay between this site and a high mountain. Dave figured that the bear spent his days in the coolness of the bog. And from the huge paw prints, he knew that this bear was something special, far above 200 pounds

And he was right. Scott Lamson had come to Maine the year before and taken home a very nice 200 pound bear, but he had also helped Dave set baits out for the Bank Bear and he desperately wanted a crack at him this year. Scott even came back to Maine earlier in the summer of 1987 to help Dave bait and to take another look at the habitat of the Bank Bear. He was obsessed by now with the size and cunning of this bruin.

Dave allowed as how Scott could give it a try this fall, if he wanted to, and Scott quickly confirmed his reservation for a hunt during the first week of the season. He wanted first crack at Bank Bear! Scott dutifully baited his stand on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. It was never hit. As the week progressed, he began to get discouraged. But he didn’t give up. It was going to be the Bank Bear or nothing for him this year.

When he walked in to his stand on Friday afternoon, the next to last chance he would have at the Bank Bear, the hair on the back of Scott’s neck stood right up. His bait had been hit. The Bank Bear had struck again! Best of all the Bank Bear had eaten two bags of bait but left a third bag untouched. “That bear knows there is one more bag of bait and he’ll be back for it,” Scott thought. “This is going to be my night!”

At 7:30 pm, as darkness settled in and shooting time waned, Scott saw a bear off to his right in some heavy brush. He couldn’t tell the size, and when it dropped down toward the bog he assumed he’d lost his opportunity. It must have picked up his scent and wandered off into the bog. Scott could have taken a shot into the brush, but felt it was not a very good shot and he passed. Less than a minute later, Bank Bear reared up on his hind legs about forty feet in front of Scott, down in the bog. He had dropped down into the bog, but now he was coming back!

As he came up over a downed tree and reared up, Scott calmly put two bullets into him, in the neck and shoulder. Bank Bear dropped to the ground. Heart pounding, sweat streaming down his face even on this cool evening, Scott began to descend carefully from his stand. Halfway down, he glanced over and there was Bank Bear, growling and standing in place with his two huge front paws waving at Scott. Bank Bear was furious!

Now, you or I would have climbed right back up into the tree stand, and that’s probably what our guide would have recommended. But Scott had only a second to reach a decision and he went for it. Dropping all the way to the ground, Scott landed with a thud, quickly squared around toward Bank Bear, and pumped two more shots in his direction. We would speculate the next day as to whether he hit the bear again. Those shots were not readily apparent on the bear’s hide.

But no matter, Bank Bear dropped down again, this time for good. Catching his breath, Scott scampered back up into his stand and tried to collect himself. It was nearly pitch dark now but he could see Bank Bear below him, not moving. As Scott’s heart rate eased up a bit and his cool night’s breath came in quieter gasps, elation seized him. After two years of careful baiting, the Bank Bear had been felled. And he was huge.

As Scott and Steve and Wade and Louie and I dragged Bank Bear those 200 yards straight up hill to the road, we speculated wildly about his weight. He was certainly the biggest bear I’d ever seen in Maine. Just as round as Old St. Nick, with paws that dwarfed my hands, and stretching nearly six feet along the ground, there was no disputing that Bank Bear was a trophy animal.

The next day at Cupsuptic Campground he would weigh in at a firm 300 pounds, dressed weight. From head to toe Bank Bear was covered with scars, including a new open wound on his face. We all speculated that we’d like to see the other bear that wounded Bank Bear.

We didn’t know it on Saturday morning as we loaded up Mark Ryan’s game pole with the three bears we’d gotten the night before to go with the bear Mark had guided Paul Hoskins to, but we had reached our peak on Friday night. Paul had finally changed his luck by leaving his black powder rifle home and taking a 150 pound sow with a more conventional rifle. After three years of hunting Maine black bear, Paul was delighted and we were happy for him.

Those four bears hanging on the game pole were quite a sight. And the rest of us were now more determined than ever to add our own bears to the pole on Saturday night. Alas, we must wait until next year.

Final Day

Saturday was hot and sticky leading many of us into the lake for a swim. We got out on the stands early, though, anticipating another night like Friday night and not wanting to miss a minute of it.

The day had gotten off to a fast start as a houndsman had struck his dogs above our camp at about 5:30 am and they had howled right on down our camp road to the three bruins we had laying on the front lawn. That houndsman was some old embarrassed as he gathered those hounds up.

Saturday afternoon waged on, very hot with no wind. The bears apparently found it too hot to move. No one saw a bear this day. Steve enjoyed a sleek doe and two skippers which wandered into his stand and stayed around for a half hour, and I took note that this would be a good hardwood stand during deer season. But the bears were taking it easy and we added no bruins to the game pole.

As some sports packed up for a long and late Saturday night ride home, others began preparations to return home on Sunday morning, and two new hunters arrived from Massachusetts to begin their own week of bear hunting. They would hunt over bait, as we had, while others due to arrive the next day would be hunting with Mark Ryan and his hounds.

Oh, how I longed to tell them what the previous week had meant to me. How could I describe it in all its glorious details? Scott shooting at a coyote and bagging his bear two hours later. Glenn taking down his bear with bow and arrow after Greg lost his. Louis passing on a small bear and shooting a bigger one the next night. Paul getting his bear three years after trying. And Bank Bear, already growing into a legend that we will all talk about for years to come. Of the eleven paying customers guided by Dave and Mark that first week, six went home with bears. Interestingly, each group from a particular state went home with one bear.

Myself, I had sat for 18 hours on stand, seen an owl attack a grouse, stared at that bait for hours on end, imagined every boulder was a huge bruin as nightfall descended, sat in the final quiet half hour of darkness after sundown listening to the woods, walking out by flashlight on Saturday evening with a song in my hear. From reluctant and skeptical hunter on Sunday, I had become a dedicated pursuer of the Maine black bear by the following Saturday.

If time had permitted, I’d have signed up for the next week of hunting right then and there. Steve Blood even called his wife to beg for more money so he could stay another week (he didn’t get it). One of the Ohio bow hunters said it was the finest hunt he’d ever experienced. It was not the deer hunt that is my passion, but it was a good and exciting hunt. It was the excitement that surprised me so.

The tension in camp, the sleepless nights and nervous days, the incredible anticipation as we waited for a bear to come to the bait, the tremendous amount of work put in by our guide to make it possible for us to be in the right place at the right time with a chance to shoot a bear, all added up to a truly exceptional hunting experience.

Is it the most thrilling thing you can do? Well, I don’t know. Each hunter has to make up his own mind about that. It is certainly that to Dave Mangin who has the skills to find bears and bring them in to his hunters. Yet Dave doesn’t sit in a stand and hunt bears himself. He won’t compete with his hunters. Dave prefers the satisfaction of sending those hunters home with this trophy Maine game animal, knowing that the guide was a critical factor in the hunt and that he, Dave Mangin, had given that sport a very special hunting experience. And it is certainly that to Scott Lamson who joined Dave in stalking Bank Bear for two years before bringing him down. For the rest of us, yes, it was a thrilling hunt. Most made immediately plans to return in 1988.

Footnote: Today, the seasons of hunting over bait and with hounds are separated. Shortly after my 1987 hunt, my wife Linda saw Dave Mangin, who said, “Boy, your husband can really eat!” It’s nice to have a reputation for being good at something.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.