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A Northern Ontario Algoma Adventure

A happy outdoor writer with his 40" class northern! • Credit: Jacob VanHouten
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A Northern Ontario Algoma Adventure

the ultimate fishing and hunting trip deep in the wilderness

Our Canadian neighbours in Ontario say Nakina is the "end of the road", about as far as you can drive north. The little town sits in the heart of Northern Ontario and is an 8 - 10 hour drive from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in Algoma Country.

After that, it's pretty much fly-in fishing and or hunting country and there is no shortage of places to do either. That was sufficiently evident by the number of lakes, rivers, forests, beaver ponds and all-around rugged country that was visible from our floatplane windows as we headed towards a little slice of heaven called Brace Lake. It was there that we met our hosts, Kyle and Teri Polesky of Brace Lake Outfitters for our four-day fishing and black bear bow hunt.

My brother Dave and his son Brandon had joined me in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan after I flew in from New York City where I was working. They picked me up and we drove to Nakina for an overnight stay prior to our early morning flight. Don't ask what I was doing in NY, it's a whole other story; let's just say I was able to go through "culture shock" after going from an island with about 8 million people to a place with fewer than 15, counting us. The bow bear hunt and trophy pike, walleye and perch fishing trip was arranged by Carol Caputo, Executive Director of Ontario's Algoma Country. Carol and I had met earlier in the year at a 2013 Michigan Outdoor Writer's Conference in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

What a great host she is. Carol came through big time. It took a lot of planning on all our parts to bring this trip to fruition and it looked like it might not happen until Kyle and his wife Teri stepped up and invited us to their camp on Brace Lake. With all the work it took to get there, it may be cliché, but all we could say upon arriving and seeing the lodge and cabins for the first time, was "wow". I was so glad we went, and I was even more pleased after fishing that first morning and catching more than 30 walleye and pike in a little over two hours! Wow indeed.

bracelakeoutfitters bushplaneArrival at the Brace Lake Lodge... what a great sight! (Photo credit: Jacob VanHouten)

My brother Dave and nephew Brandon were as happy as I was to repeatedly catch and release numerous walleye and pike, with a few jumbo perch thrown in. Kyle and Teri had told us that it was not uncommon to catch the always sought-after "40-inch class" northern pike as well as 30-inch plus walleye. Wow again.

Not to mention the fact that the black bear was "hitting the baits" with regularity. I have heard that many times before during hunts but this time it was backed up by some recent trail-cam photos showing one bruin that appeared to be 300+ pounds. That location would go to my nephew since it was his first bear hunt. I had gotten a bear with a rifle but this time I would be using my X-Force crossbow for the first time on the bear. So I chose the second tree stand located in a very nice area across a small river from the bait, it ranged in at 22 yards so it was perfect for my shot distance "comfort" level.

bracelakeoutfittersView from the Brace Lake cabin... pretty tough to take in every morning! (Photo credit: Jacob VanHouten)

After a wonderfully prepared and tasty dinner served in the lodge, we settled in our own comfortable lakeside cabin, where we discussed our day of adventure and fishing success. It was obvious we were in for a great time. Sitting on the deck overlooking Brace Lake, I wrote in my journal about the contrasts in my recent living locations/conditions. I mentioned to Dave and Brandon what a strange and wonderful world we live in when you can be surrounded by millions of people and concrete/asphalt one minute, and less than 24 hours later be surrounded by millions of trees, wilderness and no people. The trees have it!

bracelakeoutfitters dinnerDid I mention the food? (Photo credit: Jacob VanHouten)

It just kept getting better as Brandon and I were headed off to the bear stands the next afternoon for the evening hunt, and it would be the opening day! After shooting a few practice arrows targeted at 25 yards in camp, with Kyle showing us what a "real" bow hunter can do by nailing an impressive 60-yard shot, we loaded up the boats and headed out. Unfortunately, the bears had other ideas and we didn't see anything each of the first two nights, although both our baits were hit, just not when we were there! So the last day we both decided to skip the morning fishing and would be in the stand all day. Dave did not have a bear license and spent the final day playing "old man and the sea" by going it alone. That last day he boated 15 walleye in the 20 to 25-inch range as well as 5 nice pikes...but none of those big boys he was looking for. He had a great day though and couldn't keep from smiling.

Meanwhile, Brandon and I were in our tree stands swaying in the breeze waiting for that monster bear. Brandon went "0-for" again while I had a different experience. It was 7 pm while staring for the one-hundredth time at my bait barrel; ranging it again and again for something to do other than watching the same red squirrel feed at the bait pile by running the same route like being on a subway track back in New York, I decided to light my ThermaCELL to ward off the mosquitoes. That's when I heard the first "crunch", behind me. Not across the river where "The bears will come from either direction over there, left or right", but I mean RIGHT behind me. As in feet away, not yards.

There he was. A black bear, not 2 feet from the base of the tree my stand was in...and he was clawing up the stump he was near pretty good. Along with the "click, click, snap" of his teeth as he snapped his jaws, this bear was letting me know he was not happy with me being between him and his evening meal by letting loose with several loud "WOOF. . .WOOFs" for good measure. If you've heard a bear make that sound, you know what I was feeling. Instead of thinking "oh crap" (it's a family magazine) for some reason I just smiled. It was a smaller black bear, easily over 100 pounds but looking nothing like the 300-pounder I had dreamed of. And this bear was cute. Sorry, but it was. It mauled the log under my tree as I watched it and then walked slowly away; grunting, woofing and clicking all the way into the thick, and I do mean "THICK" brush along the river.

"That was cool!" I thought to myself. But then it hit me that I had finally seen a bear with a bow in my hands and had no shot. Although more like our "typical" Michigan bear as far as size goes, I had no intention of shooting it even if it was the last night. I would have been happy to go home "bear-less". It then dawned on me that I hadn't even gotten a picture or video. It all happened in seconds. That's when the bear came back, walking down a big fallen tree right at me. He followed the log right to the base of my ladder stand where he proceeded to start his climb up. Apparently, this bear wanted to meet the outdoor writer from Michigan personally. The bear kept pawing and pulling at the ladder and then would drop back down to the ground. This continued for maybe 2 or 3 minutes (seemed longer!) and off he strolled again down the same trail. That bear seemed really unhappy that I was there, and again, I didn't get his photo or video! I'm supposed to be a professional outdoor photographer too. Oops.

"If that bear comes back one more time, I'm going to shoot it" was all I could think of, still smiling but thinking how much "bigger" the bear seemed while climbing up my tree stand. Sure enough, back he came. . .this time barking louder and swaying back and forth. "If you turn broadside and come through that one foot opening on the trail, I'm taking the shot, it's your fault!" was my thought as he disappeared one more time. I was about to lower my X-Force crossbow when he stepped back into a small clearing, quartering away and down the trail only 15 yards distant. I shouldered and fired all in one motion as he extended his left leg for a perfect opening at his vitals. "THWACK"... I love that sound, followed by a grunt, a full spin around, crash. . .crash. . .crash. . .silence. I waited for the death moan. . .nothing. There was no doubt I had hit him and if so, the Rage broadhead makes a 2-inch cut so there would be no problem with a blood trail was my hope.

I was pretty calm during all this and usually get the "shakes" after the adrenalin moment has passed, at least on deer. For some reason this time, sitting in the tree stand in northern Canada, just having arrowed a black bear that had "stalked" me, I didn't. It all happened so fast and the darn thing had come from behind where he wasn't supposed to be, and he seemed to want, well, me!

I could see blood from my stand so I waited until 8 pm (one hour) but just couldn't hold out any longer. I got down and walked over to the spot I had last seen the bear. No arrow. I looked everywhere. Blood yes, arrow no. There was a regular bear highway, covered in blueberry-filled scat, through the thick brush next to the river. I had no idea the trail was there. . .should've been more observant! I was thinking maybe the arrow was still in the bear but didn't believe it. I was pretty sure it was a pass-through and that maybe the arrow had skipped off one of the many rocks and boulders in the area. Curiosity got the best of me and I did one of those, "Just one more peek ahead. . .he's probably lying just up around the bend" things that a bowhunter should never do. Especially considering this was a potentially wounded bear I was tracking, not a whitetail deer; and I was carrying a crossbow, not a high-powered rifle or shotgun. Not too smart for many reasons. I did follow away and determined there was a lot of blood, plenty to put him down so I followed a bit more than I should and you guessed it, I pushed him.

In the growing twilight, I had just looked down at a wide swath of blood that showed stark red, sprayed against a big white boulder, when I heard a noise ahead of me. It was my bear. . .hanging from a fallen and bent blow-down tree like a half-dead squirrel! If you've ever been squirrel hunting, you know what I mean, they sometimes just "hang there" with their claws stuck in the bark of a tree after you make a killing shot. This bear was pulling a "squirrelly move" on me. I watched in disbelief as he hung there for a few seconds and then he dropped to the ground with a thud. I wasn't sure I had seen what I had just seen. The weeds, shrubs and brush were very thick where he had fallen and I couldn't see him. I took two steps and he raised his head. "Uh oh," I thought while raising my bow. That's when he bolted away from me (thank you very much). He was not moving fast and making a lot of racket and moaning. I fired a shot with my crossbow (I'm not sure why...it may have been panic) and actually hit him, in the neck. Not really sure what had happened but seeing my arrow glance up and away, I heard it hit him. I also heard the bear "crash" with a big moan but I wasn't going any further. I recovered the second arrow with no blood on it. Big "Uh Oh". I was very angry with myself for doing what I knew better NOT to do. I had tracked a wounded bear (not smart) and pushed an animal that had been hit with an arrow. I thought I had waited long enough but not so. I said a few more bad words and backed out of there fast. Of course, it took me a few minutes to figure out where I was and how to get back to my stand, did I mention how thick it was? Well, it was.

Back in the stand waiting for Kyle, I kept scolding myself over and over, why oh why had I gone after that bear knowing what I knew? "Are you some kind of rookie? You know better. Now you may have ruined your chances of an easy recovery. . .if at all. What were you thinking...oh that's right, you WEREN'T!!!". The wait for Kyle seemed to take forever as any hunter who has made a shot and can't wait to follow up knows all too well. It would no doubt be a sleepless night. At 10 pm I recounted my tale to Kyle so we actually made an attempt to recover the bear that night as I was sure he was down and we were set to leave early the next morning. We found the blood trail easily (I had also marked the trail with orange flagging tape) but eventually lost it in the dark. We couldn't find the tree that the bear had fallen out of either so we headed back to camp. Dave and Brandon were waiting on the dock when we arrived at about midnight; full of expectation that we had gotten a bear. I had to tell them it was a "maybe". On top of that, it was our last night and I had to pack for our early morning flight home. Fortunately, Kyle said he'd arrange a later flight and we could ship our gear on the earlier flight.

bracelakeoutfitters blackbearhuntAuthor with his first bow bear after a long night wait! It was worth it! (Photo credit: Jacob VanHouten)

The next morning we were up and at 'em early. Kyle greeted the incoming fishermen and hunters while Dave, Brandon and I headed out to look for my bear. I found the tree with my "marker" arrow, not 25 yards from where we lost the trail the night before. Things are so much easier in the daylight! From there, we walked three abreast toward where I had last seen and heard the bear. After going only about 30 yards through the thick stuff and finding nothing, blood, hair or bear, Brandon and Dave headed back to the tree to look for signs while I made small loops through the tags and muck brush. They hadn't left more than 2 minutes when I saw him. "WHHAAAAA HOOOOO! Bear Down!" was my reaction. He had piled up not 45 yards from where I had seen him in the "squirrel" position. He, actually a sow, had died right there, stiff from lying all night. The bear was as small as I had thought, maybe 125 pounds which is more like a Michigan-sized bear. It also turned out my second running shot had skimmed its neck and cut only hair and fat. But it was my first bow-kill bear and I was very happy.

bracelakeoutfitters blackbearNo other outfitter works as hard as these guys.  Photo credit: Jacob VanHouten)

Then the work began of course. We were quite away from the boat and had a lot of dragging and struggling to do, made much easier with Kyle's "skid tub" and tow rope. He was like a machine going through the brush. I forgot to mention that the heat was intense, and the mosquitoes, were big and numerous! Was it worth it? You bet it was! After skinning, boning and packing the bear (all Kyle by the way) we waited for our early afternoon flight back to Nakina while feasting on fresh grilled black bear tenderloin! Don't ever let anyone tell you that bear meat is not good for eating. With only black pepper and salt, quickly seared on the gas grill, this bear ate like prime rib of beef. It was awesome.

Does any of what I just described sound good to you? Then maybe you should give Kyle and Teri Polesky at Brace Lake Outfitters a call or email. I think you just might be glad you did. They offer fishing as described as well as bear, moose and grouse hunting. Having been on many trips over my lifetime, this was no doubt one of my most enjoyable hunting and fishing adventures. I don't know of any couple that worked harder to please than these two...good people that treat everyone well. Remind me to tell you about the 39 1/2-inch northern I caught on the trip. What are you waiting for? "Brace" yourself!

For an outstanding fishing and hunting combo experience, contact:
Kyle and Teri Polesky, Brace Lake Outfitters

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