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Spring Bears with Canada in the Rough

Paul with his personal best spring bear • Credit: Canada in the Rough
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Spring Bears with Canada in the Rough

A return to Saul Outfitters in Northern Ontario proves rewarding

Not one to rest on his past accomplishments, Paul set a new challenge for himself: this time, his goal was to harvest a personal best with his compound bow. 



Every so often, the opportunity arises for the Beasley Brothers to revisit the site of a memorable past hunt. This Northeastern Ontario bear hunt was one such occasion. Canada in the Rough viewers may recall Paul Beasley's 2016 hunt with Saul Outfitters in the outskirts of Matachewan, Ontario. This trip was memorable not just for the plentiful bear encounters, the exceptional fishing, or the refreshing swim in the crystal clear water of the area's quarries—it was memorable for marking Paul's first-ever spring bear hunt in Ontario. It was an unforgettable experience that concluded with Paul successfully claiming a big bear with his crossbow. 

Now, five years later, Paul eagerly hit the road for another go-round with Saul Outfitters in beautiful Northeastern Ontario. Not one to rest on his past accomplishments, though, Paul set a new challenge for himself: This time, his goal was to harvest a personal best with his compound bow. 

The scenic drive to Matachewan is just six hours from the Beasley’s home base but feels even shorter; maybe it's just the anticipation of the hunt. Still, the suburbs of Central Ontario seem to be replaced in the blink of an eye with the expansive boreal forests of the province's north country. 

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Upon arrival, Paul is greeted by Byron Saul—proprietor of Saul Outfitters. It's challenging to imagine Byron in any other role; he comes from a family of steadfast outdoorsmen (his father works alongside him, even) and lives for the thrill of the hunt. For many years Byron served this region as a guide before assuming ownership of the company from his grandfather. His enthusiasm for the sport is virtually unmatched, and he's immediately regaling Paul with hunting anecdotes from the five years since his last visit. 

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Since the journey north was so quick, Paul had a few hours of daylight left for his first evening after unloading the truck. Opting not to waste any time, he readied his gear and ventured with his UTV down the winding trails to his first tree stand, hopeful that he might chance upon some action on his first night.

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Alas, Paul's chosen spot was a quiet one. The sun had set on his first day without a single bear sighting to report. His confidence beginning to diminish, Paul wondered whether this return trip could possibly live up to the expectations set by his earlier adventure here.

However, by the next afternoon, Paul's confidence was given a significant boost. Over a late breakfast, Paul and Byron reviewed images taken from trail cameras that'd been set up on Byron's many baits. These images told a more familiar story than his previous evening. This area was indeed abundant with bear activity, with some absolute giants lurking about.

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With renewed optimism, Paul returned to the same tree stand for his second evening. Indeed, this time a couple of big bears paid him a visit. The first was a sizeable sow that planted herself at the bait barrel for a leisurely meal. The second—scaring off the first on his approach—was a decent boar. This second bear was much more skittish, though; as the bear approached the bait, Paul could see him catching a whiff of something he didn't like. The big bear then snapped around and stormed back up the pathway it had travelled in on, vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. Still, the hunt was on. 

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For his second morning with Saul Outfitters, Paul accompanied Byron on a brief fishing trip. Northern Ontario has no shortage of fishing opportunities—especially for anglers hankering for a fresh feed of walleye—and Matachewan, a stone's throw from the Montreal River, is no exception. It was also a perfect opportunity to continue catching up with Byron. And so the two spent the morning on one of the guide's favourite fishing spots, hooking up with massive jumbo perch, and exchanging hunting tales.

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Their outing on the water was cut short, however, by an impending thunderstorm. The hunters only just managed to get back to solid ground, into the truck, and back to camp before the darkening skies unleashed a torrential downpour. All Paul could do was cross his fingers and hope that the storm would let up before it put an end to his evening hunt.

Thankfully, the clouds parted, and Paul found himself once again gifted with a few hours of waning daylight. Deciding to switch things up for this evening, Paul took the UTV to a new bait and tree stand. This move quickly proved to be a smart choice; this bait was positively teeming with bear activity from the outset. Almost immediately, a marauding bear materialized at the edge of the woods, circled the stand, and (perhaps sensing Paul's presence) disappeared into the trees. Shortly after that, a different bear approached from the opposite direction and similarly strolled back into the woods. This activity continued for some time: a big bear peeking in through the woods, another passing through the bait area, another creeping along the edge of the far tree line. None of these bears presented Paul with a decent shot, however. Until...

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An absolute behemoth of a spring bear suddenly appeared at the edge of the hunt area, moving toward the bait barrel. Just as it began to step out from the cover of the trees, the bear appeared to glance up at the tree stand and hastily retreated. Paul's heart sank. Was that it? Did it spook? 

Suddenly, just a few yards into the woods, the bear rose onto its hind legs. Even obscured by the dense foliage, Paul could see the outline of this hulking beast as it scratched its back on a nearby tree. Relief washed in. This thing isn't spooked at all. 

The bear dropped back onto all fours and made a beeline for the bait barrel, presenting Paul with a perfect opportunity. Once he saw the bear occupying himself with a helping from the barrel, Paul took a deep breath, drew his bow, and unleashed a perfect shot... or so he thought. 

Once the animal had taken off into the woods, Paul came down from his perch and retrieved his arrow (covered in blood, just as he'd expect it to be). And yet there was no blood trail to be seen—nothing to indicate where the bear might've finally fallen or if it had fallen. With quickly diminishing light and ominous thunderclaps announcing a new storm approaching, Paul decided to leave the hunt area and rendezvous with Byron back at camp to determine the next step. 

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Back at camp, they reviewed the footage from Paul's shot. At first glance, the shot looks perfect but as they watched it frame-by-frame they began to question the shot. Is the arrow's point of entry a few inches too far back? If so, should we give the bear more time before moving in to track it for fear of pushing it deeper into the woods? But what if we wait until morning and the rain washes any blood trail away? The hunters agreed that they should wait until morning, when the storm has passed, to track the bear. But these questions kept Paul tossing and turning through the night. 

Despite a sleepless night, Paul jumped out of bed early the following day. A dense fog blanketed the area leading back to the tree stand as if the weather reflected Paul's uncertain state of mind. Byron waited for Paul at the hunt site, and the two of them followed the path to the bait and began tracking the bear together as Paul described his recollection of the bear's course.

"There!" After covering about 60 yards, they'd finally happened upon a blood trail. And a good one. Against all odds, a solid blood trail had survived the rainfall and led them straight to Paul's spring giant—the bear had fallen fewer than a hundred yards from where the broadhead made its impact.

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After sharing their mutual excitement and congratulations and taking a pile of pictures, Byron and Paul loaded the bear onto a trailer and hauled it back to camp for a weigh-in. Sure enough, Paul had accomplished his goal. Not only did he harvest a beautiful spring bear with his compound bow, but he'd harvested a personal best for a spring bear. The scale settled at a whopping 372.4 lb. 

The next day, Paul thanked Byron for another incredible hunt and hit the road with multiple coolers filled with fresh bear meat. Not only did his second visit to Saul Outfitters meet the lofty expectations set by his 2016 adventure, but it vastly exceeded them. He's already looking forward to his next Northern Ontario spring bear hunt.


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