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Sketches of a Manitoba Trip - Part I

Many times it is not important how you got to a place,  it simply that you got there, even if it takes over 20 hours driving to get to it.

On Saturday, May 11th, as we were ahead of schedule, once we got to Russell we drove to the Ranch in Millwood, instead of going to the Lodge in Roblin. We paid our respects to Cliff and minutes later we were loading the 17 HMR rifles to help control the local gopher population over a large alfalfa field.

Estimates say pocket gophers are present in over 500,000 hectares of agro-Manitoba. They are a major problem for many agricultural producers. Part of what makes pocket gophers pests is the burrow system they construct and the surface mounds that result.

Over the next couple of hours Mark C acted as spotter and stressor agent while Mark L and I shot almost 150 rounds each. I would like to say that our “corpse making machines” were hitting like lightning bolts coming down from Mount Olympus, but apparently my aim is not as true as Zeus. According to Mark C we left sixty or seventy corpses behind, so my first time shooting varmints was a humbling experience.

On Sunday the other seven members of our party arrived (Rob, Joshua, Aaron, Paul, Brian, Scott and Jacob) arrived and Kim processed all the bear hunting licenses (Hunter Safety Certificate required) while her husband Mike organized the trucks, ATV’s and bait.

By 3:00 PM everyone was getting itchy looking forward to the first sit over a bear bait.  Mark C, Scott, Rob and I went back to the Ranch and all the others were to baits along the Lake of the Prairies (Shellmouth Reservoir) on the Assiniboine River. Rob took to me to my stand and the drive was exciting, to say the least.

Shortly after crossing the Gopher Town we saw three whitetail deer on a nearby field, a minute later there were two call elks and a calf feeding on a haystack, and then three mallards on a small pond. I told Rob that since we had seen three deer, three elks and three mallards, then we should see three bears. Shortly after, on a big hayfield across the river there was  herd of over 30 elk!

As we continued to drive the elk became uneasy, bunched up and started running. I thought that it was very strange that they would react like that as we were about a quarter mile away and suddenly I understood the reason. A beautiful blond wolf was staking the herd following a tree line. What a sighting! This is just the second time that I saw a wolf in the wild.

At the bear bait Rob asked me to climb my stand while he baited. Before he was gone fifty yards, and before I had brought my backpack up to the stand, the first bear was already on the bait. I believe it was a young female of about 200 pounds, with a beautiful white chevron on its chest.

She stayed on the bait for over an hour, taking turns between meat and oats. And then he just ran away. I doubt she ever noticed me, and looking over my left shoulder saw a slightly larger bear. He come to within 40 or 50 yards, sniffed the air and quietly went back to heavy cover. I started feeling alone without any bear to watch, but less than an hour later the first female cautiously came back to the bait, but almost immediately got ready to climb a tree. That second bear, apparently a young boar was on its way in.

The young couple to be (that is my assumption based on the boy’ behavior) just took it easy, munching on oat, sticking their hands down the barrel and then licking them or eating from the barrel top, sitting on the ground like a big, shaggy dog.

During the whole afternoon or evening, as I watch the bears a ruffled grouse continuously drummed on top of a log not ten yards from the bears. Apparently bears are not as much in love with grouse as I am.

Towards dusk they went back to whatever they came from, shortly to be replaced y a third bear, which I also believe was a female. She hung around until completely dark and only left once Rob’s ATV was almost on top of her.

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