A September frost had arrived before we did, but our timing could not have been better. The tinge of red and yellow evident in the forest when we arrived grew visibly by the day, adding lots of color to the boreal forest of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
And after all, it was autumn pursuits that brought us. Grouse hunting and fishing occupied all of our mornings. At mid-afternoon, we hid ourselves in tree stands among the changing colors of the forest canopy in hopes of luring a bear to boiling pots of honey before nightfall.
It almost worked.
For a few years now, my son Erik and I have been fortunate enough to be drawn in a lottery for a BWCAW bear hunting license. It’s a very challenging hunt. Most bear hunting in Minnesota takes place over bait. The bait is usually placed in the woods well in advance of the season, so that bears have had time to discover it and become accustomed to making regular visits to it. And in most cases, the bait is placed where larger quantities of it can be set.
In the BWCAW, baiting has not been allowed. This year, hunters could set bait out while they are in their stands by it, but they must remove it when not present. Needless to say, there’s no way to portage barrels of sweet bait to remote sites.
The no-baiting regulation leaves hunters with one strategy. Simmer honey in a small pot and hope the sweet aroma brings a hungry bear your way.
So while bear hunting is our stated purpose for the trip, we make the most of it by enjoying other fishing and hunting opportunities.
We were fortunate enough to have found an area in the BWCAW where there are old trails to follow in pursuit of grouse. The season opened on the day we arrived, and we took it up. We found birds too, although not as many as two years ago during a visit to this site. Still, we enjoyed grouse cooked over a campfire, along with fish we caught in the lake at which we were camped.
It’s the same lake that treated us to another pleasant surprise. I woke one morning to a rhythmic sound, like a paddler in a canoe. Through the trees I could see ripples like that in the wake of a canoe too, until I spotted the source. A bull moose was swimming alongside the shoreline, and made a beeline across the lake when he realized his proximity to our camp.
As for the bear hunt, we came close too. Our schedules prevented us from making it to the BWCAW until mid-September, or two weeks after the season’s start. We also only had four days to hunt, far less time than we’d like.
And sure enough, it was on our final night when we finally got a bear interested. Erik set himself up deep into a swamp. To reach the site he had to canoe to a boggy, cattail-lined area where he then walked over a spongy marsh to a high spot with trees. He lined his path with colored ribbons to find his way out in the inky darkness of night.
On his final evening in his stand he heard sloshing and activity and knew a large mammal was circling about, but never got a sight of what he figured was a bear. When night fell, he took on the chore of removing his tree stand and bringing his unloaded gun to the canoe. He was making a second trip to the canoe with the last of his stuff when the bear growled at him and he made haste to exit.