The Alberta Bear Hunt-Ryan Shoemaker

My father and I planned this hunt four years before going. It would be our third bear hunt together and our second to Alberta. Seven months prior, I found myself sitting at the doctor’s office being informed that my first child’s due date was the exact same week I was to be gone. Leaving the office the phone call to pops went something like this, “Dad, I’ve got tremendous news and I’ve got bad news….” of course after hearing it all he was ecstatic (as was I!) and we flipped the hunt to the following year. Fast forward a year and some change to the day of departure. After five long years in the making, we were finally off and leaving for the North country.

Leading up to this hunt I had a lot going on and to be perfectly honest, it had been the farthest thing from my mind. Pulling in all directions was time with family, work, and just days before the hunt, a huge push to qualify for the Boston marathon in conjunction with a fundraising effort I’d put together. At times, it all seemed overwhelming.

Although I was busy I was ready. The Pearson Z-34 was dialed in and drilling tacks. Arrows were fletched, spun, and numbered, and my entire final “to do” lists were totally knocked out. It wasn’t until the marathon was behind me that the excitement finally hit me.

Getting There…

Arriving in Fort McMurray, Canada, our scheduled called for us to grab a bush flight out in the morning. The flight would be a little less than an hour and would ultimately drop us along the Athabasca river system where we’d be hunting. Arriving at spike camp the next day we unloaded, grabbed a quick bite, and threw together the gear.

HyperventThere was still time to get a hunt in so we pushed hard to get out to the stand. I was heading to Fuzzy, a stand 17 miles north of camp and about an hour drive through the bush. All I could think about was bear. The hopes, the anticipation, the dream of laying out a monster was vivid, although never in my wildest dreams did I ever really think it would happen to me. Hanging the Badlands and knocking my arrow the watch read 5:30pm as I sat down in the stand.

Whether you think you can or can’t – you are right.” ~ Henry Ford

It wasn’t long before I had action. The first bear showing was a small boar anxious and willing to take on the world. He sniffed, he climbed, he explored. Most of all, he entertained. Coming through around 7pm he was the first on site and hung for over an hour.

As I sit there over the next couple of hours I thought about life, family, pops and I travels, and how nice it was to see a bear already. Breaking the silence I looked at Aaron (filming) and said, “have you ever been in the stand when just a huge, pig of a bear’s been shot?” He responded with a quick “nope, never been that lucky.” Little did we know our luck was about to change.

river at sundown

It was five minutes till ten and we were working on our last hour of daylight. I looked at my watch, put down my arm, and turned my head to the left. Scanning, movement caught my eye. What I saw was a glimpse of a big, blonde, back end moving on the trail. Before I could even turn to Aaron he said, “big bear…” We both had seem him.

Watching him I moved to grab the Z-34 behind me as he moved. Ever so slowly he was working toward the entrance of our trail before stopping. My mind went ballistic as he hesitated for a moment before making the turn. He was coming.

The moment he turned I clipped the release and readied myself for what I knew was going to be a shot of a lifetime. My heart was beating a mile a minute. Logistically his path would have him entering the opening to the left and landing him seven yards from the tree. Bow in hand I was physically ready, now all I had to do was keep it together mentally.

Mirror imaging a big, mature whitetail he was careful and calculated with every step. Three steps…stop. Four steps…stop. It seemed like it took him an hour to cover the final 40 yards. Finally reaching the opening he walked in, stopped, and looked straight up at us. He knew instantly as soon as he reached that opening we were there. He looked up, looked down, and started to turn.

Feeling as though he was about to vacate, I pulled, centered the bubble, placed the pin, and pulled the trigger. The arrow disappeared as he busted from beneath us.

As I sit there shaking, completely broken down trying to keep it together the events started to replay in my head. Was the pin where I wanted it? Was it a pass through? Where’s my arrow? Why didn’t he fall?

Playing back the video I watched….the shot was perfect.

looking at a bearAlthough I could physically see the shot on video I was worried. I didn’t see him fall and neither Aaron nor I heard the death moan. We couldn’t be sure he was dead and there was no way I was going to push this bear. Making a tough decision that night, we backed out and headed for camp.

The Wait…

Going to bed that night all I could think about was that bear. Would he be there in the morning? Why didn’t I see him fall? One lung or two? I replayed the video over, and over looking for the placement of the shot. No matter how many holes I attempted to punch in my theory the shot looked solid.

Morning arrived and after a quick bite we were off on the drive to Fuzzy. Finally arriving on site I grabbed the Z-34 and walked over to the stump where we’d last seen him. Immediately we found blood and started in on the trail. 5ft…10ft…more blood, 15ft…20ft…more blood, and then before I took another step Aaron yelled from behind, “there he is!”

Walking over to the bear I can’t explain the emotions. After all this time thinking, preparing, and pushing, I was finally standing over one of the most awesome animals I will ever lay hands on. A big, mature, beautiful, blonde bear that will easily exceed the 18” Pope and Young minimum.

All in this entire trip was one that I will never forget. Not only was I was able to take a true bear of lifetime and share in that experience with my dad, but I also was able to share in his success as well as ol’pops knocked off a solid bear with his recurve. In the end the trip was perfect. Pops and I both took great bears and more importantly got to spend a solid week together doing what we love to do.