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Chasing Alberta Black Bear My role as the founder, owner and President of the United Outfitters Association affords me the luxury of visiting many of the world_s best outfitters. It also provides me the opportunity to assess the daily routine of their respective operations. Exploring new country and hunting in diverse locales is also an added bonus of my chosen profession.
During one of my recent adventures, I came across an outfitter that deserves mention. In the latter stages of May a few years ago, I visited Harvey McNalley_s Alberta-based bear hunting operation for a little R&R and bear hunting.
Harvey_s bear operation at the time of my visit was rather special, as he was one of the few outfitters in northern Alberta who maintained a camp requiring air travel. A Beach 99 and a Havilland Beaver float plane are the two means of transportation.
Located 125 air miles from Fort McMurray, Alberta, the aptly named McNalley Lake is home to Harvey_s main guest camp. Nestled at the bottom of a gently sloping, jack pine-studded hillside, the cabins overlook the crystal-clear waters and sandy shorelines of the secluded lake. Three spike camps are also available by request for the more adventurous bear hunter.
My particular excursion began with a long drive from my then home state of Wisconsin. After nearly 30 hours of driving, I arrived in the picturesque city of Fort McMurray, Alberta during an early morning drizzle. I checked into a hotel and met with the company liaison later that afternoon. After being introduced to the rest of the crew and making a run to the grocery store for a few can_t-do-without supplies, we settled in to our rooms for the night. The next day we hopped a flight from Fort McMurray to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.
From Fort Chipewyan, we were flown into camp via a short float plane jaunt. I flew into camp on the first flight with Pennsylvania natives Tom McAndrews, Allen Strickler and Mike Siddons. The second group of hunters, which included Jim Parrish, Stephanie Smith, Curt Chesley and his son, Justin, were all residents of the state of Tennessee.
After landing, we unpacked our gear from the plane and were given a brief introduction to the area. We then separated into three groups. Mike and Allen headed out on ATVs to a remote spike camp. Following suit, Jim and Stephanie hopped aboard the Beaver for another short flight to their own spike camp, leaving the three remaining bear chasers and me behind to experience wilderness life from the main camp.
Success would come early in the hunt.
On the first afternoon afield, Tom McAndrews killed a beautiful cinnamon-phase bear with one shot from his twelve-gauge slug gun. I heard Tom shoot from nearly three miles away as I quietly sat in my tree stand. The fatal shot echoed across the pike-infested waters of Rusty_s Lake and softly tickled my ears. It was 8:20 p.m. He later said that he had watched a big black boar feed at the bait barrel for over two hours before an even bigger cinnamon-colored bear entered the scene. Steadying his crosshairs on the bear_s midsection, Tom squeezed the trigger and was rewarded with a bear that possessed a perfect spring coat and a hide that would square out at 7 feet even.
On the same evening, Jim Parrish harvested two very respectable bears. One of the black boars squared 6 foot 2-inches and the other bear measured 7 foot 2. After Jim dropped the smaller boar in its tracks from 15 yards with one shot from his rifle, a second bear appeared from the shadows to investigate the ruckus. Responding to his guide_s frantic command, Jim killed the second boar as it was attempting to drag off his first bear. Adding to the first night_s success, Allen Strickler raised the tally by taking a big 7 foot 3-inch black boar with a single shot from his high-powered rifle.
The second evening resulted in one nice black being taken by Stephanie Smith. A well-placed shot from her 30-06 anchored the 6 foot 10-inch boar after a wavering death-sprint of only 30 yards. Stephanie displayed an amazing amount of patience by allowing the bear to enter and exit the bait area several times before it presented her with an effective shot angle.
The third evening of the hunt tested the steel nerves of 15 year old high school sophomore Justin Chesley. He was the hero of the day, taking a huge 7 foot 4-inch boar and a 6 foot 5-inch sow. Justin shot the sow while en route to his stand location. His guide, Shane, spotted the feeding bear and led Justin on a thrilling stalk attempt. Easing to within 50 yards, Justin raised his gun and instantly dropped the bear at the thunderous crack of his rifle_s deadly report. Sneaking up to the downed bruin was an adventure all in itself. Little did they know that another bear was lurking nearby.
As Justin and Shane were slowly approaching the fatally-wounded animal, another bear suddenly popped into view. Thinking that it was the same bear Justin had just shot, Shane barked at Justin to shoot again. With another round from his trusty rifle, Justin collected the largest bear of the week. Facial scars and several bite marks on his backside indicated that the big seven and a half foot boar was quite the scrapper. Needless to say, Justin_s father, Curt, was one proud papa that day.
After seeing Justin_s two bears, Curt was determined not to be outdone by his 15 year old son. With only a few days left to hunt and the thought of being skunked hanging over his head, Curt shot two bears on the fifth night out. The first boar was a black juvenile and the second bear had a multi-phase hide that ranged in color from light blonde to rusty cinnamon. Both animals were shot within 15 minutes of each other. Although he acquired the same number of bears as did his son, Curt made me promise to never reveal their size. I agreed to his request seeing as though he suffered enough humiliation after a tape measure indicated that Justin_s bears were substantially larger in size. All kidding aside, Curt was not ashamed of his accomplishment and neither were any of us.
By the end of the week, two more big black boars were taken by Mike Siddons. One of the bruisers measured 7 foot 3 and the other 6 foot 8. With two more animals added to the meat pole, the stats confirmed that 11 bears had been taken by seven hunters. After doing the rest of the math, we discovered that 50 percent of the bears taken during the week squared over seven feet!
All in all, it was a great hunt. However, Lady Luck chose to frown on yours truly and I wound up not taking a bear. I saw bears every evening and had several opportunities to arrow a true trophy, but simply failed to capitalize. Needless to say, my trusty Hoyt bow and I will be returning to Harvey_s wilderness camp in the coming years to have another go at a big northern Alberta black bear.
profile/Steve-Peters/54820>Steve Peters

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