Clad in camo and sporting a scent wafer to mask his odour from the black bear he wants to kill, 18-year-old Hunter Coleman glances up at the camera.
He is sitting in a tree blind in northern Saskatchewan. Not far away lies a blue barrel filled with bear bait – a concoction that might include oats, deep-fryer grease, icing sugar, candies and maybe dog food.
On this particular evening last year, the bait is working. By the time the evening is over, eight bears will make appearances. One will be the kind of close – and scary – encounter that will give Mr. Coleman a bear story few can match, and an Internet video now grabbing continent-wide attention after a mention from Joe Rogan, the Ultimate Fighting Championship colour commentator who plays host to a popular podcast.
Mr. Coleman, of course, doesn’t know any of that yet.
“It’s a nice night here in Saskatchewan, and we’re just going to see what we can see,” Mr. Coleman tells the camera, in a drawl born of his home in Tupelo, Miss. Mr. Coleman has hunted deer, turkey and rabbits for as long as he can remember. He’s a good shot, too, having placed seventh in archery nationals in his third year of high school.
But he’s never hunted bear, and for all the thrill of the unknown that’s brought him to Saskatchewan, one of the few provinces where bear-baiting is still allowed, he’s nervous. He admits as much to Mike Grundman, the owner of Saskadrenaline Outfitters.
“I had asked Mike if they climbed trees and Mike said, ‘Yeah, but it usually never happens,’” Mr. Coleman says. “I jokingly said, ‘Well Mike, it’s going to happen to me. I have horrible luck.’”
Bear-baiting is controversial, and the practice has brought Mr. Grundman nasty e-mails. A recent one said: “How anyone can call what you guys do ‘hunting’ is beyond me.” Another called him a “bottom feeder,” saying: “You aren’t woodsmen, you absolutely are not hunters and you sure are NOT sportsmen.”
Mr. Grundman says the practice results in fewer deaths to sows and cubs since, he says, “a lot of unethical shots get made” when hunters chase bears through the woods.
And bear-baiting isn’t completely risk free. It’s common for bears to climb a couple of steps up a tree beneath a hunter’s perch. But Mr. Grundman, an accomplished guide who has done work for several hunting TV shows, is not one to worry.
Sitting in his blind, Mr. Coleman is far more apprehensive. The two men are in side-by-side trees with nothing more than a bow and some arrows.
They have no gun, a situation he finds “a little bit sketchy.”
And suddenly, he looks down to find a large sow bear at the bait barrel, making a threatening advance at a small bear that has appeared at the bottom of Mr. Grundman’s tree. Seconds later, the sow charges and the small bear claws its way up.
Sheer terror is imprinted on Mr. Coleman’s face. The animal halts directly behind Mr. Grundman, its paw not far from his head. It’s a small bear, maybe 35 kilograms. “But even a bear that size can do a lot of damage. They can actually kill a person,” he says. I was scared out of my pants.”
The bear is in the tree for 2 minutes and 45 seconds before clambering down – but not before brushing past Mr. Coleman. “It gets eye level with me and looks at me and I’m just like, this is insane,” he says.
Twenty minutes later, he calms his nerves enough to fire a clean kill into a trophy male that he will get made into a rug for his room at college. But before he goes to claim the bear, he watches Mr. Grundman grab the camera and point it at himself.
“I don’t think I’ll stop shaking for another week,” he says.