By Sparky “The Joker” Sparkes
When your friend calls you and asks what you are doing the first week of June, you always have to pause and think, “Oh no, they’re finally moving and they need my help."
However, when that friend is Mike Deming of Sportsman’s News, it could mean you won a hunt as a Sportsman’s News Pro Member and he is calling to tell you that you have won the hunt of a lifetime.
Well, Mike wasn’t moving and I was not the winner of a hunt, but I did get asked if I would go up to Canada and film the Pro Member winner Billy Miller, with the legendary Stewart Fraser of Itcha Mountain Outfitters. Itcha Mountain is famous for having big 7-foot black bears and harvesting a lot of them in any given season. As a bear guide myself in the lower 48, I am always jealous of Stewart and the number of bears they see on a daily basis along with the size of bears they have in British Columbia. So much so, that when I am talking to a possible client about bear hunting with me, I always tell them about Itcha Mountain. Their operation, in my opinion, is an amazing place to hunt and harvest a big black bear. Lucky for me, Mike and Stewart had arranged for me to stay and hunt one of these giants of BC for myself after the hunt winner had tagged out.
I worked a few miracles and cleared my schedule and told Mike I was able to go and film the lucky Pro Member winner. Living in Washington state at the time, it was about a 12-hour drive north or 12-hours including three flights and layovers. I decided to take the scenic drive up through the beautiful province of British Columbia. Along the drive, I was able to see mountain goats around the Kelowna area, elk, bears and deer all throughout the province, even hitting a little snow on a few mountain passes. When you have to drive 12-hours to get to your destination, you sure enjoy having satellite radio, although 12-hours of head-banging-to-hair-nation is a little too long and hard on an old-man’s neck.
Arriving at approximately 10pm, I was greeted by Stewart and Sabrina Fraser, my hosts for the week. Bill Miller, the Sportsman’s Pro Member Winner, had already gone to bed and Stewart was kind enough to make me a Canadian Whiskey on the rocks as we discussed the upcoming events of the week. The weather had been unseasonably cold for this time of year, but bears were out and being spotted daily. Stewart stated it was nothing to see over 10 bears a day and some days even up to 20. I assumed these numbers were a little exaggerated as it seemed excessive, but by weeks end, I had seen over 45 bears in 6 days and one day alone I saw 19. This place truly has a lot of bears!
One of my favorite things about bear hunting is the fact that you do not have to be up super early to get out. As a fat, old, lazy person, I sure enjoy sleeping in till 8am, especially after a long 12-hour drive and maybe a few cocktails. My room was very comfortable with a nice bed, a table to do computer work and my own personal heater in case the cool air of northern BC decided to try and keep me chilled. In the morning I wandered to the community bathroom, cleaned up a little and headed into the main lodge to have some coffee. Inside the lodge I was introduced to Bill and enjoyed a cup of joe as we discussed the plans for the day. Bill was from California (and was actually a good guy, despite that fact, ha-ha) and had never been bear hunting. His cousin had won an elk hunt a year prior which is why he joined the sweepstakes and after only a few months, he had won an ALPS pack and now this bear hunt. Lucky guy! Bill was very excited to be on this amazing hunt and could not believe he had won. We all enjoyed a fantastic breakfast with a meat tray, along with bacon, eggs, avocados and fruit, all prepared by Morgan Fraser, Stewart and Sabrina’s son. He did an excellent job all week keeping me fat and happy.
After breakfast, showers and getting all the camera gear ready, we were ready to head out for the first day. We hit the road around noon with Sabrina. With daylight going until after 10pm, you can plan on a long day of driving roads and looking for bears feeding on the edge of roads or out in fields feasting on the clover and fresh grasses coming up. Although the weather our first day was cold, rainy and not the best for hunting bears, we still were able to see three bears, making one good stalk with no success. The warmer and nicer the weather, the more the bears will be out and about moving around trying to keep the bugs off of them. Speaking of bugs, the mosquitoes in the spring can be vicious. It is highly recommended to bring good quality bug spray and the hand wipe types which are great to hang out the back of your hat to help when stalking on bears. With no shot opportunities, we headed back to the lodge for another great dinner by Morgan and great stories of the day’s events and past hunts.
On our second day, we headed out with Stewart and the weather is a little nicer, but still not the warm day we were hoping for. We are able to spot five bears during the hunt and make one good stalk on a nice 6’ 6” plus bear, with no luck. We passed on a few small bears in the 5’6” range before calling it a day. Stewart prides himself by getting his clients on big bears in the high 6-foot and low 7-foot range.
The sun is shining on day three, the bugs are buzzing and it’s a great day to be out hunting bears. We head out with Stewart after another tasty breakfast and not five minutes down the road we spot a beautiful thick, black, 6’ 8” or bigger boar, the perfect bear to try and harvest and an amazing first trophy bear for any hunter. As we watch the bear at 150-yards on the hillside, Stewart informs us that it is not on property he has permission to hunt. We watch the bear wander off into the woods and we are excited about the day ahead. Fifteen minutes later, we see another big 6’ 6” plus bear wandering towards the road. We drive by a few hundred yards, park the truck and work our way back down the edge of the road in the brush. As we get to within what we believe to be 100-yards of where we had seen the bear, we start to work our way up the short hillside, hoping to see the bear eating out in the swampy clear-cut.
Unfortunately, as we were working our way up the hill, the bear was working his way down the same hill 100 yards in front of us and hit the road a running as he had spotted us. Bill was able to get a shot off but was unable to hit his target. We laugh, discuss the events that had just unfolded and get back in the truck to head down the road. Billy did not have long to stew on his missed opportunity as five minutes later, we come around a corner to find a nice 6’ black bear drinking out of a spring off the side of the road. We park and with camera rolling, Billy is able to make this shot count. One shot and Billy has his first ever black bear.
High fives around and we are cleaning our first bear on the third day of the hunt. We take photos, load the bear up and head back to the lodge to take care of Billy’s bear. One of the great things about hunting in British Columbia at Itcha Mountain is the fact that you can purchase a second bear tag and harvest a second bear. This is a great opportunity as they have so many bears and you will find yourself wanting to shoot a second one if you are successful in the first few days. Billy chose to take Stewart up on this opportunity and got a second tag.
With yesterday’s success still fresh on our mind, we head out for day four. We have not been hunting for more than an hour when we find a great, 7-foot plus boar tending a huge 6’6’ sow about 500-yards down the road. As we stalk this amazing bear, another almost 7-foot bear comes out on the road between us and our 7-plus footer. Choosing not to shoot this almost 7-foot monster, we work our way towards the really big one. While stalking down the edge of the road a fourth bear comes out of the woods onto the road from the opposite side of the third bear. We literally had bears everywhere! At one point, the third bear was less than 50 yards and we had to lay down on the road to not get busted. It is very hard to watch someone pass a beautiful bear almost 7-foot, but when you can see a true 7-plus footer a mere 300 yards past this trophy, you can understand. The big boar and sow walked off into the woods and the big third finally spotted us and ran off. What a great 30-minutes of pure adrenaline and excitement. By the end of day four, we had seen 19 different bears and had three unsuccessful stalks. Wow!
Day five starts off instantly with a nice 6-foot plus bear sitting on a hillside giving us a great show at 150-yards and great footage for the TV show. Thirty minutes down the road we come upon another true 7-footer. The rain was sprinkling down and the bear was working his way up an old, overgrown logging road, eating grass. He was meandering in and out of the tree line and was heading right towards us. Billy leaned up against a tree as the big bear stepped out of the woods at 45-yards, oblivious to our presence. Billy squeezed the trigger, only to realize his safety was on. The bear was close enough to see the movement and that was all he needed to hurry away. After seeing four more bears, we came into a lush green meadow to find a beautiful chocolate bear eating on grasses with another black bear. Billy is able to make a great shot and harvest his second bear in five days. One beautiful black and one very pretty chocolate.
Billy headed home to California with two great bears and now it was my turn to see if we can find me a nice bear. The day starts off with snow and 32-degree weather. As the morning breaks the snow stops and the rain starts. Deciding we have nothing to lose by going out, Stewart and I head out to try some new areas we have not been to yet. We find a few smaller bears wandering roads, a few nice boars out and about, but nothing too exciting that I need to try and harvest. I have been fortunate to shoot quite a few bears over the years, so I really only wanted to shoot something over 6’6”. Having only one day makes you feel like you need to just shoot something, but I do not hunt or feel that way. I enjoy every day in the field and have personal goals I try to achieve. I am a hunter, sportsman and steward of our sport, not a killer.
With time winding down on our last day and the rain lightly coming down, Stewart spots a good black bear about 500 yards down the road. Unfortunately, the bear also spotted us and took off running down the road. We park and Stewart says there is a possibility that the bear went around the corner and may just be eating on the road as we did not spook him that bad. We work our way down the road and just as Stewart stated, the bear is out on the road eating. I took my trusted Browning .26 Nosler, set my sights on the bears lungs, lightly squeezed the trigger and at 250 yards, made a double lung shot on a beautiful bear.
My bear had a beautiful white patch on his chest and ended up squaring 6’ 8”. In true Sportsman’s News fashion, I took it down to the last day, last hour and last few minutes to fill my tag. Itcha Mountain Outfitters (www.itchamtn.com) not only has an abundance of bears and big bears to harvest, they are operated by two truly great people in Stewart and Sabrina Fraser. I had an absolute great time, harvested a great bear and will definitely answer my phone the next time Mike Deming calls to ask what I am doing the first week of June.