Trophy black bear hunters realize that Thunder Bay district of North-western Ontario is a prime region for big black bears. If you need convincing, take a browse through any big-game record book and you will see many top animals harvested in this region of Canada.
Just ask the Begin family about big Thunder Bay bruins! Reg Begin Sr. and Reg Jr. are what you might refer to as “hunting fanatics,” but in the bear world these guys know their stuff. With many record book bears to their credit and hundreds of hours filming black bear behaviour, the Begin’s are somewhat of a legend in this part of the country.
The Begin boys share a special love and commitment to trophy black bear hunting that is unrivalled, an enthusiasm clearly evident when they recall their many bear hunting adventures. Past experience has shown that trophy size bears show their faces more during the mating season, so the Begin’s followed suit by focusing on the tail-end of the spring bear hunt. Even though they the establish bait-sites in April, they do not actually start hunting until the month of June. From that point on, they hunt full out until the season’s end.
“Hot” Stand Location
The spring of 1998 began no differently than the rest for this father and son duo. Reg Sr. had his ritual of gathering donuts from the local donut shops, and he was replenishing bait sites every two days, without fail. Reg Jr. was also primed for a potential shot at another record book blackie. This year, there was one particular stand that the Begin’s focused their attention on, which just happened to be in the same area that Reg Jr. had taken a huge bear in 1995. That monster scored an awesome 21-1/16 inches P&Y, and weighed 440 pounds dressed!
Since this stand location had already proven to be successful for the boys, they used it heavily in the ’98 season. All their bear stands are constructed in a “two-tiered” fashion, which offers ‘over the shoulder’ video perspective for the cameraman. The Begins were serious about filming their bear hunts. “If we don’t have the video camera on hand, we don’t go hunting, that’s all there is to it!” says Reg Sr.
The first few days of the season were active on stand for the Begin’s. On one particular day, they had six different bears visit their bait, including a beautiful 350-pound class bruin that would make most bear hunter’s eyes pop out, but they opted to pass. “When you’re looking for a 500-pounder, you pass up the smaller ones,” says Reg Jr. modestly
Moment of Truth
On June 8, 1998, the duo prepared themselves for yet another evening perched high above the forest floor, and videotaping (& hunting) big Ontario black bears. Things were uncharacteristically quiet on that particular evening, until the men heard branches break 80 yards away.
“It must be a bear,” Reg Jr. thought to himself. But instead, he caught sight of a young bull moose in full velvet meandering his way towards the stand. It was a pleasant sight, as the young bull walked within 5 yards of their stand, stopping to poke his nose around as if posing for the camera.
The two men smiled and whispered back in forth about the young moose for a few moments. Suddenly Reg. Jr. heard another sound coming from the west. Glancing nonchalantly in the direction of the noise, he noticed the distinct outline of two bears heading their way. Reg Jr. began grunting , in an attempt to scare off the moose. Fortunately it worked, and the young bull made a hasty retreat back into the northern brush.
“Don’t shut off that camera, no matter what happens!” Reg instructed his father. He watched in disbelief as two enormous bears made their way towards them. The sow was in the lead while the boar followed, and the two behemoths eased their way ever closer to the stand. The big female was quite deliberate in her quest for the bait, and not seem overly concerned with the hunters. The gigantic boar, on the other hand, was more tentative and scent checked the entire area before moving closer. Luckily, the Begin’s were completely scent-free from head to toe, so there was no way of the bears knowing they were nearby.
Cautiously the giant beast (larger than any they had ever seen) followed the female in all the while sniffing and testing the air for foreign odour. The sow foraged at the bait site but the big boy would have no part of it. He was more concerned with her and surveying the situation, than eating. It was the one and only time of year that a male bear has other things on his mind than food.
The Begin’s watched, literally on the edge of their seats, as the largest bear they had ever laid eyes on moved closer. Standing a mere 10 yards from Begin Jr., and 7 yards downwind of the sow, Reg Jr. nervously removed his bow from the resting place and prepared himself for the moment of truth.
As the hunter anchored his bow for the shot of his life, a multitude of emotions rushed through him. Reg was confident in both his shooting ability and his equipment. He had only to keep his adrenaline in check; not an easy task when you’re just about to harvest one of the largest black bears to ever walk the earth.
The hunter caressed the trigger of his release, picking out the perfect spot for his arrow to go. Smack! The arrow was sent cleanly on its way, passing easily through the beast and out the other side. The enormous bruin bolted upon impact, stumbling into a ditch and then continuing into the nearby brush, no more than 40 yards from the stand. The monster bear soon expired within plain view of the camera and the stand.
“Son, you just shot yourself a world record bear!,” Reg Sr. yelled out! The two men were filled with excitement as they climbed down the stand. When Reg Jr. arrived at his awesome bear, he was flabbergasted! The bruin was so huge, he could hardly lift its enormous head. The men were elated with the taking of such a huge bear, and were excited to later replay the video footage of the entire hunt. After some still-photos were taken, the men returned to fetch a friend’s log skidder for hauling the massive northern bruin out of the bush.
The elated hunters had the presence of mind to extract the gigantic bear from the forest whole, so it could be weighed on certified scales. To their amazement, the huge bruin tipped the scales at just slightly under 700 pounds!
The Reg Begin bear proved to be the one of the heaviest black bears ever harvested in Canada. Official scorer Greg Peters tallied up the proportions after the required 60-day drying period, with a measurement of 21-3/16 inches P&Y. This put the Begin bear in third place in the Pope & Young record book for the province of Ontario.