The Black Shadows of Clearwater River 
By: Dr. Ken Albinder, Virginia Beach, Virginia
The following article appeared in National Bowhunter Magazine: Let’s Go Bowhunting Issue 2004
Steve Hearne on left, Ken Albinder on right

Our group of bowhunters, Chip Taylor from Alabama, Steve Hearne, Greg Koontz, Win Brown and Ken Albinder from Virginia booked a bear hunt through Mark Buehrer of Bowhunting Safaris with McKenzie Brothers Outfitting of Alberta, Canada. We decided the third week of May 2004 would be the ideal time for the weather is warming up, the bugs start becoming active (not good for the hunters but the bears seem to like it) and the grasses are starting to green up.We flew into Ft. McMurray from Edmonton, Canada where Bruce McKenzie picked us up and ferried us up the Clearwater River for a one-and-a-half -hour ride to our hunting lodge and cabins for the week. This was a real classy setup with a main lodge where we had fabulous meals and log cabins with bunk beds. Shower facilities in another cabin with a washer and drier was another added perk.

After settling in and getting our gear ready we decided to loosen our muscles up and practice on a couple of 3-D bear targets. The routine for the days were as follows: Great breakfast at 9 a.m. by our Australian cook Leanne, horseshoe playing, stump shooting and reading until 3pm when our main supper was served. Left camp by boat at 5 pm and the group would hunt the north and south side of the river. Most of the stands were 100 – 200 yards off the river. The stands were ladder or lock-on stands ten feet high. The baits which consisted of cookies, meat scraps or fresh beaver were around 15-20 yards out from the stands.

The first night out was a Saturday and I was taken to a nice looking stand called Echo. The first hour on the stand I was a little nervous for this was my first bear hunt and I did not know what to expect. I settled down after reading a book and constantly glancing around for bear. After five and a half hours all I saw the first evening were squirrels and birds eating the cookies. Steve Hearne had the excitement for the first evening on the Graveyard stand. He arrowed a nice sow and had to finish the bear with a center shot when the bear climbed into a tree. The rest of the crew saw some bear but no shots were taken.

The second day Cliff, my guide, took Albinder on a long boat ride to a stand called McBride. This was a strategic looking stand situated within stands of poplar trees. Many game trails were funneling into the bait area. This particular stand was used only twice this season and the guides were predicting that I would see bears that evening. That prediction came true as the black shadow appeared 25 yards from a trail in back of my stand. My nerves registered a 7.5 on the Richter scale as I watched the bear make its way towards the bait. The boar was a bit spooky, moving in then turning back, looking, sniffing and being very cautious. I cam to full draw but the bear heard me draw back and spooked. I held at full draw and the boar gave me another opportunity. I released my arrow and thought I made a perfect hit. The long hairs on a bear can fool you and I believe I shot too low. What a disappointment, but quite and adrenaline rush.

Greg had action the same evening with a hit on a nice boar. Was he ever excited!!
Monday, Cliff decided to take me back to the Echo stand. He said that the beaver bait was hit pretty hard the prior night. He dragged a beaver bait along the trail as we approached the stand. He tied it up the tree and wished me luck. The time was noted be 5:30 p.m. I hung up my bow with an arrow knocked and began reading my book. After ten minutes I scanned the area and was reading my book. After ten minutes I scanned the area and was quite surprised that a black shadow was heading towards the bait without making a sound that was audible to the human ear. I believe the beaver bait acted as a drag rag similar to deer hunting tactics. Quickly I took off my glasses, put the book down and grabbed my bow. The boar was now 15 yards away and becoming a little wary. Just as he was about to head back from the same direction from where he came from I released my arrow and watched a complete pass through. I knew I made a fatal hit as the boar ran off. I called Cliff on the 2-way radio and he could not believe that I had shot a bear that quickly. He came back by boat and helped me track the bear which ran only 50 yards. My first bear hunt and my first boar bear. The boar missed Pope and young by one inch.

The next evening Bob, one of the head guides, escorted me to the Hamburger Hill stand on the North side of the river. The stand was a comfortable ladder stand with a swivel seat. There was no activity on the stand until 10 p.m. A dark shadow appeared off to my right up the hill. The bear came into the bait and grabbed a scrap of meat and took off. The bear looked a little on the small side because he just made the height to the second ring of the 55 gallon barrel, a gauge used to size the bears. Another bear was circling the bait and I started to get prepared for another shot. This boar came in from my left and passed just below my stand as he was heading towards the bait. His back end was facing me so I had to wait for quite awhile before I got a good quartering away shot. I centered my green fiber optic pin behind the shoulder, taking into consideration of going bit back to allow for the angle. I got another complete pass through and the boar ran only 40 yards before he expired. That was the end of my bear hunting for a week.

I shall forever remember the thrills that the black shadows of the Clearwater River provided me. Our group harvested five bears for the week.