In all the years I went to Georgian Bay one of the things I always enjoyed the most were the black bear stories & one of the things I feared the most were the big Georgian Bay Island Dwelling black bears & especially when I went alone.
I have camped out in the wilderness all over Canada & usually in a tent.
When you go alone you try not to think about Mr. black bear showing up in your campsite because if he does there is not much you can do anyway.
No guns allowed & no bear mace allowed so you are basically in a bad situation.
Black bears in Georgian Bay swim long distances so camping on any island does not guarantee that one will not visit you in the middle of the night.
There are bears out on The Bustard Islands & I have seen them on Dead Island.
A black bear can swim many miles to get to islands in Georgian Bay & they like to do this at night.
When they have a bad berry season the bears will go into campsites for dinner & they also will go in large groups.
During normal berry seasons they are mostly loners & very seldom raid camps, cottages or lodges.
They will break into cars, rob boats, refrigerators in cabins & become a real danger when starving.
One year a woman had just been killed in Ontario by a black bear training for the olympics & we heard it on the radio over & over again on the way up.
Then you start thinking about all the stories about people mauled or killed by black bears which really is not that many over a period of many years.
I even bought a book that listed every bear attack ever recorded in The US & Canada.
I probably would have been better off not reading it.
You probably have a better chance of getting killed on the highway on the way up.
None the less it still bothers you & you do think about it & what you would do if the time came that you found yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong bear that was hell-bent on killing you & eating you for dinner.
It does happen & has happened in Ontario, Canada.
I have seen many bears from a distance over the years & have faced them eye to eye in my campsite.
I camped with 2,200 black bears at Lake Missinaibi way up north.
Missinaibi is the largest game preserve in North America & hunting has been banned since the 1920′s.
I could write a book about that as we had one bear encounter after another for 10 straight days & nights.
The bears actually lived in the primitive campground with us & that is the only place in North America you can do that.
I also know some campers were killed exactly where we had camped before them.
We arrived in the middle of the night & they had a plywood sign shaped like a black bear that said: ”Ask Us About The Bears Before You Set-Up Camp.”
That gave me a strange feeling deep in my gut.
We camped right next to a group of campers thinking we would be safer there & no sooner got into our tents & a big black bear tore & ripped a camper top off one of their pickup trucks right behind my 15 year old son’s tent.
That was the beginning of bear hell week.
They would sniff right up to you when cooking & then go through your tents & then jump up on your table & throw everything all over the place & you could not get into the cab of your pickup truck because you had to keep all your food there to keep the bears from getting it.
The rangers would set out baited spring door trailer traps & catch them & move them off to another area after they started raiding campsites.
When we took our trash to the dump they would come running up to our truck so we had to toss the trash bags quick & take off.
One huge bear claimed the fish cleaning house & he would sit in the bush right behind it & wait for fishermen to finish cleaning their fish & then jump through the windows & get the remains after they left. If any other bear came near it he would attack them & try to kill them & there were plenty of bear fights heard that week.
On our last night my son took our trash bags to put in a concrete trash house designed to keep bears out of your garbage & when he pulled the steel door down to put the trash bags in a huge 500 pound black bear reached out & grabbed it out of his hands. How he ever got inside that thing is beyond me & the rangers simply could not believe it. Bears tore up seventeen new tents they had purchased for college kids who came up to work clearing brush & dead tree limbs off paths & roads.
The ranger would always borrow my truck because he said the bears recognized the sound of his truck & would take off when they heard him coming to investigate.
That was an exciting week to say the least. Huge moose would walk right by our campsite & all kinds of animals & birds including grouse would come by & visit us when it was time to eat.
The squirrels , chipmunks & birds would sit right on your lap & hope you would drop some tidbits for them to eat.
Now that the spring bear hunt is no longer open I have heard the area we camp in is crawling with big black bears.
I say that because Georgian Bay Black Bears get really big as the islands are full of berries.
I have seen many 350 to 600 pound black bears where I camp & I have seen many mother bears with three cubs rather than just two or one.
When I get in my tent at night I am usually really tired after fishing or canoeing all day so falling asleep is not all that hard to do.
Not in the wilderness.
We would always ask about the bears when we arrived at Camp Dore or Key Marina & sometimes they would have a bear encounter story to tell us.
One year we camped out on The French River at Dallas Rapids & the lodge owner said you are not camping on the rapids are you?
He said there was a real big mean one over there that had been tearing up his boats & cabins at night.
We saw coolers up in trees the bear had stashed there.
Needless to say sleeping that night was difficult.
We put a white gas lantern out in front of the tent & let it burn all night long.
The bear never did show up but we worried about that all week.
The lodge owner had hunters shoot 10 bears on his dump that week just to get rid of some of them.
When fishermen went to their cottage the bears would raid their boats & eat their worms & minnows.
Very sneaky even in broad daylight.
The last encounter I had experienced was momma bear & three cubs 50 feet from me in my campsite when I got out of my tent at 7 A.M.
Lucky for me they headed down the shoreline away from my campsite or I would have been in a really bad situation as she was at least 350 pounds & very healthy & her cubs were also healthy & large.
She had absolute control over her cubs & it was a delight watching them.
I was camping alone & picked this spot because I did not think there would be any bears there.
I walked all over this area during the week & had no idea a mother with cubs was in the area.
I could have come face to face with her doing that & had no weapons of any type.
Needless to say I packed up & left after she & her cubs moved off to another area.
That was a great experience I will never forget but I would not want to go through it again.
Georgian Bay Bears are often hard to spot because they book it when they hear boat motors in their areas.
You would not believe how fast they run over the rocky terrain.
There is no way anyone could ever get away from one by running.
When I spot one on the shore ahead I always kill my motor & sit & watch them from a distance.
One year as I was going to the bathroom behind & way above our old Thomas Rock campsite & looked up & there on top of the huge rock above me stood a shaggy long haired all light brown bear that could have passed itself off as a grizzly to someone who did not know better.
I froze & just stared him in the eyes as I was simply in shock never having come face to face with a bear that big before.
He was at least 500 to 600 pounds.
He stared back at me for a while & shrugged & simply moved off into the bush & out of my sight.
When we arrived at the road that year we were told a man & his wife were camping at Thomas Rock & went for a swim & this huge brown shaggy looking bear jumped in the water & swam to them & started sniffing them in the water & then just swam away & left them alone.
They were so scared they packed up & left the Georgian Bay & vowed to never ever go camping there again.
The bear that looked me in the eye had no fear of man whatsoever & looked exactly like the bear they had described.
The same one for sure.
When I told my friends below they accused me of lying & making it up even though I was scared to death & shaking like a leaf.
To get even with them I took a pike that had died earlier in the day & hung it in the tree limb that went right over the top of their tent with the hope the big bear would come back after dark to get it & hopefully knock their tent down in the process to teach them a lesson.
When we got up in the morning the pike was gone.
He somehow got it without waking anyone up or knocking their tent down.
Many times other fishermen would tell us they had seen a huge black bear right behind our campsite at Thomas Rock & that did not help us to get much sleep on those occassions.
The bears in Georgian Bay are very quite when slowly moving around the islands & they are very easy to run into unexpectedly.
A few years back I pulled my boat up to a small island near the walleye spawning grounds.
I got out of my boat & started to walk to the top of the island & when I arrived there found myself face to face with a bear cub.
Fear gripped me instantly as my first thought was momma bear.
I turned & ran towards my boat & the cub turned & ran towards the water & jumped in & swam directly to the mainland.
We followed the cub in our boat & after he shook the water off he stood up on the rocks & posed like a proud grizzly bear looking down over us.
He was very thin & we could tell he was probably starving because he had been abandoned by his mother.
We threw him a couple of polish sausages & he gulped them down.
They had a bad berry season that year & all the bears were thin & short of food & when that happens it is common for mothers to abandon cubs to survive herself which is nature’s way.
I hope that cub made it.
He had a personality like no other bear I had ever seen up there.
I have a good picture of him somewhere & hope to post it soon.
Getting to see a bear in the wild is quite an experience & one that is never forgotten.
From our Thomas Rock campsite we saw many bears over the years but vaery rarely up close & personal.
This particular area always seems to have a few around somewhere & they always seem to be on the large & healthy size.
When you go looking for them you can never find or locate them so they always seem to just show up when you least expect it.
Always be prepared to encounter one in this area at any time irregardless of whether you have seen them or their signs or not.
Personally I do not feel they are a threat to humans in this area because I have camped there for years & never taken any special precautions like hanging food in trees & all that & have never had the first thing bothered by the bears.
Raccoons yes, bears no.
But like anything else there is always a first time for everything & I am keenly aware of that.
I am also aware that bears have raided & destroyed campsites & tents in this area before when they have a bad berry season.
Bear Attacks In North America proving that although rare it can & does happen which makes camping in the wilderness a little more demanding & exciting.