By Gary Koehler
Although the evidence is little more than circumstantial, there appears to be merit to debating the true identification of the hunter and the hunted along Hudson Bay's rocky coast. Man is the minority in the northern Manitoba outback, being far outnumbered by various four-legged residents. Some of which are quite large. Take polar bears. Please.
Guide Terry Neepin, a native Canadian Cree, raises his binoculars for the umpteenth time on a sunny, late August afternoon. He is multitasking: glassing for both snow geese and the huge, dishwater blonde male polar bear that has been camped for four hours about 400 yards over his left shoulder. The bruin, which is built like a Buick, has found a soft patch of lush green grass to its liking and is currently parked, enjoying a nap.
“I like to know where he is at all times,” Neepin says. “If we lose track of him, we could be surprised on our way back to camp.”
Surprises are not necessarily a good thing in the Canadian bush. We are 145 air miles from the closest town. There are no roads in or out of here. Emergency help is a plane ride away. And a few years ago, before the Nanuk Lodge staff erected an 8-foot-tall wire fence around the camp to keep the polar bears on the outside looking in, there was what some refer to in hushed tones as what we will call the Kitchen Incident—which ranks among the ultimate of horrors in terms of uninvited guests.
As the story goes, camp owner Stewart Webber was drinking coffee with two of his clients late one evening in the lodge. The chit-chat was interrupted when the kitchen door suddenly exploded off its hinges and crashed to the floor. Webber instinctively reached for a rifle, took quick aim, snapped off a single shot, and stopped a rogue polar bear dead in its tracks. Manitoba resources officials were notified and airlifted the bear out of the camp by helicopter the next day.
“When we first came up here and took over the camp,” Webber says, “there were bears living in the kitchen.”