Crunch Time, Michigan Snow Bear
I had been applying for a Michigan Black Bear tag for 4 years without success. A friend of mine told me if I was able to obtain a permit, I could hunt on his private land. He advised that he had a large bear on the property that was getting very bold and he would like it removed ASAP. With permission to hunt on a large tract of private land, I anxiously waited for a permit. Finally, on my 5th attempt my name was picked and my permit obtained. We built a ground blind for the pending hunt and I started to bait the site on August 10th. My hunting season ran from September 15th- October 26th. Little did I know it at the time, but it would take until the last day of the season to take a bear at a different location.
Private land site:
In the summer of 1999 I met Brad Hering of "Bearscents, Inc." at an outdoor show in Michigan. Brad has been hunting big bears for years and his knowledge about black bears was vast. I had a fall 1999 bear hunt booked in Ontario, Canada and Brad gave me a small bottle of his liquid bacon to try out. (Visit www.bearscents.com for more information about a great product.) As this particular Canadian hunt was ending without a bear, I emptied the bacon scent around the bait and a nice bear showed up, but it came in behind the barrel. The Canadian bear never gave this Yankee a decent shot from my ground blind and I went home empty handed, but still very grateful for the hunting experience. I decided that for the Michigan bear I needed some more help from "Bearscents, Inc.," and off to the local sporting goods store went I. My goal was to get the bear to come in earlier during legal shooting hours. I purchased a bottle of "Honey" and two bottles of "Bacon" liquid scent for the nocturnal bear.
Just at the end of legal shooting time, the big bear walked out and across the bait site without even stopping. The shot would have been rushed, so I waited for the bearís return. I was positioned and ready to shoot in case the bear came back, but he didnít return. Even though I wasnít able to take a shot in such a short amount of time, I was really happy to now be able to say that I saw the bear and he was big. I quietly left the blind and rushed home to tell numerous people. I felt that the bear would weigh about 400 lbs. I was very convinced that the "Bearscents" products brought the bear out earlier.
I hunted the next two days without any luck and my hopes were dwindling fast. I had put countless hours into tending the bait site and hunting without taking the bear that I so much wanted.
I went out to hunt on October 17th, and when I returned home my wife said to call Russ. Russ told my wife that he had a bear hunter cancel out hunting on the 18th and if I wanted to still try for my bear, his group was willing to go. I immediately telephoned Russ and assured him that I wanted to try with dogs.
I could hardly sleep that night. The next morning, Oct. 18th, I met Russ, Rick and Brad at a designated location for the first time. I was impressed with the equipment that they had invested in for their sport and the amount of care that goes into the dogs.
The three explained that being in the woods and running the dogs were what they loved doing and they take lots of people out bear hunting. They explained that many hunts they donít even take a bear after the chase. Combined, Russ, Rick and Brad had years of hunting bears with hounds and I would gain a lot of knowledge from the three.
Off to my bait site Oct.18th
The bear hadnít hit the bait site! I was upset and felt downright silly. The bear had been real regular at the site and now he doesnít hit! I was beginning to feel that this bear was reading my mind and knew my game plans. Had I talked out loud while waiting for the bear, and he heard about my plans for him? The three bear dog hunters checked the site over and reported that they felt this was a nice size bear too. Since the bear didnít hit my bait site, they offered to try their bait sites further north, in Marquette County. "Ok, Iím more than willing", and we race off to the north.
I told them that I had taken the following week off work to pursue the bear. They advised that they were able to hunt the last two days of the season, and we would all pray for good weather.
I would continue to hunt my site from a tree stand or ground blind and keep them informed about the site. Our plan was to check my bait site on the last two mornings of the season and see if we could get a hot trail going with the dogs and if not, return to their bait sites and try and get something going.
Last week of season:
Two of the houndís man werenít able to hunt the last two days of the season, due to work commitments. I thanked them for their help and appreciated their efforts.
We find a light layer of fresh snow when we arrive at the Marquette County bait sites. We find that all three sites have been hit. Brad decides to run the dogs off of Bait Number 3. A short while later, the dogs are chasing something. The chase goes on for a while and we finally catch up to the dogs. It is evident that the dogs had been chasing a bear. Brad feels itís a 250 lb. bear. Unfortunately, we donít get a chance to see the bear and itís getting late in the day. We decide to re-bait the three sites and return tomorrow for the final day of the season.
"Crunch Time", Michigan Snow Bear, Friday, October 26th, 2001
Weather: Cold, wind, snow and getting worse
We meet early the next morning for the grand finale of the 2001 Michigan Black bear season. The bait sites are spread out and it takes awhile to check them all. Two of the three sites were hit overnight. Since the bait that had produced a bear yesterday had again been hit, we decided to try that site first.
The dogs, Pete and Raskoal, are let loose and they seem to be onto something pretty quick. We follow the progress on foot and by vehicle and discover the dogs jumped a coyote. We follow the tracks etc., and we locate the dogs, gather them up and decide to try the final bait site.
While we are traveling to the final bait site, the snow gets heavier, the winds pick up and Brad looks at me and said, " NOW would be a real good time to pray for DIVINE INTERVENTION!"
I told Brad, "donít worry Iíve been asking for DIVINE help all along."
The cell phone rings and it is Russ Card. Brad updates Russ about the coyote and tells Russ we are headed to the last bait site; "if this doesnít work out, we are calling it a season." Russ didnít hold out much hope for us. Where Russ was driving truck, the snow and wind was really increasing.
About 30 minutes later, I see Brad exit the forest and come running up the road as fast as he can. As Brad reaches me, he shouts, "I just had a face to face with the biggest bear Iíve ever seen and the dogs are after him!" I said, "you..you are kidding arenít you?"
"No, Iím not!" "I feel terrible because if you would have been with me, we could have taken this big bear." "Heís at least 400 lbs., and he looked at me and took off." Brad said this was the big bear that had killed "Scooter" earlier this season and he was worried.
I asked Brad if he wanted to release more dogs after the bear? Brad said he didnít think so. He said his two best dogs, Pete and Raskoal, would stay with the bear and not put any additional pressure on the bear. This bear wasnít going to tree, but if pressured too much, it might ground fight. We would be able to follow and eventually catch up to the chase and harvest the big bear. We notice that the time is 11:10 AM and we take off to follow the chase.
The big bear continues to take the dogs deeper and deeper into the thick swampy forest. Approximately, at 12:30 PM we attempt to catch up to the chase on foot. Hearing the chase has become very difficult, due to the increasing wind and snow. We head through the forest as fast as we can. The chase is moving faster than we can keep up so we decide to head back and relocate the dogs. We continue to do this throughout the afternoon without any luck. Brad has determined that the chase is in the deepest part of the forest and we have to somehow catch up and end it. Our visibility is about 25 yards as we run through the wet, slick forest. Iím thankful that I have my large rain jacket on to help keep my upper body half dry from the wet heavy snow because my lower half is soaked through.
As the hours tick by, Brad is concerned that the longer the chase goes on, the greater the chance of losing the bear, or a dog getting killed. We make numerous attempts to catch up to the chase without success.
At approximately 2:00 PM we hear the faint barking of the dogs and decide that we must catch up to the chase, so into the big thick forest and swamp we go. We are being beat up by the blow downs, trees, shrubs and dead falls as we run. We follow the faint baying of the dogs through heavy wet snow and wind. Iím thinking about the dogs and wondering how to tell this story, if we never get the bear. People will just wonder, ho-hum, the big one that got away.
Itís about 3:15 PM when we make the final approach. We can hear the bear hissing at the dogs. I canít believe how close we are to the bear. Heís only 8 yards away, facing us and backed against a cedar tree. He is growling and hissing and I can see his large body mass.
I quickly aim my 870 12 guage and fire. The shot hits the bear just above the left eye. The bear goes down and doesnít move. We watch for a few minutes and I give Brad a hug. "We did it Brad, we really got the big one". "Great job, Pete and Raskoal!"
Brad takes a closer look at the bear and shouts, "This is the biggest bear Iíve ever taken." We admire the bear and cannot believe the good fortune we had in getting such a nice bear. "Man, last day of the season, terrible weather, long chase, last chase and we really get the big one." As we stand in the falling snow admiring the bear, I tell Brad, "Iím going to call the bear, "Crunch Time, Michigan Snow Bear, 2001." " Brad, after deer season, we are going out for a great dinner at the Stonehouse in Escanaba."
"Sounds good to me replies Brad!"
Time to reflect and the "DRAG":
Hummm.. "Todd, you stay with the bear and the dogs." " Iíll work my way out and try and find my pickup." "Once I do that, Iíll try and call for lots of help to drag this bear out of the swamp."
" Ok, Iíll be waiting." Brad leaves and I start to figure that itís going to be a long time before I see anyone. It took one hour to reach the bear after we left the truck and Brad has to work his way out, locate the truck and get lots of help.
While Brad is gone, I have a lot of time to sit with the bear and reflect about our hard earned trophy. As the snow falls, I admire the bearís rich black hide and consider the black bear as the ultimate Michigan hunting experience, a true symbol of the Michigan forest. I silently thank Brad and fellow members of the U.P. Bear Houndsmen Association for their eagerness to assist me in my bear hunting.
I then transported the beautiful trophy to my taxidermist, Hugh Leslie, in Skandia, Michigan. "Check out whatís in the back of my truck."
"WOW", thatís a real nice bear. "What are your intentions with this big guy?"
"Letís do a life size mount, Hugh". "Good choice, it is a thrill to work on such nice bears."
The bearís hide squares an honest 7í.The skull is slightly damaged from the shot, but should make 21". The teeth show a fair amount of wear and some of the bottom teeth are rotted. I canít wait to get the bear aged; maybe he was the "Old Man of the Michigan North Woods."
I return home and thank my wife for her patience and understanding during the long season. "That is a really nice bear and Iím glad you were able to get it". "Are you doing a rocking bear mount for your son?" "It would make for a great toy and his friends would love it!"
"Honey youíre sick, but I agree with you, and if my memory serves me correctly, thatís exactly what I told the taxidermist". "Make a Rocking Bear mount for my son and wife!"
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