Essays

 

 Crunch Time, Michigan Snow Bear
An Article submitted by Mr. Todd Crowe, Gladstone, Micigan


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:
The bait site was being hit on a regular basis, and my feeling was that one bear was hitting the site and it was a large one at that. I based my feelings on the size of the scat, trails coming into the site, front paw size, and a grassy area that the bear would lay down in to relax following a hardy meal. I would leave the bait site pumped up like a kid at Christmas time and blab to my adoring wife and one year old son about my future success.
"Honey, if I get this big guy, we will make a life size mount out of him for all to see!"
"I think it would be neat to do the life size mount, but put it on a rocker for your son to ride on," came her reply.
"A what?" "You know, like a rocking horse, but this would be a rocking bear!" Covering my head with my hands, I simply replied, "Yeah right!"

The Hunt begins:
A friend offered to videotape the big event on Sept.15th for additional memories. He had done some baiting with me to place his scent in the area prior to Sept.15th.
Finally, the big day came. The weather was nice and we were set up, patiently waiting for the big bear. I was using a Remington 700 in .270 with Hornady 140 grain BTSP Light Magnumís and the shot would be 50 yards. Darkness came and no bear. "Oh well, we will try tomorrow night." Tomorrow night came, with the same results.
The baiting continued on schedule and the bear dined on great food. If nothing else, the big bear was putting on weight and getting bigger. I was hunting alone now and still no sight of the bear. I would hunt in the rain, wind, fog, and morning till dark without leaving the blind and still no sighting of the big bear. No other bears came to the bait either.
My friend loaned me a climbing tree stand and I used it, but still no luck. By October 12th I was getting very worried that my season would end without even getting to see the bear. I was convinced that the bear was only nocturnal and it was time to start doing more at my bait 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.

October 12th:
On Oct.12th I planned to hunt all day long. It had been raining and the fog was heavy in the early morning. I had a good feeling that something might happen today.
I checked the bait and sure enough it was cleaned out. I re-baited the site and doused the area with bacon and honey liquid scent. So up the tree I went to begin the dayís vigil.
The day got pretty cold and I wasnít dressed for the weather. I was getting tired, too. Later in the day I decided to come out of the tree for safety reasons. I moved back into the ground blind for the remainder of the dayís hunt.

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.
One method of hunting that I kept in the back of my mind was using bear dogs.I discussed using bear dogs with the property owner and permission was enthusiastically given. The property owners said that with their large amount of land and the large tracts of CFA lands surrounding their property, there wouldnít be a problem.

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Bear Dogs:
I had a friend in the U.P. Bear Houndsmen Association and he told me to contact Russell Card. Late on October 14th, I made telephone contact with Russell Card, a very active member of the U.P. Bear Houndsmen Association. We talked for a while about my situation and Russ was very interested in trying to help. Russ explained that he tried to hunt with two other U.P. Bear Houndsmen members and he would contact them about my request and call me back. Russ said big bears get him and his two hunting companions, Rick Stewart and Brad Peller, really excited.

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.
Russ asked, "Is the bear still hitting the bait?" I said yes. "Did you re-bait?" I said yes. "Great!" "If, it doesnít rain and that bear hits the bait tonight, heís stroked!"

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 three followed me to my hunting site. As we approached the site, I was really excited and I felt this was going to be the day I take my hard earned trophy. I had put in many, many hours for this bear and I was going to reap the reward.
I jumped out of the truck and ran to the bait site and I couldnít believe what I was seeing.

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.

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Their bait sites Oct. 18th
The hound hunters had three bait sites that they were tending. We split up and checked the sites and found that all three had been hit the previous evening. They decided to try and run the dogs off the bait site that a very big bear has been visiting. In fact, earlier in the bear-hunting season, they lost a dog-named "Scooter" to this particular bear. The dogs are let loose, the weather is nice with little wind and we all listen and wait.
A while later the dogs are indicating that they have something "treed". It takes a while, but we work our way to the site. We find the dogs at the base of a very large hollow Cedar tree. The houndsmen feel that the dogs have chased a raccoon or bobcat into the hollow part of the tree. With all the dogs located, we try another site without any luck. Since there was only one week left in the bear season, we again discuss my situation.

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:
I continued to hunt and tend the bait site, hoping for another chance at the bear.
I was watching the weather channel every chance I could, and the forecast couldnít have been worse. The weatherman was calling for cold, rain, snow and wind the last three days of the season. I was telling myself that I probably wouldnít get the bear this year, but it wasnít for a lack of trying, plus I had learned a lot in the process and thatís hunting.

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.
Houndsman Brad Peller called and left a message on my answering machine to call him. Pellerís message was that regardless of the weather conditions, he was running his dogs on the last two days of the season. "Todd, you may want to pray for some DIVINE INTERVENTION while youíre at it!" I called Brad back and told him that I was in and willing to go too. And Brad believe me, "Iíve been praying for DIVINE INTERVENTION all along."

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Thursday Oct. 25th
Weather: cold rain, wind and light snow. Further north, wind and heavier wet snow.
We meet at my bait site and find that the bear has hit. Brad releases the two dogs, Pete and Raskoal, and we wait for the chase. The dogs work hard for about one hour, but arenít able to pick up a hot trail. We load the dogs up and race north to Marquette County to try the other bait sites.

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.

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We arrive at the final site and let the dogs go. Again the dogs are onto something real quick. We follow the progress and the chase is coming near a road. Brad decides that he will work his way into the thick forest to see what the dogs may be chasing. Brad asked me to watch the road in case they cross and try to determine what they are chasing. Brad leaves and heads into the thick forest, while I wait by the road.

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.

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As we get closer to the chase, Brad asks me to shoot the bear in the head if possible. Brad said if I take a lung or shoulder shot, the bear will live long enough to kill a dog and he didnít want to see that. This bear will not tree and he will be ground fighting with the dogs. Once you shoot, the dogs will rush in, try not to hit a dog with your shot. Try to get a head or neck shot and end it quickly. I told Brad I understand and would take a head shot.

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":
"OK Brad, now that we have taken this big guy, how are we going to get him out of this super thick swamp?" There is no way we can use a 4 wheeler or Argo in this thick stuff. "Iím really lost, do you know where we are at?"

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.

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Later on, Brad returns with three adult men and two teenage boys to help drag the bear out. We all work up a great sweat as we slowly carry the bear out of the dense forest. Almost two hours later, we get the bear to the edge of the forest and a deer hunter uses a 4 wheeler to drag the bear up a hill and across an open field to our pickups.

Snow Bear:
The bear was weighed the next morning at a local butcher shop. The scale showed the dressed bear weight at 461 pounds. I made contact with a noted Michigan Black Bear author Richard P.Smith. Mr. Smith advised that to get an approximate live weight, multiple 461 x 1.5. This would mean that the bear might have weighed up to 530 pounds live.

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."

Conclusion:

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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