|Bears in Northern Wisconsin|
The gun culture permeated the part of Wisconsin where I grew up. In that area and time, we did not think of it as a separate culture. The gun culture and the culture were one and the same. Guns and hunting were simply integral parts of everyday life. If a boy was not a hunter, he aspired to be one. There was considerable game, ruffed grouse, woodcock, rabbits, squirrel, ducks, geese, deer, mink, muskrats, raccoon, fox and ...bear. There were not very many bear. In my first 18 years, with nearly a decade spent wandering the woods, and a good portion of that time spent hunting, trapping, canoeing, fishing, mountain biking (we did not know that riding 3-speed bikes around logging roads was mountain biking back then) and berry picking, I recall seeing one or two bear other than those encountered at the county dump/landfill. Those dumps have since changed enormously, and bears no longer congregate there...
Because of a confluence of several reasons, black bears have become common in Northern Wisconsin. I have seen as many as 10 in a two week visit. Bear hunting is by permit, but otherwise is far more liberal than it was 5 decades ago, when I was a boy. The picture above is from a game camera, taken the first of September. The near bear is a big sow, probably in the 300 to 400 lb range. The other two bear are nearly adult "cubs". A third grown "cub" is outside the frame.
My brother and his son both managed to obtain permits this year. It now takes about 7-8 years to obtain a permit, which are drawn as a lottery. Previous, unsuccessful entries increase your chances of a draw. Part of Wisconsin's success with their bear hunts has been because they allow both dog and bait hunting for bears. They alternate years to allow both types of hunting a good chance at bears. This year was a "bait" year, where dog hunting was not allowed during the first week of the season. Next year will be a "dog" year where bait hunting will not be allowed the first week. Both methods can be very exciting, and success is far from assured. In Wisconsin the success rate has been about 50%.
On this year's hunt, my brother had been contacted by a friend who runs a pack of bear dogs. Capable hunters who have a bear permit may be sought after by dog hunters, to allow the pack owners to participate in the season that they have been preparing for all year. As you may guess, maintaining a pack of hunting dogs is a moderately expensive and time consuming hobby, perhaps as much as automobile racing, sky diving, flying your own airplane, or downhill skiing. On the first day, the hunters were up at 5 a.m. No bears were treed or held at bay.
The next morning, the dogs found a hot scent at one of the baits. The tracks looked big. The dogs gave chase. The bear had immediately crossed the Namekagon river, where I grew up. Bridges were a half mile north and south. The hunters were able to make a crossing, and find logging roads to approach within a quarter mile of the ruckus the dogs were making. My brother and his son carefully approached the location of the baying dogs, with the pack owner close behind. The bear was treed in a large white pine.
On seeing it, my brother immediately knew that it was a bear worth shooting. He advised his son to shoot it in the head, to limit the damage that it might do to the dogs when it fell out of the tree. The rifle that my nephew was carrying was a customized Springfield '03-A3, crafted by my brother into a "scout rifle" configuration. It has an 18 inch barrel and a long eye relief Leuopold scope. It was charged with 220 grain roundnose handloads at 2300 feet per second.
Military issue '03-A3 Springfields are hard to come by now, because so many have been sporterized. I remember when they were for sale in barrels, at $29.95, your choice, cash and carry. This rifle had been one of those.
My nephew took the shot from about 30 feet from the tree. He is an excellent shot. The bear collapsed and dropped bonelessly out of the tree. My brother glanced to the owner of the dog pack, as the owner looked at him. They simultaneously said "dead bear" before the bear hit the ground.
Then my brother started toward the bear. As he closed to within 20 feet, the bear jumped up and ran off!
My nephew could not shoot because of the position of my brother. Three shots from a .44 magnum were fired at the escaping, wounded bear. It is uncertain if any of the rounds connected.
There was a good blood trail, and the dogs were set back on the track. A quarter of a mile away from the first tree, the bear was held at bay in the middle of an ash swamp. Visibility was extremely limited. My brother and my nephew waded through as much as two feet of water and muck, for a hundred yards, attempting to approach the bear without causing it to run again. The dogs made a continual racket. Finally, they saw the bear from 30 feet away. It was backed up against the upended root system of a downed tree.
It must have seen them at about the same time, for it broke from the dogs. My nephew knocked it down with a snap shot from the scout rifle. It started to get up as a pistol shot delivered the coup de grace to the brain, from two feet away.
|The silver item protruding from the mouth is a metal tag required by Wisconsin law|
Bear season seldom has the snow that makes tracking and dragging deer so much easier in Northern Wisconsin, because the bear tend to be denned at that point. Three hunters helped drag this bear out of the swamp. If you have ever tried to drag a very large, unconscious man, through water and muck, the task is similar.
The bear dressed out at 295 pounds, likely over 350 pounds live weight, a large black bear sow.
The next day the hunters were out again, but did not see a single bear.
People often ask me if the bears are eaten. Most definitely, they are. My brother says that bears 250 pounds or under make better eating. Bears under 100 pounds are considered cubs, and are protected. I have had bear, generally prepared as a roast. To me it tasted much like roast beef. I prefer bear to venison, and I like venison.
My nephew is at the beginning of his career. My brother has retired. He will be hunting on his own this week. He has already shot several bear in his life, but another good sized bear has been hitting one of his baits.
©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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