Sep 10, 2018

Bear Bounty

Troubles from one frozen pipe lead to bear hunting friends for life

By Matt Gailloretto

This story starts around the fall of 2001 when I applied for a Wisconsin black bear tag for the first time. For the next five years, I sent my applications in like clockwork. And in 2006 when I applied, I checked the box for harvest tag as opposed to preference points.

Up to this point I had no idea what the ramifications of my choice would be until I received my kill tag in the mail.


Getting some experience 

It was New Year’s Eve 2006 and my wife and I drove up to Mountain in Oconto County to bring in the new year with our friends who have a cabin we helped build. When we arrived, we were greeted with frozen pipes in the cabin.

Our friend, Mark, the owner of the cabin called up, Brian, the local plumber to help with our situation. In no time at all Brian had everything back in order. As he was finishing, I explained to him that I received a black bear kill tag for unit C and have no clue how to proceed as far as who, what, where, and how to go about taking on this new adventure. Brian told me he knew of two brothers who would love to help me get a bear.

Two weeks later on my next trip up to Mountain, Mark and I planned to meet Brian and the first of the two brothers for breakfast and an introduction. Right off the bat I had a thousand questions for Shannon, and I bet he thought, “what did I get myself into?” Shortly after that breakfast, Shannon passed me off to his brother, Sean, who must have had second thought about this guy who rattles off questions like machine gun fire.

Sean and I soon hit it off well and we made plans to start baiting. I was up north every chance I could get to participate. This was such an exciting time for me. I kept saying to myself, “this is like nothing I have ever done before.”

Day one of the 2007 Wisconsin bear hunt season was a success for me, with me taking the first black bear of anybody. The bear was about 200 pounds. I knew right then I was hooked – a lot of celebrating took place that night. My wife and I took the first week of the hunting season off from work, and the rest of the week she planned to soak up the sun and read some books. With my tag filled already, that put her plans into a tailspin.

Fast forward three years to the 2010 season and I found myself with another tag. This time I would hunt with Mark’s son, Patrick. But for both of us the season had come and gone without any bear tag filled.


The veteran hunt

When the 2017 bear tags were issued, I was successful obtaining a tag, as did my friends, Ken, Mark and his son, Patrick. We have all made good friends over the years with our bear hunting teachers – who my wife refers to as the Irish Bear Hunters.

We’ve spent many hours discussing what weapon we were going to use, where we wanted to sit, and how much bait we were going to gather for the hunt. Myself and one other planned to venture out with bow in hand, but as the season grew closer, my father's health was failing – and on one of my many visits to check in on him – he came out of this bedroom with his 44-caliber Henry rifle.

"Here you are - the only one crazy enough to go bear hunting. I think you should have this," my father said and handed me the rifle. It has always been one of my favorite guns in his safe. As he passed the gun into my hands, I hugged him and told him I’d be using this to kill my bear this coming year. My dad never had the opportunity to see how the upcoming season would pan out ... he passed away in March 2017.

As time grew closer to opening day, I packed and repacked my stuff at least three times. On Sept. 3 I headed up to bear camp with a camper full of everything to keep me alive for two years and then some. This was going to be a great season. Opening day was on Wednesday, and I was told I would be hunting the stand called “Bumpy,” a drastic understatement in reference to the road one has to take to reach the stand.

Like every hunter in the woods, the anticipation of a bear stepping and putting a good hit on them is as high as the way the mosquitos feel about getting passed my face netting. Opening day passed without any bear action. Thursday started the same as the day before with Mark and Ken getting to camp for the evening hunt.

I set out with Ken to navigate Bumpy road and planned to sit all afternoon. Shortly before the season ended, I stood up in my blind and was startled to see a bear 20 yards away looking at me through the brush. That evening ended with one round spent form my Henry rifle, with not as much as a haircut from the bear’s hide. As it goes in the woods, no shot goes unheard, and soon after my phone vibrated with a two-word text: “Get him!”

As I walk out of the woods that night, I knew this spot was my best chance to fill my tag, so I decided to ride out the rest of the season here. Friday was my birthday and everybody was telling me it would be my lucky day – but there was nothing on Friday’s hunt as well.

At this point I knew I had one evening remaining to sit, and then it would be time to pack up and head home. I received a text message from my oldest son, Tyler, who was on a hunting trip in Canada and arrowed a 350-pound bear with a large, white patch on its chest. It was the best birthday present I could have received.


Final opportunities

On Saturday bear camp was in full swing by noon, and some of us were taking last minute shots with bows and guns. We planned to head out at 2 p.m. for the afternoon sit. I was so sure I was going to be counting the number of mosquitoes I could add to my kill tally that there was barely any excitement for a bear harvest.

Just before we headed out, Sean pulled me to the side and said, "Don't give up on bumpy. I know you think you’re done, but you’re not." I really did wish at least one of my hunting buddies would have some success so we could have a retrieval party.

I made way back on Bumpy road and walked to my stand much the same as the previous evenings – emptying my bait into the stump, hiding the bucket, and setting myself up for the afternoon. There wasn’t much activity in the woods except for a few squirrels running around making noise and a raven belting out a call so loud I almost jumped out of my socks!

Shortly before 6 p.m. I noticed some movement about 75 yards in front of me, but I immediately dismissed it as a couple of squirrels playing around. But something just didn't look right as that dark spot became bigger. Finally I could make out the silhouette of a bear – and this was a big one!

I waited for him to clear the brush, then I cocked the hammer and set the site just behind the shoulder. I squeezed off a shot and just about folded him in half. I recycle the weapon – and with the bear now running straight at me – I hit him one more time and he piled up five feet in front of me! Only me and my dry cleaner actually know how scared I was!

Shortly after the second shot, my phone went off again with a text from Ken saying, "Was that you??

I replied, “YES, it's  a Monster!” His next text asked if I was coming out now and my response was, “NO, not until I know for sure that this thing is dead. It's right in front of me and I will have to step over it to take the path out!”

After a couple of texts to my younger son and wife, I assessed the situation and head out to get help. I was shaking so much the whole time that it was hard to walk. After picking up Ken, we went back to camp to spread the news. Upon arrival back at camp, we were greeted with the news that Sharon also shot a big bear and they were formulating a retrieval plan for her bear.

Well to say the least, things became very festive and loud at that point. We harvested two bears that night, with both of them making the books – Gabby’s was taken with a bow and mine taken with a gun. Gabby's bear weighed in at over 220 pounds, and mine a little over 400 pounds. It was a very late in the evening by the time we brought the two bears back to camp.

The next day my boys called to congratulate me and asked that I take my bear to a taxidermy in Arcadia to have it mounted as a birthday gift. It was the same place my oldest son dropped off his bear from his Canadian hunt. I was counting the days until I received my bear mount.

This was some of the most exciting hunting I have ever done and recommend anybody who has the slightest interest in bear hunting to do it. I have so many people to thank for this bear, from baiters to draggers who helped get him out of the woods. It's just hard to believe that all the new friends I made started with that one frozen pipe!

Matt Gailloretto is a bear hunter from Elkhorn, Wis.