Sep 10, 2018

My First Bear Hunt

By Capt. Lee Haasch

I’ve patiently applied for my bear tag points for many years. Since our deer camp is in Florence County, I waited a little longer for a tag – 11 points plus a couple years that I apparently forgot to apply. I was pretty excited the day my kill tag arrived and the planning for the hunt began.

The first decision was easy. If possible, I wanted to take a bruin with my Mission Blaze compound bow. Who knows if I’ll have another 10 or 11-year wait and be able to arrow a Wisconsin black bear?

Now would be the time and trying to film the hunt would be a bonus. It was time to call my good friend and videographer, Wally Roberts, who just happens to live in Florence. Wally was generous to offer to film my hunt and also help with baiting and even provide a hunting location on some private land.

 

Preparation

Now to procure some bait and practice, practice, practice. While attending a sports show, I spent some time with the guys at Big Bear Down and arranged to get a 55-gallon drum of cookies and some raspberry pie filling and some spray scents. Bears being curious animals, I learned that using a variety of different scents keeps the bear’s interest.

I also procured some Northwoods Bear Products spray and some of its Gold Rush attractant additive to mix in with some fryer grease. This should get me into the season and hopefully on a good bear.

One thing I learned from fishing is that it’s difficult to compete and catch fish when there’s an abundance of natural bait in the area. After choosing stand locations and carefully placing baits and cameras, we noticed before and during the season that even though baits were hit on a regular basis, it seemed that sows came and sat nearby and that the cubs did most of the feasting. This proved to be the case through the season as we sat weekly and noticed an abundance of raspberry bushes and loads of acorns in the area. It seems the larger, mature bears had lots of natural food supply around the area.

Years of waiting, hours of sitting, my wife and Wally sitting along to film, and plenty of other nature – but only a few small bears came around during hunting hours. Was this how my season was going to end?

During the 2016 season, it happened the dog hunters went last and had one week remaining at the end of the combined season. I found some bear hunters that run dogs from an area right near my cabin. They happened to be looking for another hunter with a bear tag so they could continue running the dogs and train a few younger dogs.

These hunters reported seeing similar results at their bait sites, but there still were a couple good-sized bears coming in. What an opportunity to try two different methods of bear hunting in one season! I was game.

 

A change in course

While I really wanted to score with my Mission Blaze, I was a little uncomfortable shooting up into a tree, so I decided to dust off my ol’ Billy Barue – my dependable Winchester Model 94 with a .32 Special cartridge. It’s kind of a special gun for me – it was the first rifle my dad purchased, and I shot my first buck on my first Up North deer season with this rifle. Could I score my first bear with it also?

I met Jesse Jonet and his crew Saturday morning and they had a bear to put the dogs on. It didn’t take long and they had the bear up in a tree. It almost seemed too easy, but after a hike into the forest we came to a tree with an 80-pound bear about 30 feet up. It was an exhilarating chase.

But his little bear will get to run again as he was left to wonder about all the commotion and the chasing dogs as we headed back to our vehicles. Tomorrow will be another day – our last day – and hopefully a successful one, but first back to the tree stand.

That afternoon we had our last evening hunt in the stand. About an hour into the hunt, I caught a glimpse of something to my left – it was a bear! Lisa readied the camera and I repositioned to watch it lumber down the hill toward the bait. What anticipation, heart racing, excitement peaking as the bear came closer through the bush.

As he slipped out into the open, my racing heart subsided as I realized this was also a smaller bear, about 80 to 90 pounds and likely a small boar. He effortlessly tossed aside the logs and ate a small lunch before continuing on and disappearing into a nearby swamp.

It was a little excitement for our last night of the season in the tree stand. We still had one morning left with the dogs. We’ll see what morning brings.

 

A last chance

We awoke early, about 4:30 a.m., and waited for a call once our hunting partners checked the bait sites. They view the cameras on the “hit” sites to determine if they had a good bear to run. This morning they had one, the hunt was on!

We met down the road and they had already let a few dogs get on the trail. It didn’t take long to hear the sweet sound of dogs baying on the chase. Jesse checked his GPS radio tracker and could see where each dog was located and which direction they were heading.

We loaded up our gear and were off to try to stay ahead of the bear and the dogs. Lisa and I followed Jesse, and as we listened along the road, we could hear the dogs running toward us. Seconds later, a 200-plus pound ball of black fur barreled across the road. Boy, could a bear run fast for being so big.

The dogs weren’t far behind. Jesse immediately took two rested dogs out of their pens and put them on the trail to join the first two coming through. We now had to catch the two more exhausted dogs that were straggling behind.

Jesse radioed the troops and in no time we were assembled and could hear the baying had stopped moving. The GPS collars showed the dogs staying tight on one spot. The bear was treed!

Off we went into the woods to find the bear – which was a pretty easy trail to find – just follow the sounds of the baying dogs. It was a short hike to the cornered bear – just about 200 yards. The dogs had the tree circled and were focused on keeping the bear’s attention. My fellow hunters quickly leashed all the dogs and tied them back away from the tree.

A quick safety check among everyone on procedures and I readied my .32 Winchester. Bang! One shot under his right ear and the bear fell with a thud and lay motionless. My entire season had come down to the wire – last day, last chase and one shot in the waning hours of what turned out to be a pretty exciting bear hunt.

All in all it was a great hunt. I was fortunate I could share it with my hunting partner, Lisa, and I was able to experience both methods of bear hunting in Wisconsin. Although the filming portion didn’t pan out, it was an experience I hope to duplicate next year when I film my wife, Lisa’s first bear hunt.

 

Lee Haasch is an Algoma charter captain with more than 40 years of Great Lakes fishing experience. He’s been writing and giving seminars for more than 25 years. For current fishing reports or information on charter fishing in the Algoma area, check out his report page at www.FishAlgoma.com. You can even sign up for periodic newsletters and fishing reports. Contact: fishalgoma.com or 888-966-3474.