A lot of heart
By Dave Samuel (Field Editor)

Bear Hunting Magazine January/February 2006

Some days you wonder what really makes a good bear dog good. Is it that they have extra desire or the heart to stay with it when others drop out? Same with the bear, what makes him stay on the ground and try to constantly evade the dogs by running and fighting instead of just jumping up the first tree, is it that he has more heart and desire?

Greg, the hunter I was guiding recently, arrived at the house Sunday about 2 p.m. After settling him into the bunkhouse where our hunters stay, we loaded up to go refill the baits. Our group runs about 30 bait stations in our hunting area. Before we left, I loaded up six dogs in the truck just in case we had an early evening hit on a bait or happened to have a volunteer (bear) walk out in front of us while we were doing the baits.

We use a combination of baits, checking roads and rigging where we hunt. These options add a nice mix, but some days, even that does not seem to be enough to produce bear when we get late in the season.

When we arrived, part of our hunting crew had already refilled the baits and were just finishing checking the roads. No big bear were located so they decided to run a smaller bear, just for the fun of it. The bear treed in about 45 minutes after a good race. All the hunters were back in the trucks just at dark and all the dogs were in the boxes so it was a nice finish to a beautiful day.

Greg, Annette and I were up the next day at 3:30 a.m. We headed out to run the baits and see what had visited that night. All the baits, except one or two, were hit and we had two good tracks. One was an exceptional bear that we had named Old Lucky. He will most likely weigh in at 350 to 400 pounds if we can ever get a chance to run him. He only hits the bait once or twice during our 30 day harvest season and he had hit it that night. We carry in sand to the bait sites and spread it out to help us determine the size of the bear that visit, and his track showed distinctly. His was the only bear track there and it was very clear it was a big bear. Greg knew by its size how it compared to the average tracks we had been finding at the other baits. It was too early to legally turn the dogs loose on the track so we checked the rest of the baits. We had another good track on another bait about three miles away but the largest was Old Lucky himself, so we decided to try for him.

We headed down the road towards the bait so we would be there at legal release time. As we pulled up, it started to downpour. We had not much rain all summer (1/3 inch in July and 3/4 inch in August). It figures, on the one day Old Lucky hits the bait, it decided to rain. It was a downpour right from the start and lasted until noon, washing out his track. His luck was still running in his favor and did for the rest of the season. This was the fourth or fifth year we have known about this bear.

As the week progressed, we treed some smaller bear off the baits and by rigging, but nothing we wanted to shoot. On the third day, we got on a bear that had a decent track on the bait but we were not sure of the size. It was not a monster, but it looked like a good average bear. Leroy and Annette had started the track while I was checking another bait station just a few miles away. As I pulled up, things went from good to bad as dogs came out on the road and milled around, not seeming to be able to track anything. It was a good fresh track at the bait, only a couple of hours old, and these dogs are more than able to run tracks much older.

The weather had not been agreeable all week and today was no different. It was in the high 80s and humid, which is not typical for September in Wisconsin. Leroy said he was going back to the bait and try to restart the track with his dog Hanna. I fed Willow in from where I was standing when I heard Hanna open up a few hundred yards away. Willow barked to her and they started picking on the track a little at a time, going out in a different direction.

In the meantime, a dog barked just off the road a few times and Leroy said he thought it was his dog Sassy’s “locating and tree” bark, so we headed in. Sure enough, Sassy had a smaller bear treed by herself. It was so hot and humid the dogs could hardly get enough breath to bark as they normally did. We passed on that bear and decided to follow Hanna and Willow to see what they could come up with.

Leroy, Annette and I took our trucks in different directions searching for the best vantage point to monitor the dogs. When Leroy got close, he let us know that Willow and Hanna were really screaming their heads off and he was sure the bear was jumped and was walking in front of the dogs. He got close enough to add Mac to the chase and pulled Hanna out. Hanna is ten years-old and there was no reason to make her hunt in that kind of heat when we had the bear jumped and plenty of younger dogs that were extremely eager to get into the race.

The bear was not running, but was moving in two to three mile circles at an even pace, but in an area we could not get close enough to, so we were unable to add more dogs or to take off on foot. They were moving just fast enough that we could not keep up with them without running. As the hunt progressed, I kept trying to work close enough to walk Greg into the bear and dogs. We could tell from the change in barking, the dogs were catching the bear and baying it at times, but the two of them could not hold it long enough for us to get to them. Finally, after 90 minutes of this, it sounded like they had it treed. Leroy, Greg and I headed in. The bear had proven to be less than willing to tree and more than willing to fight on the ground, so the three of us slipped in towards the tree trying not to disturb it any more than we had to. Keith and Billie showed up to give us a hand so we could better monitor the dogs and to add in some more dogs if necessary.

Greg was doing great, considering the heat and the humid weather. Greg and I have hunted mountain lions together in Montana, elk in Colorado and Wyoming, and mule deer in Sonora, Mexico. He has always been up to the task, no matter what the weather conditions. What is amazing about Greg, and why I look up to this man, is he had a bypass a number of years ago and has a pacemaker to regulate his heart. He never complains or shirks from a task and we have hunted in altitudes over 10,000 feet. You have to admire a man that loves the hunt that much to not give up his sport just because his heart had given him some problems. He has plenty of heart for hunting.

As we slowly worked our way towards the dogs and the bear, I was sweating and hot. We walked at an even pace and took a couple of breaks as we climbed a couple of hills. Greg would always say, “Okay, let’s go. I’m ready.” and we were off again. As we neared the dogs, Leroy and I started looking up in the trees for the bear. No bear in the tree and both Mac and Willow were convinced the bear was there. They were right. They had the bear bayed up against the tree but he just would not tree. Unfortunately, Greg could not get a clean shot because the dogs were constantly moving and jockeying for position as they worked on the bear. Neither dog backed away to give us any clearance for the shot.

We had slipped to within 15 yards of the fight but just could not get a shot. Suddenly, the bear realized we were there and busted loose, running for about 50 yards with the dogs hot on him. They stopped him again at the base of another tree but the bear simply would not climb. The bear broke loose from them and this time decided the dogs and humans that followed were just too much and he ran hard. Fortunately, it put him across a couple of roads and others in our group were able to add a couple of dogs each time he crossed, so Mac and Willow had more help. About 30 minutes later the dogs were again telling us they had the bear stopped and possibly, we thought, treed.

Again, Greg took off on a walk with us to get to the bear. This time, when we got to where we could see the dogs, we felt much better. They had convinced Mr. Bruin that it was better to perch in a tree than to be on the ground with a bunch of dogs baying at him constantly and trying to nip him. While we were walking, Leroy and I had discussed that this would be a good bear to harvest, because eventually, a bear like this has the tendency to get rough with the dogs and create some large and unnecessary vet bills.

After all the excitement of walking into his first bayed bear and now seeing the bear perched in a tree, Greg definitely wanted to shoot him. It is a real adrenaline rush to be involved in a scene like that, and something you will never forget. We all agreed this bear needed to be harvested before he got another chance to do any damage to our dogs. Greg took the shot and harvested his first Wisconsin black bear. A hard earned trophy that will live in our memories for the rest of our lives.