After having made the trip to Wisconsin to participate in hound training seasons for nine years, since the age of seven; I was quite excited to have drawn a harvest tag. (A special thank you to Kevin Samuel for transferring his license to me so I could have a harvest permit.) I was booked to go hunting in the county forests around Hayward Wisconsin on a guided hunt with my Aunt and Uncle, Nette Zeman and Dave Samuel, as well as their partners.
I finished my first day of school and left immediately after school for bear camp. I arrived late on Tuesday night ready to hunt the next morning. When we first went out Wednesday morning we split up into four trucks and went to check the baits for prints. We found 3 “shooter” sized prints on baits that morning; however, we quickly found out that the streak of hot and dry weather Hayward was experiencing was going to make this hunt very difficult. After trying several baits and being unable to get a bear we wanted to harvest jumped, we returned to camp, exhausted. When we went out to check the baits later that night there was little bear movement resulting in no bear that would be worth running the dogs on. I returned to camp slightly downhearted, although I was prepared to be there for a week we had yet to see a bear.
The next morning after a breakfast of Mountain Dew and beef jerky, my personal preference and choice, we were out once again to check the baits. After running through all of them we decided to drop the dogs on a bait that we had had much success with before. After a short cold trailing period the dogs jumped the bear they circled in a hole for awhile until they split and headed on a long run. Since we were unable to get fresh dogs on the trail the three dogs eventually tried out after an hour and a half of running. It was too hot to start another run that morning so we went back to camp.
The hunting on Thursday night was much like the one we had on the first morning, several track but really poor tracking conditions. That night, Jeff Fulsom, owner of Bear Hunting Magazine, and his six year old son Michael arrived. Jeff also had a harvest tag and would be hunting with us.
On Friday morning when we set off we were hopefully optimistic, maybe the heavy dew would provide the moisture necessary for the dogs to pick up the scent. That morning we had several unsuccessful tries, including one split race with the dogs breaking into two groups to run on different tracks (two yearlings). Later that night when we went back out none of the baits were hit so we decided to release the dogs on a strike we had on the road. The dogs took off on a dead run north and we realized although they had jumped a bear it was most a small one and it was certainly not going to stop any time soon. We were lucky enough to catch the dogs crossing a road so that they were not able to continue on a bear that would not be of legal size anyway. On the way back to camp we saw two things, a group of three yearling black bear walking on the road, each weighing about seventy pounds, the second thing however was much more promising, a large storm cloud rolling in.
That night we got a half inch of rain, enough, hopefully to help the dogs pick up a scent the following morning. The next morning with hopeful thinking, we went out and checked the baits. Although most of them were hit, many were by smaller bear and several were from before the rain, making it unable to determine the size of the bear that had been there; however, we found one good bear with a three and half inch paw. We put out two dogs, Reb and Ice, to cold trail the bear first. The rain had done what neither our efforts nor the dog efforts had been able to do, they ran the trail flawlessly. They quickly crossed a road and Annette put in two more dogs, Whiskey and Spider. Dave got close enough to cast one more, Bull, to the rest of the pack. The bear had not been covering ground very fast and with the additional pressure from the newly added dogs the bear was covering even less ground now and after listening to the roar for awhile, we decided it was treed.
After loading my gun, my uncle Dave and I and took off into the woods towards the sound of the dogs. After crossing through several holes we finally crossed the last ridge. Most of the trees were about ten feet tall making it hard to walk through but eventually we saw the dogs all barking around a lone tree. Everything had worked out just right. There was however one complication, the dogs were barking down and not up. Then we saw it. The bear was on the ground. We slowly worked our way to the patch of brambles the bear was in. However I was unable to get a clear shot at 6 to 10 feet range with all five of the dogs so close to the bear. The bear seeing us took off, with the dogs in hot pursuit down the valley. My heart thumping wildly, we were off in pursuit.
They stopped the bear again in about 75 to 100 yards and we moved in again trying to locate the bear amongst the tangle of dogs and thick brush. Unfortunately, for the second time even though we were within mere feet of them and I could not get a good clear shot at the bear.
The bear busted out for the third time and moved about 50 to 75 yards before the dogs bayed it up for us again. When we got closer, due to the way the brush was this time, we decided to employ some different strategy. Instead of all thick brush this time there was a small opening just ahead of where the dogs had it bayed. We moved towards it to see if we could get a clear shot back at the bear. When I stepped through the wall of willows, there less than ten feet in front of me was the bear, who had just finished throwing one of the dogs. The bear turned and spun back towards us trying to get at another one of the dogs and I fired. The bear scrambled, charging the dogs, as I fumbled to load my rifle. I stepped around another tree to see the bear sitting swinging wildly at the dogs, trying to get a hold of them. I walked up leveled the gun and fired. The bear dropped. I looked down, I could not believe it. There was no time to think however, the dogs had to be tied up and checked for injuries. One of the dogs Bull, had a broken lower jaw, several of the others had minor cuts and scrapes but nothing else seriously hurt besides Bull.
After they were tethered and Bull was found to be in no immediate danger, attention was turned to the bear. She was a beautiful bear, weighing we guessed about 250lbs dressed, (later we found out it was 262 pounds) and having a nice coat. Dave and I were also pleasantly surprised when the others, who had moved further up the road, honked their horns. They were only a few hundred yards away, a short dragging distance. After taking pictures, we loaded up the bear to be registered, and the dog to the vet. I was all smiles.
A special thanks to my Aunt Nette and Uncle Dave for inviting me up all those years as well as allowing me to have this opportunity. It will be cherished. A thank you also belongs to Merold Mohni and Gene Benson, whose humor and companionship made the early mornings much more enjoyable.