Happy 40th Anniversary Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association!
Note to readers: As I am writing this I recognize I probably missed some important names and events, which is neither my intent nor the intent of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association. Forty years has a way of dimming memories and details; this article is an attempt to preserve as much of our history as possible. If you have information or names of people I have missed, please contact me as soon as possible so I can include that information. Thanks, Annette Zeman, firstname.lastname@example.org or (715) 766-2219.
As we celebrate our 40th anniversary this year we want to make a special effort to recognize the people who gave so much of their time and heart giving birth to the WBHA and nurturing it in the first several years. Without these individuals’ passion we may not be here today celebrating what has certainly become a major part of all of our lives.
I want to thank Kyle Lafond, assistant Deer, Bear and Elk ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, for all the information in this article relating to the history and the laws that have taken place throughout the years. A big thank you to Don Engle for helping me understand some of those first hunts and for tracking down details. I also want to thank a number of people who let me pester them with questions—you are too many to mention but you definitely know who you are!
We can’t really take a look at the birth of the WBHA without taking a look at the history of bear hunting prior to our organization. Following is an excerpt from “Wisconsin Black Bear Management Plan Draft,” provided by Kyle LaFond: “Following European Settlement, bears were extirpated from many parts of the state. Bears were eliminated from southeastern Wisconsin by 1860 and from central and western Wisconsin by the 1890s. Statewide the population reached a low point around 1915.
Prior to the 1950s bears were unprotected and considered varmints by many people. Bears were shot or trapped at any time of year in unlimited numbers. As land use practices and attitudes changed and with protective legislation, bear populations rebounded in the 1950s. In 1956 mandatory registration of all bears harvested was required and in 1957 bear trapping was prohibited. In 1963 a special September bear season was initiated in three small northern areas.”
During this special season, these “organized” hunts, called demonstration bear hunts, were held at:
Crandon, WI—September 14 & 15, 1963
Park Falls, WI—September 21 & 22, 1963
Presque Isle, WI—September 28 & 29, 1963
“The purpose was to demonstrate a hunting technique not familiar to most Wisconsin hunters— running bear with dogs,” noted Glen Garlock and Bob Wendt in an article they wrote called Demonstration Bear Hunts—1963. Bob Wendt, a prior Iron Clad award recipient, from the Wisconsin Department of Conservation (this is now the Wisconsin DNR) was instrumental in introducing bear hunting with hounds to Wisconsin. The department invited hunters from Michigan to come to Wisconsin to demonstrate the use of hounds for hunting bears since Michigan had been hunting with hounds since 1947.
In 1964, after the success of the demonstration bear hunts, a small group of men from the Merrill area recognized the need for an organization committed to bear hunting in Wisconsin. Some of the people involved in organizing that first meeting were Al Kryzkowski, Ted Yaeger, Bernie Strom, Fred Johnson, Phil Zipp, and Roy Nutter, and others. The Michigan Bears Hunters Association lent these gentlemen their by-laws to help the WBHA develop its by-laws.
WBHA grew and the Articles of Incorporation were actually filed February 1, 1966. The board of directors listed at that time is as follows: Don Engle, Grant Harper, Frederick Gerhke, Shirley Bremble, James Wheaton, Louis Miller, Bernard Rydland, Stanley Germain, Bernard Strom, and Lester King.
Iron Clad Award Recipients
To commemorate the people involved in the early years of the WBHA and to honor their efforts, we are presenting them this year with an Iron Clad award. Following is that list of people with a synopsis of their efforts:
Dick Chier has previously received an Iron Clad award but was so involved in bear hunting in those very early years he merits mentioning again in this article. He has been a very active and productive member of the WBHA. Dick has held numerous positions on the board of directors in the 70s and 80s.
Fred Doepke is a truck driver by profession and is a proud Plott man. He started hunting in the 60s and is still actively hunting today.
Don Engle played a very important role in not only bringing bear hunting with hounds to Wisconsin but also in the initial stages of the WBHA. He participated with his dogs in the 1963 demonstration hunt. Don has throughout the years helped with different and various projects. He has served on numerous committees promoting bear hunting with hounds; and he was the gentleman that helped get our big fund-raising efforts off the ground.
Russell Freer has been bear hunting and supporting the association for years and years. He first started hunting in Wisconsin in 1967 and harvested their first bear with hounds in 1970. He was one of the pioneer hunters on the northwest side of the state. Russ is one of those guys who includes and welcomes everyone to hunt with him. I heard countless times people saying they started to bear hunt because of Russ Freer—what a compliment. Rumor has it that he drove an old station wagon where he would load up the dogs and the kids all together in the back. Obviously Russ’s theme was it is all about family!
Mike Hagen participated in the 1963 demonstration hunts. He returned to bear hunting and the WBHA later in the 60’s after serving our country. Mike held the secretary and treasurer position in 1969-1970 and been a member since the late 60s.
The first actual organizational meeting of the WBHA took place at Hint’s Cork and Dine. Fred Johnson was given the task of setting up an informational board and Phil Zipp was in charge of getting everything into print. Fred made a map of Wisconsin with all the counties. Each participant at the meeting put a red star from the county he represented. This was to show the kind of state representation they had. These two gentlemen also collaborated on the decal they imagined would give a picture of what the newly formed association was trying to accomplish. Good job gentlemen, it worked!
As you can see Fred was very organized and a doer as well. It paid off as Fred was offered a job he held for 29 ½ years with the Wisconsin Conservation Department as a conservation aide. Phil also continued to help educate the younger hunters and was very involved with the Hunter Safety Course as an instructor for both Portage and Marathon Counties.
Warren (Doc) Johnson became active in the WBHA shortly after it began and has remained active pretty much the whole time we have been in existence. He has led as President and has served on the board of directors for the association. Doc has been a great mentor for a number of us. I also heard that Doc has a number of trophies for his dogs. Doc participated in the 1963 demonstration hunts.
Ed Kuester and Roberta (Bobbi) Kuester; both served on the board and were officers in the WBHA. Ed has held the presidency position and Bobbi has been the secretary-treasurer. They continue to love hunting today.
Ira Lee, (deceased) was originally from Milwaukee. He has held the presidency position. More than one person told me Ira was not prejudice in his breed of hounds and in fact was a true animal lover. If an animal was still out at night, Ira would sleep in his truck in the same spot he let the dog out. He would not leave his dogs.
Merle Lindow has been very active as a houndsman and has continued to actively support the association throughout the years. He has been very involved in the field trials where he participates and has acted as an auctioneer. Merle was involved in the Northern Wisconsin Houndsman Association and for many years graciously held the WBHA meetings at the Wildcat Inn. Merle deserves a big thank you for his support from early on and continuing today.
Bob McCallough certainly loves his black and tans. Bob enjoyed coon hunting on his mules and still has his mules.
Bill McPeak has served as a past secretary of the WBHA. While talking with Bill, he was happy to tell me about his Walkers and I believe he said he still has his original blood lines. Bill now lives in Oregon. Bill was instrumental in taking the WBHA membership from around 30 to over 100 members in the 70s.
Roger Mootz became active in hunting as well as the association right around 1969. He has held office on the board of directors.
Elroy (Roy) Nutter (deceased) and his wife, Sally, (deceased) faithfully ran the concession stand for the field trials. Roy was involved from the 1963 demonstration hunt until years later.
Jim Peck was one of the people who participated in the 1963 demonstration hunt. He has been a member since the late 60s. Jim has served as secretary and treasurer 1975-1977 and as president 1978-1980. Jim described that first hunt he was on in 1963; let’s just say it involves dogs that were coon dogs seeing a big black bear for the first time and ending up under the truck all within a short period of time.
Mike Reynolds first hunted out of Rhinelander and brought some of the first “bear dogs” into Wisconsin from Washington.
Jim Rice was a very active houndsman and was involved in not only the Neillsville hunting club but also the WBHA board of directors and was a past president. Jim loved hunting not only bear but mountain lions and eventually moved to a state out West.
Sig Rothmeyer (deceased) was a big Blue tick man and just a great guy and a great hunter.
We all know we are reinforced by those we hunt with and such was the case with Ron Schneider, one of Bernie Strom’s hunting buddies. Ron was one who helped WBHA from the start. Ron continues to do as much as he can and just a couple years ago did all of the wiring for the WBHA cabin raffle. Vick Yaeger (deceased) and Ronny Lang (deceased) were not only Bernie’s and Ron’s hunting buddies but also very active in getting the WBHA off the ground.
Bernie Strom passed away in 1995, but his legacy lives on. While speaking with Bernie’s son, daughter and friends it became clear that Bernie was a doer. His passions were what drove him to become so active in different areas of his life. It appears that when Bernie had an inkling to make something happen he just made it happen. Bernie started the Northern Houndsman Association which was actually formed before the WBHA. He was instrumental in developing the horse riding trails in Lincoln County. Bernie was also a writer for the Bluetick association in a national magazine, penning a column called “Up North.” Some of his remembered dogs include Hawk, Wisconsin Rivers Blue Satin, Smokey and Stormy.
Art Weden (deceased) had mostly redbones (he had good taste) that were some good running dogs. He also auctioneered at the field trials.
Jim Wheaton (deceased) was very active in the association and served on the board of directors in 1966. Jim was known as a Walker man and a man who loved to hunt.
These gentleman and women are just some of the people I could track down who organized and got the WBHA going. I would love to hear more about these folks and to hear about other people that were involved. Please feel free to contact me with information. It’s inspiring to see that the WBHA grew from a few individuals who understood the need to organize and work together to our current association that has grown to more than 3,000 members strong!
Over the years the WBHA has faced controversy, numerous anti-movements and legislation that has tried banning our sport. As the original founders worked to develop our association, it is our commitment to continue that spirit by fundraising, working with the DNR and politicians, and involving and educating our communities about bear hunting in Wisconsin.
In closing, I would like to share the following excerpt from a Milwaukee Journal article written by Jay Reed in 1977 after hunting with Bill Klugow, Mark Brown and Greg Johnson: “The typical Wisconsin Bear hunter, as we know him today, is on the underside of 30. He’s a big man most likely and he probably wears a beard or at least sideburns or a mustache of some kind. He’s strong, physically and he’s outgoing to the point of loudness. He’s a skilled woodsman to a degree far greater than your ordinary run of hunter.
He knows and understands and appreciated dogs. He knows how to handle them. And although it is often hidden behind a mask of gruffness even indifference, he showers affection on them in ways most unlike other dog people. Take any given group of bear hunters and I would bet you won’t find a pipe smoker among them. They are not a contemplative group. Their taste in tobacco runs to snuff or ‘chaws.’ They would take a can of cold beer over a cocktail anytime. The typical Wisconsin bear hunter does not cut a romantic figure in the woods. His image does not come out of picture books. He’s not the silent, lonely figure stalking his game. He’s not dressed in tweed with leather patches at the elbow and shoulders.
He is not that way because he knows it’s a false image; that it is only for picture books. And if nothing else, the typical bear hunter is not false to himself or anyone else. His rifle is the finest his own money can buy. You can bet it is clean and in perfect working order and sighted to absolute perfection. You can also bet that the knife hanging from his belt is just as clean, just as well cared for and honed to razor sharpness. He has spent more time in learning his sport than has the average hunter of other species. He has more money and time and effort invested in it than do other hunters…”