Monday, September 22, 2014

Bear Hunt in Northern Wisconsin

Bears in Northern Wisconsin

The gun culture permeated the part of Wisconsin where I grew up.   In that area and time, we did not think of it as a separate culture.   The gun culture and the culture were one and the same.   Guns and hunting were simply integral parts of everyday life.    If a boy was not a hunter, he aspired to be one.  There was considerable game, ruffed grouse, woodcock, rabbits, squirrel, ducks,  geese, deer, mink, muskrats, raccoon, fox and ...bear.   There were not very many bear.   In my first 18 years, with nearly a decade spent wandering the woods, and a good portion of that time spent hunting, trapping, canoeing, fishing, mountain biking (we did not know that riding 3-speed bikes around logging roads was mountain biking back then) and berry picking, I recall seeing one or two bear other than those encountered at the county dump/landfill.  Those dumps have since changed enormously, and bears no longer congregate there...

Because of a confluence of several reasons, black bears have become common in Northern Wisconsin.   I have seen as many as 10 in a two week visit.  Bear hunting is by permit, but otherwise is far more liberal than it  was 5 decades ago, when I was a boy.   The picture above is from a game camera, taken the first of September.   The near bear is a big sow, probably in the 300 to 400 lb range.   The other two bear are nearly adult "cubs".   A  third grown "cub" is outside the frame.

My brother and his son both managed to obtain permits this year.  It now takes about 7-8 years to obtain a permit, which are drawn as a lottery.   Previous, unsuccessful, entries increase your chances of a draw.   Part of Wisconsin's success with their bear hunts has been because they allow both dog and bait hunting for bears.   They alternate years to allow both types of hunting a good chance at bears.   This year was a "bait" year, where dog hunting was not allowed during the first week of the season.   Next year will be a "dog" year where bait hunting will not be allowed the first week.   Both methods can be very exciting, and success is far from assured.   In Wisconsin the success rate has been about 50%.

On this year's hunt, my brother had been contacted by a friend who runs a pack of bear dogs.    Capable hunters who have a bear permit  may be sought after by dog hunters, to allow the pack owners to participate in the season that they have been preparing for all year.   As you may guess, maintaining a pack of hunting dogs is a moderately expensive and time consuming hobby,  perhaps as much as automobile racing, sky diving, flying your own airplane, or downhill skiing.   On the first day, the hunters were up at 5 a.m.    A bear had been into one of the baits only an hour earlier.

The tracks looked big.  Two dogs were released.  They found a hot scent and the dogs followed it.   They jumped the bear, and three more dogs were released.  The bear immediately crossed the Namekagon river, where I grew up.   Bridges were a half mile north and south.  The hunters were able to make a crossing 40 minutes later.  They heard the dogs baying "treed", and found logging roads to approach within a quarter mile of the ruckus.   My brother and his son carefully approached the location of the barking dogs, with the pack owner close behind.   The bear was treed in a large white pine.

On seeing it, my brother immediately knew that it was a bear worth shooting.   He advised his son to shoot it.   The rifle that my nephew was carrying was a customized Springfield '03-A3, crafted by my brother into a "scout rifle" configuration.  It has an 18 inch barrel and a long eye relief Leuopold scope.   It  was charged with 220 grain roundnose  handloads at 2300 feet per second.

Military issue '03-A3 Springfields are hard to come by now, because so many have been sporterized.   I remember when they were for sale in barrels, at $29.95, your choice, cash and carry.  This rifle had been one of those.

The hunters gathered the dogs and tied them away from the tree.  My nephew maneuvered to get a clear shot.    He took the shot from about 30 feet from the tree.   He is an excellent shot.     At the shot the bear's head slammed against the tree trunk; the bear collapsed and dropped bonelessly out of the tree.   My brother glanced to the owner of the dog pack, as the owner looked at him.   They agreed that it was a "dead bear".

Then my brother started toward the bear.   As he closed to within 20 feet, the bear jumped up and ran off through the thick brush!

My nephew could not shoot because of the position of my brother.    Three shots from a .44 magnum were fired at the escaping, wounded, bear.    It is uncertain if any of the rounds connected.   

There was a good blood trail, and the dogs were set back on the track.  A quarter of a mile away from the first tree, the bear was held at bay in the middle of an ash swamp.  Visibility was extremely limited.   My brother and my nephew waded through as much as two feet  of water and muck, for a hundred yards, attempting to approach the bear without causing it to run again.    The dogs made a continual racket.   Finally, they saw the bear.  It was only 10 yards away, fighting the dogs while backed up against the upended root system of a downed tree.  

It must have seen them at about the same time, for it broke from the dogs.  My nephew knocked it down with a snap shot from the scout rifle.   It jumped up, and went another 20 feet.    It started to turn on the dogs as a pistol shot delivered the coup de grace to the brain, from two feet away.  

The silver item protruding from the mouth is a metal tag required by Wisconsin law
The next four hours were spent dragging the bear back to a logging road where a 4X4 truck could get at it.   The original tree was 90 yards from a logging road; the place where it was brought to bay was 500 yards from one, in the middle of a swamp.   Fortunately, one hunter had a plastic deer sled that made hauling the beast easier.    Bear are much harder to get out of the woods than deer.   Not only are they generally bigger, but there is no easy way to put a rope on them to haul with.   The head tends to be too heavy and to drag too much if the rope is put around the neck.    It is nearly impossible for a lone hunter to drag a good sized bear.   A plastic deer sled and a four-wheeler can shine in this situation.

Bear season seldom has  the snow that makes tracking and dragging deer so much easier in Northern Wisconsin, because the bear tend to be denned at that point.    Three hunters helped drag this bear out of the swamp.  If you have ever tried to drag a very large, unconscious man, through water and muck, the task is similar.

The bear dressed out at 295 pounds, likely over 350 pounds live weight, a large black bear sow.

The next day the hunters were out again, but did not see a single bear.

People often ask me if the bears are eaten.  Most definitely, they are.   My brother says that bears 250 pounds or under make better eating.   Bears under 100 pounds are considered cubs, and are protected.  I have had bear, generally prepared as a roast.   To me it tasted much like roast beef.   I prefer bear to venison, and I like venison.

My nephew is at the beginning of his career.   My brother has retired.   He will be hunting on his own this week.  He has already shot several bear in his life, but another good sized bear has been hitting one of his baits.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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Anonymous said...

please do not publish. ask for sats. on the number of whites murdered by blacks, number of blacks murdered by whites and over all crime by race.

Anonymous said...


If your nephew would like to add his bear photo to our collection on, please encourage him to send it over!

Brian Otten
Digital content manager