Wisconsin, and four bears had already hit my bait site before this brute emerged. The instant I saw the boar I knew he was the one. He acted differently than the other bears, cautiously taking each step, but only after checking the wind each time. All my pre-hunt dreams of finding the perfect bear were now right in front of me.
A Shot At Redemption
I first started my quest for a black bear in 1994 in my home state of Wisconsin, which issues tags based on the accumulation of preference points. Four years later, in 1998, I finally drew my first tag. Unable to take much time off from work, I only saw one bear, which spotted me and darted off.
It wasn't until 2004 that I drew another tag, and when it arrived in the mail, I immediately began preparing so I wouldn't suffer a repeat of my 1998 hunt. My initial plan was to harvest a bear by using a predator call and a rifle. But the more I read, the more I realized this technique was more likely to bring in sows with cubs. After learning this, I decided against calling and switched to baiting. Since I'd be hunting over bait, I decided to use my longbow vs. a rifle, knowing the adrenaline rush I craved would come with shots only 10 yards away.
At the end of May, I asked my friend, John, whose wife Kim had also received a bear harvest tag for Zone A, what their plans were for the hunt. John was unsure, trying to decide whether to go the guided route or find somewhere to bait. I asked him if he wanted to scout the Chequamegon National Forest, the same area I'd hunted in '98, and he agreed.
We headed north with maps in hand and found loads of bear scat, as well as a handful of potential feeding areas. Having waited 5 years for this second tag, I didn't trust anyone to bait for me, so John and I set up four of our own bait sites on July 31.
Checking the bait sites was a lot like running a trapline. The anticipation to see if a bait had been hit made the 600-mile round-trip drive from home tolerable. The first time we checked the sites was August 7, and all four had been hit, with two hit very hard. By the end of August, all four bait sites were getting hit hard, bear scat was plentiful and trails were developing. We then started baiting twice a week.
This time I made sure to take plenty of time off from work. With opening day falling on September 8, I left for camp early on September 2. For 6 days I delivered 5 gallons of bait per day to each site, never using the same type of bait twice in a row to keep the bears guessing. When opening day arrived, I'd decided to hunt the same site I hunted in '98. I wanted to be on stand by 12:30 p.m.; that way I knew it would be at least 6 hours before a mature bear would cross my scent.
As I hung my stand, John added bait to the site. I placed a video camera above my head and prepared myself for the long wait. I looked at my watch as John left to hunt with Kim; it was 12:45 p.m.
Shortly after, I caught movement in front of me-a bear! It walked toward me and laid down directly on top of the bait, facing me. I didn't have a shot even though I had the bait site cribbed. Guessing from its size, I'd say it was 250 pounds, which was exactly what I was looking for. However, as quickly as it appeared, at 1:22 p.m. it turned and walked away. I never had a shot.
The second bear didn't come in until 5 p.m., but stayed for about 45 minutes. Guessing it weighed 150 pounds and feeling spoiled after seeing the first one, I decided to hold off on a shot and just enjoy the show.
Bears No. 3 and No. 4 came in right after the second bear left. At this point I was planning to sit until dark to see how many bears might come in. My only fear was leaving in the dark and potentially spooking animals.
The two bears were smaller in size and seemed to be siblings, playfully getting along together. One of the bears noticed me looking out of place in a very small tree and walked over to investigate. I was looking straight down at the bear, until it moved behind me. I thought to myself, "If I hear it climb a nearby tree, I'm reaching for the pepper spray." I heard the bear jump, and I slowly turned my head. It was 4 feet off the ground in a dead tree, looking right at me! Bobbing its head up and down and back and forth while sniffing, it tried to shift its weight closer to me. When the bear was only 3 yards away, I reached for the pepper spray. The instant I swung my hands up, the bear ran away. The other bear also took off.
Patience Pays Off -- Finally
At the crack of a branch, bear No. 5 was on its way. The big boar took forever to get to the bait site. He came from behind me, passed to my left and then circled to the back side of the bait. He then began moving toward me, but suddenly plopped down right on top of the bait. For 10 minutes I waited for the bear to turn sideways and then another bear appeared. The boar got up and was now quartering away. I remember telling myself, "This is it, here we go!" I drew my bow, concentrated on the boar's chest and hit him perfectly with my arrow. Both bears bolted at the shot. It was 6:30 p.m. and the woods were quiet.
The next morning, John, Kim and I located the blood trail right away. After 70 yards, John found my bear. It took us more than 3 hours to get the beast out of the woods. I assumed I'd shot a 300-pound bear, but it wasn't until we weighed it that I realized it was actually 445 pounds! The bear was 80 inches nose-to-tail, and had a 6-inch front paw pad. We measured the skull at more than 20 inches.
Looking back, this bear hunt was more than I'd ever hoped for. I'd rekindled an old friendship, learned about black bears and shot the bear of a lifetime in my home state, and on public land to boot. What more could one ask for?