By Joe Dunn
On Tuesday, Sept. 13, I left for my first bear hunt. I was very excited since I heard that there were lots of bear where I was going to be hunting. Included on the bear hunt were former high school classmates Mark Buxton and Steve Bergstrom, his son Stevie Bergstrom, and my nephew Eric Dunn.
We arrived around 8:30 p.m. in the Upper Peninsula Grand Moiré Seney Wildlife area. The next morning, we visited the 12 sites where five of us were going to hunt. On Thursday, opening bear hunting day, we were primed and ready to start our adventure at 10 a.m.. T
That day I hunted until 8 p.m. and climbed down from the tree stand after seeing no bears within my site. I had to walk a half a mile to the “T area” where two two-track trails come together deep in the woods. It was a frightening feeling being out there alone, darkness setting in, and the only sounds were faint rustling noises in the nearby brush surrounding me. Knowing that bears were lurking out there was foremost on my mind.
On the second day of hunting, Friday, I made what I know now was a rookie mistake. I switched where I was hunting and started to hunt on a ground blind in another part of the woods. Again, knowing that there were plenty of bears out there was even more frightening on the ground hunting. It was scary knowing they could sneak right up on you. Bear travel even more quietly than deer! They are less frightened than deer and will hold their own if necessary. Just before dusk, around 8 p.m., I walked out of the area I was hunting to meet Mark at our designated time. It was 15 minutes before we were scheduled to hook up and cell phone service was minimal, so we all depended on keeping our schedules organized and dependable. I was relieved to be out of the darkening woods alone when I met up with Mark, but still no bear was sighted that day, either.
On Saturday, the third day of hunting, I awoke excited for another day of hunting. I went to all the bait sites. We decided to go back to our first hunt site since we really didn’t give it the two or three days that we should have. I climbed into the tree stand at 3 p.m. and had a good hunt for about five hours. I saw two coyotes and lots of chipmunks and squirrels. I was feeling good after the hunt, even though I did not see even one bear. Again, I started the half-mile trek out of the hunting area to the “T area” in order to meet Mark. There was plenty of rustling in the woods nearby. I figured it was squirrels running in the brush. I felt my heart quicken, though, when in about 12 feet in front of me I heard faint footsteps. Slowly and carefully without moving much, I put my phone away knowing that I did not have any cell service and that I needed to prepare myself for whatever was making noise in the woods now.
Instinctively, I decided to make some loud growling noises to scare off the creature, thinking that it could quite possibly be a bear. As I made a loud low growling noise, like a clearing of my throat sound, I was surprised to find the unknown animal’s footsteps were getting closer. I readied my 8mm rifle to be prepared for a charge at close range. After about 15 seconds of my mock growling, I noticed that the heavy footstep sounds got further away. I presumed “it” was about 45 yards away now.
At this point, I tilted the light attached to my hat towards the area that I heard the animal and that is when I saw the black bear standing on two legs looking at me! His eyes glowed just like a raccoon’s would in the night if you were flashing him with a flashlight. To my surprise, the bear took off into a full charge towards me. Luckily, he stopped at about 15 yards from me (this is typical behavior for black bears to “mock charge” something they are threatened by). I readied my gun to shoot from the hip when I first saw that he was going to charge me. I planned on waiting until he was 3 feet away and shoot at his head or body before the bear knocked me over. I had one slug and had to make it count! The bear, instead, stopped, slowly walked through the brush and in about 30 seconds he tried to cross the 2 track that I had just walked from. I realized that he was going to flank me from the left. There was no time to waste now, so I steadied my sites on him and shot him in the crosshairs about 55 yards away using my father’s powerful 8mm Mouser rifle.
The only sound I heard then was a noise that sounded like he fell into the brush. My heart was still pounding ferociously, but I managed to hold my ground for the additional 8 minutes it took before my hunting buddy Mark was scheduled to arrive. When he did arrive, we both agreed that we should not approach what could be a wounded bear. Rather, we decided to get the other three hunters and then go after the blood trail to find the bear. Darkness had really set in by this time. Once the three other hunters were assembled and in our truck we headed back to the spot where I encountered the bear.
Eric and his friend Stevie were anxious to find the bear and jumped ahead of the search team only to discover the bear lying exactly where I shot him near the 2 track area. I was worried that we had a wounded bear, but my precise shot to the throat was dead on and he was stopped right where I shot him. The 3-year-old, 150-pound black bear died instantly.
I had quite the story to tell my friends and family back home. The biggest mistake I made as a rookie bear hunter was to growl at a black bear. According to my group of hunting friends, I should have said, “Get away, bear” in my own voice rather than growling and sounding like a threat and food source for the bear. Considering that I did not know this, I was lucky that I was able to react quickly enough and shoot my gun before the bear got to me. My dad’s trusted rifle that had killed bear and moose in the past did not fail me.
“Killer Bear”, as our hunting group nicknamed him, has now been a good source of food for the winter (tasty shish kabobs that tasted like BBQ spareribs were eaten when I got home) and he will also serve as a warm rug for my wife and I this winter. She said that this bear story could not be topped, so my hunting bear days began and ended that week in September.
Joe Dunn is a Lansing, Mich., insurance agent. He is the son-in-law of Albany residents Ted and Barb Anderson.