BEAR WITH ME I HAVE A STORY TO TELL

By Joan Kurasz as told in the Fall 2014 issue which can be purchased at http://www.magzter.com/US/Country-Diva-LLC/Country-Diva/Lifestyle/

When we first got involved with bear hunting, it was a “guy thing.”  Our group the “Wildcat Bear Hunters” was all guys who rented a large cabin “up North” in the Loretta-Draper-Clam Lake area.  Eventually most of them bought campers or cabins, and the wives, girlfriends and kids all went along.  It turned into a family sport.

In order to go along or participate, you needed a $3 participation permit.  It included handling dogs on a leash, baiting or any other aspect of the hunt.

We baited with cookies.  A large hollow stump was used with a piece of plywood and a rock on top.  The bear could know the rock off, but it kept some of the smaller critters out—raccoon, fishers, coyotes and wolves.  We hunted with dogs.  They would pick up the bear scent from the bait station if the bear had hit during the night.  There were many bait stations, and several people would form groups and check the baits.  If the rock was knocked off and the cookies were gone, we started looking for bear tracks or critter tracks and other signs and also if it was a decent size track.

If bait had been hit, we could turn six dogs loose at a time to try to pick up the scent.  Sometimes the trail was too cold or if it rained a lot during the night there might not be a scent.  If the dogs got a scent, they would start off after the bear.  They would start barking, and we would listen for the dogs from our trucks.

All of the dogs wear tracking collars, and each owner has a tracking unit so that should the dogs get out of range, we know approximately where they are.  We do a lot of hunting in the Chequamegon National Forest where there is a lot of wilderness and not a lot of roads.  Occasionally, there are lost dogs, and they may be gone for several days.  The dogs have different frequencies on their collars so the whole group can check on each other’s dogs.  All of the trucks have CB radios, and some have walkie-talkies which can also be used in the woods.

All of the dogs have their own bark, and the owners know if their dogs are on the trail or if a bear is treed.  If the dogs get too close, a bear will usually go up a tree.  Sometimes a bear won’t tree and will turn on the dogs.  A few have been badly hurt or even killed, which also happens if the wolves come after the dogs.  The veterinary bills can be very expensive, but so are a lot of the dogs.

I would usually go a couple of weekends during the training season which was July and August.  I was still working and didn’t have the time to go often.  I crossed creeks, rivers and swamps, went through ground bees and got stung.  I definitely kept up with the guys or I would probably still be wandering around in the wilderness and not know how to get out!  September was “kill” season when whoever could get a tag could shoot a bear.  When you get your participation permit, you get a point for that year.  If you had enough points, you could send in to the DNR for a kill tag.

I finally retired in 2009, and my husband said if I had any intention of getting a bear, I should put in for it.  I had 11 points and got my $40 kill license.

I wasn’t even sure if I really wanted to try to shoot a bear or not.  I’ve never shot anything else and hadn’t even shot the gun I was going to use.  The last thing I wanted was a wounded bear in the woods!

While we were up North, we went to an old gravel pit. My grandson set up a target on the other side.  I put 4 shots in the center.  My husband told me to shot a knot up in a tree.  I hit it center and said I’m okay.  I’ll shoot the bear.

On September 21, 2009, we got up at 5 a.m., loaded the dogs and were on our way to check baits.  We got to a bait with a nice track, and my brother-in-law turned his three dogs loose.  While we’re waiting, we eat breakfast/lunch which usually consists of sandwiches, cookies, boiled eggs and snacks.  Waiting can take a few hours or all day, and sometimes one would still not have anything result.  We do not harvest “shoot” a female with cubs or a small bear.

About 9 a.m. my bear was treed.  That’s when the adrenaline starts.  We got to the tree, and it was a nice size bear.  I shot one shot to the head, and it was all over.  I called it a perfect hunt.  My brother-in-law Ed Kurasz, my husband Lee, our son Craig and I were glad our grandson Eric Larson was along.  He is a lot stronger than us, and it sure helped to drag the bear out!  It was a 252-pound female, not a big bear but a good one.  She had a broad head and neck and a white blaze on her chest.

We immediately went into Winter, Wisconsin, to get the bear registered, then skinned it out and put it into the cooler.  It is very important to get the hide off as soon as possible so the meat doesn’t get overheated.  When the bear is registered, a tooth is sent in to the DNR so they can check out the age.  She was about 5 years old.

After a successful hunt the group usually gets together in the evening and enjoys the camaraderie and telling of the day’s adventures.  There are many stories to tell, and it’s an exciting sport.  I’ve seen bear in trees including cubs and have seen bear crossing the road.  We’ve had a lot of fun times and interesting experiences.

I now have a bear rug hanging on my wall—I call her “Pretty Girl”!  It was fun, exciting and a special experience, but I have no desire to shoot another one.


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