One Hot September Evening

One Hot September Evening

When you know a giant bear roams your woods, can anything keep you out of the stand?

The excitement started at the mailbox when the bear kill permits arrived for my mom, my two older brothers, and me. In our home state of Wisconsin, bear permits are issued by drawing only, and getting one is a big deal. Immediately, we began preparing.

In early spring, we got permission to hunt a piece of private land, and then we began scouting both the private land and nearby public lands. With several promising locations in mind, we set about obtaining bait. Owning an archery shop, our family meets a lot of people on a daily basis, which gave us the contacts to line up a good supply of bakery goods.

We started our baits in late July. Due to a church youth group trip to Florida, I was unable to check the baits until a week later. On August 2, I was pleased to see that each bait was hit hard, and throughout August we kept busy baiting, setting Cuddeback trail cameras, and hanging treestands for opening day, September 5.

Because I own only one trail camera, I could monitor only one bait at a time. My bait on the private land seemed to be getting more activity than the two on public lands, so that's where I placed the camera. After a few days, the camera showed that the landowner's dogs were sneaking onto the bait late at night, which probably explained why no bears were coming in until after midnight. Frustrated, I called the landowner, and he graciously said, "I'll make sure they stay locked up. If it happens again, let me know."

With less than two weeks until the season opener, the camera revealed more bears hitting the bait than ever before, and one was much larger than the others. Unfortunately, they were all coming in well after dark.

With one week left until opening day, I devised a plan to bring them in earlier. Each day, I reduced the amount of bait, putting out only half of a five-gallon pail each day.

Theoretically, with less food available, the animals would have to come in earlier to get their share.

The plan soon started working. Although they were still arriving after dark, they were coming in earlier than before, and, finally, two days before the season opened, it happened! The big brute posed for two perfect camera shots almost two hours before dark. As I laid eyes on those pictures, chills ran up and down my spine, and at work the next day I could think about only one thing -- climbing into my stand the following evening.

On opening morning, I freshened the bait and pulled the memory card from my trail camera, anticipating more daytime pictures of the giant. No such luck! He had come in at 11:47 p.m. I was quite dejected.

However, knowing that other people were hunting the same bear, my mom and I agreed that my only chance to kill the big one was to spend every possible moment on stand.

Certainly, I would be hunting that evening.

As the day progressed, the temperature rose into the 80s, and the humidity was horrible.

Those conditions hardly inspired optimism, but I was definitely going to give it my best shot.

I squeezed the trigger of my release.

These were the first daytime pictures I had got of any bears at my baits, and I was amazed to see the biggest bear show himself so early -- nearly two hours before dark. I arrowed the big brute two nights later.

Since this was my first bear hunt ever, I wanted a cameraman to record the hunt, but none of the likely prospects was available that evening. When my mom offered to run camera for me, I was very happy because I love hunting with Mom, and she's the one I would most want to share the experience with.

After we'd each taken scent-free showers, we made the short drive to our spot, pulled on our camo, sprayed down with scent eliminator, and quietly walked into the woods.

Reaching the bait site, we were drenched with sweat. The weather was hotter than we'd realized. Quickly yet quietly I hung a second stand for Mom, and as she climbed the tree, I saturated the area with Wildlife Research Center's Ultimate Bear Lure. Then, at 5:15 p.m., I climbed the tree.

Once settled in, I noticed the wind had shifted toward the bear's anticipated approach route, so again I pulled the Ultimate Bear Lure from my pack and dowsed the leaves around our stands. As bad as that stuff smelled, I figured it would cover our scent and help attract bears.

Now the intense waiting game began. Knowing a huge animal roamed the area, I anxiously scanned the cover around our stands. Twenty minutes later my heart jumped at the sight of black movement. Turkeys! My heart settled down.

Then I began to pray: "Lord, may I at least have a chance to see the big one. I know I am no more deserving than anyone else, so I trust that your will be done with that animal."

I continued to pray the same thing over and over while peering into the brush. I had a feeling Mom was doing the same.

At 6:45, the slightest noise interrupted my prayer. Ever so slowly, I turned my head just enough to see an enormous black figure standing 30 yards away. Instantly, I knew this was the big guy. "Oh my gosh, Mom," I whispered. "Here he comes. Don't move!"

From the moment I laid eyes on him, I could hear him breathing, and as he came closer I could almost feel his breathing. Cautiously he approached, taking several steps and then stopping to examine the area for danger. Many times he did this, and several times he looked straight up at us. If we made the slightest movement, I knew he might charge out of the area -- and out of my life.

After an eternity he turned toward the bait, angling straight away from us. That gave me a chance to lift my bow from my lap and shift into shooting position.

Right then, the Cuddeback camera flashed, but it didn't seem to phase the bear as he proceeded toward the bait. When he turned broadside to check things ove

r behind the bait, I came to full draw. Almost as quickly as I found my anchor point, he turned and faced straight at us, offering no shot.

Forced to hold at full draw, I waited for 15 seconds before he turned broadside again.

Here's my chance! I thought. As the behemoth stopped and stared at the trail camera, I settled the top sight pin tight to the crease of his shoulder, and when everything felt right,

As the fletchings of my arrow disappeared exactly where the pin had been sitting, he bolted, and my emotions flooded out. Perfect shot. That bear is smoked! I thought. He's going nowhere!

My northwoods giant weighed 490 pounds, and the skull unofficially measured 204⁄16 inches.

Even at that, I was amazed to see him go down 20 yards from the point of impact. As the last two breaths escaped his lungs with deep, muffled moans, I knew it was over, and I had to sit down to calm my nerves and to give thanks to God for answering my prayer.

Mom and I shot some follow-up video and then descended from our 22-foot-high perch.

Making the short walk to the fallen monarch, we were amazed that we witnessed no ground shrinkage, only ground expansion! I was so overwhelmed that I almost didn't know what to say. The whole experience seemed too good to believe, but, man, this was the real deal!

Given the hot weather, we decided to go back to the landowner's house and make a few phone calls to get some help. It took almost an hour for everyone to arrive, and then we made our way back to the bear. Once everyone had seen the fallen giant, hugs and high fives were flying in every direction. We all stood and admired the big guy for a few minutes before we remembered the task at hand -- we had to get him out of the woods.

Hooking some straps to the bear and then to a four-wheeler, we realized this wasn't going to be easy. With much effort from both the four-wheeler and the crowd of people, we made our way up a steep bank. Pulling the bear onto a nearby logging road, we stopped there to avoid ruining his perfect hide.

Even with all the help, we would never lift this monster into a vehicle, so we rounded up a tip trailer and rolled the bear onto the trailer. We then hauled my prize to a weighing station to find out how far the brute would tip the scales. After some quick calculations, my grandpa shouted, "490 pounds!" We later measured the bear's skull at an unofficial 204⁄16 inches. Now I had some braggin' rights, and, man, did that feel good!

After we'd delivered the bear to the taxidermist and finished cleaning up, the time was 3:30 a.m. What a long night! But I would gladly do it again.

The season became a true dream season as the rest of my family also filled their tags. I would like to thank all who shared the event with me, the landowner who allowed me to hunt on his property, and most of all God for orchestrating this wonderful experience.

I'm so glad my mom was there to share the experience with me, and I thank her for taking time to videotape the hunt. By watching the tape we can relive the hunt at any time and remember the remarkable events that took place one hot September evening.

The 19-year-old author and his family hail from Antigo, Wisconsin.

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