Mark Walters, Columnist
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This week’s column is about a successful conclusion to my 2022 bear hunting season that has absorbed large parts of my time, thoughts, and pocket book since I began running baits in northern Juneau County as well as southern Jackson on April 15th.
Tuesday, September 20th
High 82°, Low 53°
The first thing that I would like to say is that – like winter camping/ice fishing, deer camp, paddling a canoe and gardening – bear hunting is something that I am simply addicted to and, in reality, it is not so much harvesting a bear as it is chasing a bear.
Today would be the 14th day in a row that I sat in a tree and the 158th day since I started the multi mile task of hauling baits. In that time, my life partner Michelle Chiaro passed away and what was my largest group of papers – Portage, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin Dells, Baraboo, Reedsburg and Mauston – let my column go one week after Michelle’s passing. The loss of that group, which had run me on a weekly basis since 1992, has kicked my financial ass. The loss of Michelle has taken the happy-go-lucky part of my soul away.
The 46-mile round trip drive is pure paradise, the heavy lifting, and most importantly the beauty of the forest, swamp, and its inhabitants is what has kept me from having a breakdown.
Three weeks ago a new bear started hitting one of my baits, it was a heavy-bodied male with a huge head. It removed what was maybe a 220 pound female who was coming in during daylight hours before the season started. This male was very smart and was coming to my bait each night 10 to 60 minutes after I climbed down from my tree and I simply did not know what to do to get a shot other than to keep hunting.
Today I climbed into a mature oak tree where I have a view of a swamp as well as my bait which is placed near a forest edge. In 99% of these situations if anything happens it will be at the bait. I might add that as a pass time on these hunts I was writing out thank you cards to what is literally hundreds of friends, relatives and readers concerning the loss of Michelle.
So, it has been a few minutes since I looked behind me and I actually cursed myself for that mistake. When I did, I saw the big male and it was instant stress. The range finder would later tell me that it was at 96-yards, had crossed the entire swamp in the open, and was 12 feet and moving from a dense willow stand. Had it been ten more seconds before looking backwards I would not have known this bear had crossed the swamp.
I tried doing a 180 in my stand and two things went wrong, my safety strap stopped me, and I hit my gun on a branch. I dropped to my knees on the platform, and I swear I said this to myself “Lord why did you have to make this so hard?” I was shooting my BAR 300 and I let a bullet fly and I thought I dropped him but could not tell in the marsh grass. Ten seconds later he lunged forward and was gone in the willows. I could actually see the tops of the willows moving, picked a small opening and when I saw black, squeezed off another round and was confident my bullet had hit its mark but could not see the bear.
Another ten seconds goes by, and I can see the willows moving further away but I cannot see the bear. I picked an opening and when I saw black, let another round fly, and again could not tell if I had made a hit. I climbed down, went through waist deep water on the back side of the willows, and worked my way towards where I was hoping he would be laying with a visibility of about 5-feet. The first thing I saw was a big head and I knew I had my bear, the hunt was over, the emotions were incredible, and I let out the loudest war whoop of my life.
Joey Dushek, Joey Snodie, Nathan Potter and I had the task of getting 310-pounds-dressed of black bear on a 3/4-mile lug back to the truck. This animal will be honored as a rug and the meat will be consumed, in other words very little will not be used.
I miss my bear hunting partner Michelle Chiaro!
Check out previous weeks’ columns here or in print in the paper.