It was an hour drive and an hour wait once there. Still no truck was at Lucky 7 Bear Bait. A semi from the east coast was due with a full load of the coveted trail mix. We were the first ones there. Soon there were 15 pickup trucks with trailers, then 30, then more – all waiting, containers poised, spouses or kids in tow and credit cards ready.
Then it arrived. One by one, they forklifted 2,000-pound totes off the semi at lightning speed. Once sixtotes were in place, we were all allowed to dive in and fill our containers. The totes were emptying, the excitement was infectious and the trail mix was flying all over the place. The cement floor was like walking on marbles. In these days where the TV reports endless riots and looting, this kind of organized chaos was a blast of fun and a welcomed relief. Excitement and smiles were everywhere. Bear hunting is a Minnesota tradition.
It had been 12 years since I got a bear. Before that, I had harvested four of them with my bow between Canada and here in Minnesota. I save old food in our freezers during the year for bait - like bacon fat, freezer burned meats and other stuff. Isle Bakery gave me old donuts this year, and I bought cattle mix and corn from Isle Farm and Feed. I had already gotten gummies, peanuts, icing, fillings, and cookies from Lucky 7, but trail mix was in high demand.
Bears began hitting my bait within a couple days after Aug. 15 – first one bear, then two more. They patterned at showing up the day after I baited and cleaned all the bait out of the two barrels that were chained to a tree. One barrel had a hole in the side and a locked lid. I pushed some small logs in the hole to make the bear stay longer trying to access the bait. The other was smaller with an open top, on which I put a piece of wood with a big rock on top to keep coons and rain out. Both barrels were situated for a broadside shot at 27 yards from my stand. I had an idea to bait on one day and then ninja-sneak in and out the second day on mid-morning to refresh the bait with things like popcorn, fruit loops or donuts. The bear continued their pattern, and so did I. The whole bait area looked like there had been a food fight, kind of like the trail mix frenzy at Lucky 7.
On opener, it was crazy windy, and my tree felt like a metronome going back and forth. The only wildlife heard were deer blowing at me as I walked out in the dark. I had to skip day two and three because of work commitments, but I did sneak away to bait and do the ninja morning thing to freshen the bait. Day four hunting was picture perfect: warm but not too warm, a little wind walking in to cover noise from my getting up in my stand, and then perfectly quiet at dusk. The crows even got used to me. I had a little chat with God about why He put this hunting passion in my DNA and then 12 years of no bear. I think all of us hunters have prayed for a shot opportunity.
At 7:50 p.m., I saw black in the distance. Sometimes at dusk every stump looks like a bear, but this black thing moved. It was the medium sized bear I had seen on my trail cams. Adrenalin shot through my veins at warp speed as I waited for the bear to commit to the bait. I had vacillated between hunting with rifle or bow because at 27 yards, I had concerns that my 44-pound pull weight might not be able to deliver a humane kill shot with my bow. So I had decided on my rifle, but it was a left-handed shot with a right-handed rifle. I had taken practice aim from my stand earlier, and if felt good. It helps to be ambidextrous.
The bear circled the bait twice, then went to the tipped over barrel to snorkel up the trail mix, fruit loops and popcorn. I silently clicked off my safety and shouldered my Winchester .308. A tree was partially blocking my shot to the lung area and the bear hadn’t put its foot forward to expose the vitals. I aimed for the lower neck and squeezed off the shot. To my surprise, the bear dropped in its tracks and expired in 30 seconds. I was used to archery shots where a critter does a death run, and I have to go track it in the dark. The adrenalin had me shaking like I was in the electric chair. I texted my husband, then phoned him practically blubbering to come help me get the bear out of the woods. We wrestled with the critter trying get it loaded, got a few photos in the headlights of my truck, and took it to the processor.
The bear weighed in at 225 pounds. I thanked God for this harvest as I always do. I just hope God doesn’t make me wait 12 years to get another one.