I was 54 years old in September 2001 and was blessed to have built a Bear Stand about one mile north of my Blackduck, Minnesota cabin. The 24 x 36 inch Box Stand was located far back in an Alder Grass Swamp and seemed pretty easy to access in the winter when I built it. The location was secret and no other hunters even knew I was there. My trails to the stand were deadheads and could not be followed by visitors to the area. Baiting my bears in the fall of 1999 was a real exercise in stamina. I went across three beaver dams, one mile of woods, and the last 100 yards I had to walk on top of a downed tree to cross the open water of the swamp. Once on high ground on the other side, the journey with a 40-pound backpack was well worth it.
The Box Stand hung 25 yards north of the bear bait and I could only see 15 yards in each direction through the entangled and dense forest by the swamp. The bait hole in the ground was filled with bread and molasses and covered with plywood with five large logs on top to keep the bears honest. I also had a timer which indicated whether it was A.M. or P.M. when the bears came to feast. Five gallons of cooking grease also gave those bears a loving desire to lick the bark off the tree on which it was placed. The bait was always successful and attended by the bears at 9:00 in the morning, very often only 10 minutes after I had left the area from installing the bait.
The morning of September 1, 1999, with bow in hand, a backpack full of bear bait, and sandwiches for myself, I set out to fill my tag. I decided to worry about getting a large bear out of that remote swamp country at a later time. As I arrived at the bait, the brush started crackling and exploding. I knew the bears were on the bait eating, and I chilled with goose bumps thinking that no one was out here to help me. I added fresh bait to the pile and laddered up into the stand where I practiced pulling the bow a couple times to make sure all was ready. I sat for about one hour, enjoying the fresh air and the smell of fall coming soon, when I saw the first bear at the bait. It was a little Cub; only 18 inches long. Then I saw a second Cub and then a third. They laid on their tummies on the logs over the bait as if to say: “Where is the Chow”? Then out came mom! She was about 350 pounds of black beauty and the accents of brown on her nose glistened as she opened up the bait so all could eat. The Cubs took only one piece of bread at a time, chewed and played with it until all was gone. Mother took a mouthful of bread and sat about 10 yards away watching her children eat and play. What a sight! I knew I could not shoot the Sow and leave the cubs out there alone; so I sat back and enjoyed the concert.
I sat there for about twenty minutes and two more bears arrived as the family of four left. The two bears on the bait now were nervous and looked around in all directions on every mouthful of bread. Suddenly, they exploded and ran; I saw a window to get out of there and try another stand I was baiting that evening. I made my way back to my cabin and decided to sit in a new west bear stand that evening in hopes of seeing a big bear. After a long nap and a few small meals, I was ready to take on the evening hunt at 3:30 p.m. As I walked to my west stand, I thought about how lucky I was to have seen that 350-pound Sow and her triplets: also feeling good that our bear population in my area was growing. I looked forward to seeing what size bear was hitting my west bait, located on a trail I had constructed through a jungle swamp close to my cabin. I freshened up the bait when I arrived and made the climb up the limbs into the stand about 20 feet high. I sat there and felt so lucky to have been surrounded by six bears that morning and was hoping that I might see one on this new adventure. I was there for only fifteen minutes when I looked down at the base of my tree and saw a little 18 inch bear Cub again. Then I saw the second and then the third Cub appear, like clockwork. There was old mommy the 350-pound Sow; but something was wrong!
She walked over to the bait and began pacing back and forth, making a gulping sound and snapping her jaws. This was not right? Then I figured it out! She had my scent. A breeze from the northwest was blowing my scent over the bait. She was not going to leave, but was intent on finding me. I watched her and the cubs for about 5 minutes, and then decided to let out a yell and scare them out of there. Out it came: “HEY”!!! Very Loudly! The Sow growled loudly and stood up on her hind legs, ready to fight! She was standing about 7 feet high and I could see the snot flying from her nostrils as she growled and invited me to come into her fight zone. At the same time she growled and stood up, all three Cubs shot up the nearest tree, and I was sitting there with two cubs at eye level 20 feet away and one cub about 4 feet below the seat of my stand. I was SCARED!
I was seriously thinking what my next course of action would be? My only asset was that mama did not know where I was. I sat there for a minute, which seemed like an hour: in total silence. Angry, the big Sow went down on all fours, making a grunting sound, alerting the cubs who skirted down the trees and joined her. All four of them meandered off into the brush, and my blood pressure started to go back down. I sat there for fifteen minutes, gathered my thoughts, reviewed the situation, and decided that I was a lucky boy. If that 350-pound mama bear had known that I was breathing the same air as her cubs when they went up the trees, the outcome of this story could have been VERY different. If she would have come up the tree after me, the moral of this hunting story may have been written by someone else?
I went back to my cabin very humble and also with knees knocking together as I walked. I made myself some chili and sandwiches. I had to laugh at the way I took my bites: just like the little Cubs did; slow and tiny! I went back to the stand in the East Alder Swamp the next weekend wanting to shoot pictures and name the three little bears who had made such a monumental impact on my heart. I arrived on a Saturday morning and harvested a Male Black Bear shortly after arriving. I walked east to clear a path for the ATV to haul my bear out when my hunting world got a sudden shock in front of my old abandoned stand from two years ago.
I was deeply saddened when I found the gut pile of the 350-pound Sow on that Saturday morning. A neighbor hunter had shot her from my stand and I am not sure today what happened to the three little bears. I can only hope that my bread and molasses helped them make it through the upcoming winter of 2001. I am going bear hunting this year; 2006. I will always remember this story and always respect the bear and the instincts they have for survival which we humans are usually the culprit for testing and initiating.