The Bear that Wouldn’t Die
Jeff Dixon, 1980
Minnesota bear season opens the first week in September. My buddy Mark and I started north three days before opening day. We arrived in Big Falls around noon at the campground that seven of us had stayed the season before.
We went and put out my bait, which consisted of meat scraps, smoked bacon rinds, half rotten apples, ground corn, molasses, and marshmallows under one of the stands we used the previous year. There was good sign there, like oak trees with the branches broken off from the bears trying to get the acorns, bear droppings, etc.
After my bait was set and we had our camp all set up we went to the local dump to see if we could spot any bears coming into rummage through the garbage for something to eat. That afternoon we had seen a couple of nice bears – almost 250 pounders.
We slept in the next morning and went out to build our tree stands by my bait. When we arrived we were surprised by one of the largest black bears I have ever seen. Its head was as large as a bushel basket. I estimated it to weigh over 400 pounds. It was a large sow. Quietly we left so that we would not spook her so that when season came, she might come around again when I’d be ready for her.
A couple of hours later we returned. She had left after cleaning up about 100 pounds of bait. We rebuilt my stand from the year before and put up a portable for Mark. Mark did not have a hunting license but he came with the hopes of photographing one of these magnificent animals. After re-baiting, we left so not to disturb any animals that might be close by.
We did not return to the stands until opening morning. Upon arriving we found that the bears had cleaned it up again. We rebated and sat there ‘til noon with no sign of bear. We left for lunch and came back around 3:30 p.m. and sat until after 7:00 p.m. still with no sign of bear.
Then, all of a sudden, the forest became deathly silent. The birds quit chirping, the squirrels quit scampering, and it even seemed like the mosquitos stopped biting. Just moments later, the black giant appeared not more than 30 yards from the bait. It was 7:40 p.m.
Knowing something was wrong when the silence came, my eyes and ears were straining to pierce through the thick brush and heavy timber of the Northern Minnesota forest. Suddenly, a twig snapped, at first it was just a shadow in the dense background. My heart must have skipped a couple of beats when the big bear stepped into a small clearing just yards from the bait, slowly moving towards it. The bear stopped behind a small thicket about 10 yards from the bait and out of my line of sight. It seemed like an hour that the bear remained motionless, though it was actually only a few minutes. Then, the large head popped out of the brush, looking around with its nose in the air, sniffing. It stepped onto the pile of goodies I had placed there for the bears. I could not believe the size of this bear. It was a boar. All of a sudden, the bear jerked his head up and looked right at Mark.
I couldn’t shoot because it wouldn’t have been a clean shot. The bear was standing in a stance quartering towards me so, I waited. The wind was gently flowing from the bear towards my stand, but when the bear was satisfied that there was nothing in Mark’s direction- he whirled around and stared straight at me. I thought for sure that he was going to hear my heart pounding against my chest. I didn’t even have my bow in position to even attempt to get a shot at that angle. I stood, frozen, for 10 minutes while the bear tried to detect my presence. I was just 12 yards away from him and Mark was about 30 yards on the other side of the bear.
Finally, he put his head down and picked up a marshmallow, he took his right paw and literally threw a log off the bait pile. Then, he turned broadside from me. I raised my Browning Safari Compound bow and came to a full draw when the bear put his left leg forward. My arrow, a 2216xx75, was on its way for the front shoulder. It hit its mark, and I’m not exaggerating when I say this, the bear jumped 3 feet straight into the air, came down, and bolted into the brush in the same direction he came. I gave the thumbs up signal to Mark and sat in my stand to calm myself down and, I guess, patting myself on the back for knowing that my shot looked good and the bear had to be dead. That’s when another bear emerged onto the bait from the same direction my bear had retreated in.
I just sat there, comparing my bear with this one. I noticed something that stood my hair straight up, almost lifting my hat up. Blood was gushing out of the bear’s left side, behind his shoulder. I thought to myself, it could not be the same bear, or could it? I looked up at Mark, who looked like he was going to fall out of his tree.
I quickly gathered myself together and knocked another arrow, found my mark, and released. The arrow disappeared into the bear, near the same spot as the first shot. Again, the bear took off, but this time he ran only about 40 yards, where he stopped in about the only spot that he could have. I could see him, there was just a small hole in the brush between him and me.
He sat on his rump and was biting at his left shoulder, where my two arrows had stuck. He had his back directly towards me when I knocked my third arrow. I figured that the bear was almost 40 yards from me, and I had a pin on the sights of my bow set at that distance from target shooting. I placed the pin at the center of the bears back, just below his shoulders, and released. Another perfect shot. The arrow sunk into the back, almost up to the feathers, but still, the bear disappeared into the timber.
Mark and I stayed in our stands for nearly half an hour, then finally climbed out and bet at the bait. There was blood all over and one of my arrows on the ground on the other side of the bait. It had gone all the way through the bear.
We talked about how tough this animal was. Mark didn’t know what I was shooting at on my third arrow because he could not see the bear from his angle. We started tracking the bear and by this time it was starting to get dark. We followed it about 50 yards from where I had hit it on the third shot. It had made a complete circle and had come upon its own blood trail. We marked the trail by sticking an arrow into the intersection of the two paths met. As we started back to the truck to retrieve our flashlights. We were just about back to the bait when we spooked another bear that had been eating scraps on the bait pile. It was like we had set a record from there back to the truck 1/4th of a mile away because it felt like we were there in only seconds.
We looked at each other wondering, if by some remote chance, that the bear we had just jumped was the same as the wounded one or not. We grabbed the flashlights and headed back towards the trail we had left off at. I must have been excited, or something, because we were trailing the bear with two flashlights and a bow, while back at the truck behind the seat I had a Browning 30-06 semi-automatic rifle that I had never even thought about bringing with us.
We followed the blood trail about another 100 yards, in which the bear had circles twice more. We were trailing this bear through some of the thickest brush I had ever seen, which was not smart when tracking a wounded bear with only a bow after dark. I will be the first to admit that now.
Anyway, I smelled a musty odor while on the trail and told Mark that we were getting close when he told me he could hear something breathing just ahead of us. I told him he was hearing things when all of a sudden I heard it too. I almost filled my pants when I shined the flashlight on a pair of small beady eyes that weren’t more than 10 yards away. It was unbelievable, the bear was still alive. He was laying on his side with his head on the ground. I told Mark to hold the flashlight behind my ear so I could see my sights to put one more arrow in the bear’s throat to make sure it would be put out of its misery.
I shot. We both almost died when the bear stood sat up on its rump, snarling snapping its jaws. At that time, I thought that Mark and I were going to be torn apart by this monster. I was too scared to run, even if I could have made it through the brush at night. We settled down a little bit when we noticed the bear could not move his hind legs. I knocked the fifth arrow and shot at him, square in the chest. The bear let out a roar that could wake the dead, but he still would not go down. I shot a sixth arrow, but it stopped when it hit a sapling poplar tree. Now, I had one arrow left. I told Mark that if the bear did not go down this time, we were getting the hell out of there.
I knocked my seventh and last arrow when Mark told me he was going to chop the other arrow out of the tree. He told me to get as close to the bear as I dare and to pull back to full draw and hold it until the bear made a move towards one of us or he got the sixth arrow back. I pulled back and held when I heard the tree break and Mark say that he had it. I let the seventh arrow fly. It hit the chest and the bear went down with a hissing sound. He was thrashing around when I shot the bent arrow that Mark had dug out of the tree. The bear let out one last moan and then laid still. He was finally mine.
We field dressed him out, but when we tried to drag the bear, we could hardly move him. We went back into town to find someone to help us bring hit out, but there was no one around. So, we returned to the bear. We tied its paws to a 3-inch pole and carried the big fella out. It took us 2 ½ hours to carry him 200 yards to the truck, but the hunt was finally over.
We took the bear to a nearby mink farm where they froze it whole so that I could take it the 300 miles home without the meat spoiling. There, they also weighed it for me. The bear dressed out at 352 lbs.
It was truly the most exciting hunt I’ve ever had, and quite possibly the best I ever will have. One suggestion, I might add: don’t ever trail a wounded bear with a bow, we were lucky one of my arrows had hit its spine. If it hadn’t, the bear could have turned on us when we found him.
Jeff Dixon grew up in Buffalo, MN. He settled in Delano in 1972 and started a family. He is the father of four children, whom he has shared his love of hunting with. He now lives in Emily, MN at the family cabin where he is retired. His hunting stories are often told around the campfire, being passed down to his children and now his grandchildren. Jeff has always loved the outdoors and continues to hunt bear and deer in the Northwoods of Minnesota.