BY John Floyd
There is nothing more disheartening than when a client misses a bear. The time invested in setup, the anticipation and expectations on a bear stand with good bears coming in suddenly crashes in flames with the missed opportunity. It happens. On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, there isn’t a much more exhilarating moment than when the client makes contact with the ‘bear down’ call. When both happen to the same client on back to back hunts it is quite a tale. Here is the story of the redemption bear.
During the first week of the 2020 fall bear over bait season, Chad Spiekerman and his girlfriend Tami Jo joined us for our inaugural VIP bear and bass combo hunt. The package consisted of guided fishing in the mornings and bear hunting in the afternoons. Hosted by Wild Fox Cabins on Junior Lake in Lakeville, each hunter enjoyed their own private lakeside cabin and dedicated virgin bear baits. We offered only two packages that included one hunter and a guest to provide a quality, personal trip. Chad was an experienced bear hunter, taking a Maine black bear with his bow previously with another outfitter and was seeking a more unique experience. He travelled from Michigan to Tucker Ridge to get it.
Chad’s primary site was hot. Nice bears were tending the bait regularly, with a 250 to 300 pound-class bear among them. After a few days on stand, his .35 Remington lever gun barked. A big bear had stuck his head in the barrel and presented a perfect broadside shot. Tami and I heard the boom back at camp and as I readied my gear for the retrieval, Chad called and said the bear took off and ran…into the bog behind the bait. My immediate thought was ‘Oh no.’ After a grid search stretching out to 300 yards with no blood or hair, I called it. It was a miss. Later on, after running the experience through his mind several times, Chad admitted that he probably broke ‘cheek weld’, lifting his eyes from the sights in anticipation, ahead of the shot. It is a classic mistake. He put a lot of pressure on himself, desperately wanting to take a bear with his recently departed father’s rifle and rushed the shot. While he was upbeat the next few days, noting that ‘you did your job, I didn’t do mine’ he never got another shot. We had a great time, ate well and caught some fish, but I sure was disappointed Chad and Tami left without a bear.
Autumn of 2022 saw Chad and Tami’s return for our follow up VIP bear hunt. I could tell Chad was much more focused and the emotional aspect that undoubtedly had an impact on his last hunt was in check. After two years of replaying the events of his miss through his mind, he was ready for redemption. After three days on his original stand in hot and humid weather with lackluster bear sightings, we decided to move him to his back up site. This spot was a ground blind perched on a hill overlooking a valley with dense, mature canopy overhead. The bait was 80 yards down ridge in a stand of cedar with the set up being much cooler and conducive to daylight bear activity. Chad’s Browning .280 Rem would easily handle the range. After hours of rain and nearing last shooting light, Chad saw movement at the bait site. It was too dark however to identify the target and he pulled his rifle down.
It was now Friday morning and the last day of the hunt. Chad, Tami and I were on my fishing pontoon boat north of Bottle Island on Junior Lake throwing lures to smallmouth bass and talking about the final hunt plan. Should Chad head back to his original stand or sit the blind again? If the bears were only coming to the ground blind site at or near dark, Chad wouldn’t get a shot. As we discussed the pros and cons of each site, Tami chimed in – ‘Sit the blind, I have a feeling.’ It was the right call. With less than an hour of daylight left in Chad’s hunt, a big boar popped out of the cedar thicket and approached the bait. With a steady hand and a focused mind, Chad touched off the Browning and saw the bear stumble out of sight behind a big cedar.
I arrived at Chad’s site with my helper Jeremy and had Chad replay the shot to me. He was confident we had a bear but he was also understandably nervous – we couldn’t see the bear up on the ridge in the dark. I had Chad sit tight with Jeremy and our retrieval equipment as I made my way down the steep incline, my Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum nestled in my chest holster. Five minutes later I hollered up ridge – ‘dead bear!’ We hauled the big bear out of the valley and returned to camp where Chad received congratulations all around. Chad finally had his redemption, in the nick of time with only minutes to spare.
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