CADILLAC — Devin Garner and his father, Anders, were sitting "on pins and needles" after a 300-pound black bear stuck her head out of the brush, looked at them for what seemed like an eternity, then disappeared back into the woods.
The Garners were hunting on private property in Iron County, near the Michigan border with Wisconsin in the Upper Peninsula. They were there with Anders' father and Devin's grandfather, Bob, who was about 500 yards away attending a wedding rehearsal dinner for a friend.
Devin, 14, is a freshman at Cadillac Area Public Schools who has hunted all his life. He is especially fond of geese and turkey hunting.
Before the day of their fateful hunt, Anders set out bait in a couple of locations on the property, along with trail cameras to record what animals showed up.
Anders said he set up the bait two different ways. One way was to dig a hole for the food, which he then covered with heavy logs. The other was to place the food in covered barrels; bears are one of the few animals strong enough to flip them over to access the items, which included doughnuts, caramel corn, nuts and other treats packed with sugar and calories.
One of the bait sites regularly attracted an extremely large bear — it was this location they attempted to hunt first.
While rain spoiled their first night, the second night had nearly perfect conditions, with little to no wind and temperatures hovering between 55-60 degrees.
Although they didn't see the big bear that night, Anders said the hunt still proved memorable: they saw six bears ascend a tree near their blind, along with a bald eagle that paid a visit to the site for some mysterious reason.
"It was an awesome night," Anders said.
For the third night, Friday, Sept. 11, they decided to try a different site where another large bear had been visiting.
Anders said the bear visited the bait almost every day at around 7:40 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).
They set up their two-person blind in an old railroad grade, with the bait positioned at the end of the road.
About 8-10 minutes after 7:40, Devin and Anders were growing restless, then they saw the bear peak her head out of the woods and look straight at them for several minutes, then turn back into the brush.
"I think it was nervous about the pop-up blind," said Anders.
"I was sad," Devin said, "I didn't think it was coming back."
Anders said their hearts sank after the bear left; it was getting dark and with rains forecasted the next day, this likely would be their last opportunity to hunt on the property, which is 370 miles from their home in Cadillac.
"We sat on pins and needles for about 25 minutes," Anders said. "Then it appears again on the same side. It stared at us again for 2-3 minutes then went behind a hill."
When the bear reappeared from around the hill, she turned her attention to the log-covered bait. Anders said the sow cleared the logs off the food pile with one swipe of her paw.
At one point, an opportunity for a right shoulder shot presented itself; Devin motioned to his father, who gave the thumbs up, and he pulled the trigger.
Devin said he knew instantly it was a kill shot: the bear toppled into a puddle nearby and let out the distinctive "death groan."
In the moments afterward, Anders said he couldn't stop shaking with excitement, while his teenage son was "as cool as a cucumber on the other side of the pillow."
Anders texted a friend nearby, who brought a sled to the site. They rolled the animal onto the sled, which they attached to Anders' truck.
Dressed out, the bear weighed in at 258 pounds, making it well over 300 pounds at the time it was shot. Anders said they plan to make sausage with most of the meat. He said they will be turning the hide into a rug for Devin's room.
"This is one of those things when a plan comes together, " said Anders, who added that hunting bear is a little different than hunting other game, since it requires a lot more preplanning and scouting.
"You have to be so committed, so consistent," Anders said. "You have to habitualize the animal to the bait and the human scent."
News of Devin's adventure quickly spread through the halls of Cadillac Junior High School. Devin said many of his classmates commented about how "cool" his achievement was.
Devin's grandfather, Bob, said another cool thing about this hunt was how his grandson obtained his bear tag.
Bear tags are very limited in number, and those who receive them are chosen based on a lottery drawing, with preference given to people who have collected points over many years.
Devin received his permit from the family dentist, who was able to transfer the tag through a program approved by the Natural Resources Commission about 20 years ago. The program allows for the transmission of a tag to someone 16 years old and younger, as well as anyone with an end of life diagnosis
Anders said the man who transferred his tag to Devin has been on many successful hunts in his life and had little interest in going on another bear hunt but he continued collecting points, thinking he may be able to give his tag away to a young person or someone else who would appreciate it.
As a member of the NRC at the time they approved this measure, Bob said he got a kick out of seeing his grandson benefit from the program.