CADILLAC — It’s been 61 years since Ron Scott last harvested a black bear and he wasn’t too optimistic about his chances of getting one this September.
The 84-year-old Cadillac man finally obtained a tag this year after 14 years of trying. Due to his age, Scott seriously contemplated transferring his tag to a disabled veteran or youth. At the last minute, Scott decided to give it a try, even though he believed at the time that getting a bear would be a long shot.
Scott’s bear hunting experience was minimal, with the only other bear he’d taken in the life being in 1958, when he was 23 years old. At the time, Scott worked as an assistant manager at Brule Ski Mountain in Iron Lake and staff members were looking for a bear that was damaging buildings at the resort. While walking along a two-track with his 38/55 Marlin rifle, Scott saw the bear walk in front of him. He immediately took the shot and killed the 200-pound animal. At the time, the only thing he required to legally kill the bear was a small game license.
Fast forward to 2019 — the situation is a lot different: Scott said the rules and regulations in place today surrounding bear hunting are intimidating; he wasn’t sure where to start.
He initially reached out to a professional bear hunting guide. Although the guide was completely booked this season, Scott said he did provide him some invaluable tips, including the idea to set up his bait pile on the fringe of the woods rather than deep in the heart of the forest.
“He said bears often come out of the deep forest to get food from peoples’ homes,‘ Scott said.
Another step he took to prepare himself for the hunt was to attend a bear hunting seminar put on by Ed Shaw at the Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center. It was there that Scott said he learned the ins and outs of proper baiting techniques, among other skills.
With the ban on deer baiting now in place in Michigan, it is illegal to simply build a pile of food in the woods and wait for bears to come. The bait must be covered so deer can’t get to it. Scott placed the bait — which consisted of dog food, marshmallows, and other sweets covered in fruit syrup — in a hollowed-out stump, which he then covered with some large rocks.
The location of Scott’s bait was near Antioch Hills Golf Club, southeast of Mesick. He said the property was privately owned but he was given permission to hunt there because for many years he managed the land as part of his job with the Forest Service.
Before the start of the season, Scott placed game cameras in the area to scout out the bears that were checking out the bait. To get an idea of the size of the bears, Scott placed a stick in the ground that provided a comparison when they walked past it.
The first two days of the season, Sept. 15 and 16, Scott said he didn’t see anything. On Sept. 17, Scott wasn’t sure if his wife, Jan, would be OK with him spending several hours in the woods, as it was her 73rd birthday.
Fatefully, she conceded to allowing her husband to spend some time at the bait pile ... it didn’t take long for a 400-pound sow to arrive.
Around 7 p.m., Scott was reading that day’s issue of the Cadillac News when he noticed the bear’s approach, which took him by surprise.
“It must have been coming straight at me,‘ Scott said. “Using a tree in front of my blind as cover.‘
When the bear reached the bait, it reared up on its hind legs and began sniffing the air for signs of danger, Scott said. At this point, Scott ducked down in his blind to avoid detection, as well as reach for his 30.06 rifle.
As the bear rounded a large tree behind the bait pile, it presented a clear 25-yard shot for Scott, which he took. Following the shot, the bear took off with a jolt; Scott wondered if he had even hit the bear, although he quickly noticed large amounts of blood on the ground. He found the bear dead a short distance away, shot through the heart.
Now the hard work of hauling the huge animal out of the woods began.
Realizing he would never be able to drag the bear out of the woods himself without field dressing and quartering it on the spot, which would take several hours, Scott asked a nearby property owner for help. The neighbor had previously offered to help Scott haul out a bear using his brand new Kubota tractor.
By this time it was dark outside. Luckily, Scott knew the area very well and was able to guide the tractor most of the way to the bait pile using an old skid road.
Scott, the property owner and his wife tried to roll the bear into the tractor but to no avail; they couldn’t budge the animal. Improvising, they dug a trench deep enough to allow the tractor scoop to get underneath the creature, at which point it was able to lift it off the ground and transport it back to Scott’s truck.
When he brought the bear to the DNR check station the next day, Scott said they told him it was the second biggest they’d seen up to that point in the season.
After DNR staff collected rib, hair and teeth samples from the bear, Scott took it to Ebels in Falmouth for processing. A taxidermist is in the process of making a shoulder mount of the bear, although Scott admitted he wasn’t sure yet where to put the sizeable trophy in his home.
While it was an exciting and proud moment for Scott, he said he felt a little bad about killing the bear.
“It was so pretty in the woods,‘ Scott said. “Some bear mounts are reared up with claws out in the attack position. Mine won’t be. She’ll be a friendly bear.‘