The largest black bears reported taken by hunters in the UP this fall were taken with the help of hounds and they ranged in weight between 440 and 605 pounds. Mark Starr from Mason, who is the owner of Total Firearms there, got the 605-pounder in Iron County. Jason Wade from Frankfort collected a 500-pounder in Gogebic County and John Flynn from Fruitport got a 440-pounder in Menominee County.
Mark Starr’s 605 Pounder
Starr and friend Byron Russell, who is also from Mason, were hunting with Darrell Jonet from Iron River and his Plott hounds on the morning of September 15 when Mark scored on his monster bear. The 15th was the first day that hounds could be used for bear hunting. Hunting bear over bait in the UP was legal starting September 10.
“Darrell and his friend Pat Dinkins said that they won’t run a bear with their dogs unless it’s over 300 pounds,” Starr commented. “They start their dogs from baits and have cameras on their baits, so they can get an idea how big bears are that were there. They checked the camera at one bait and said the bear that had been there would weigh at least 400 pounds, so they let the dogs go.
“It was an exciting hunt. There was a three-hour chase. After about three hours, Darrell thought the bear was going to cross a road, so we got set up to be ready for a shot in case the bear did cross the road. The chase was almost to the road when the bear climbed a big white pine tree 30 yards away. Talk about luck!”
Some big bears tend to face the dogs on the ground rather than climb a tree to get away from them. Part of the reason for this is heavy bears have more difficulty climbing trees than smaller bruins. That was obviously not the case regarding the trophy bear Mark got.
“The big bear went right up that tree like a cat,” Starr continued. “The pine tree it climbed was 25 to 30 inches across.”
Mark made a heart shot on the treed bear with a Marlin lever action .45/70 rifle loaded with 327 grain Hornady Evolution bullets. Instead
of falling, the bruin climbed higher in the tree. A high shoulder hit from a second shot brought the bear down and it was dead when it hit the ground.
“The bear measured eight feet from the tip of its nose to the tip of the tail,” Starr said. “It was a big bear.”
The skull from Mark’s bear has a green score of 20 11/16, according to taxidermist Paul Olson. Once the skull is cleaned and dries for 60 days, it should easily qualify for listing in Boone and Crockett Records. The minimum for honorable mention is 20. A score of 21 is required for all-time listing.
“This is my seventh or eighth bear, but it’s my first Michigan bear,” Starr said. “It’s also my biggest bear. My biggest bear prior to this one weighed 300 pounds and I got that one in Ontario.”
If Byron Russell wasn’t such a good friend, he could have been the one to put his tag on the monster bear. The evening before the hunt started, the pair had flipped a coin to see who would get first shot at a bear. Mark lost the coin toss.
Afterward, Byron told Mark that he could have first crack at a bear, if it was a big one, because Byron had taken a trophy bruin that weighed 444 pounds during a previous hunt the pair had gone on together to Idaho. Mark took a smaller brown color phase bear on that hunt.
Jason Ware’s 500 Pounder
It was September 17 when Jason Ware from Frankfort connected on his 500-pounder in Gogebic County with the help of hounds owned by Steve Vande Hey from Iron River.
Like Darrell Jonet, Vande Hey uses baits monitored by scouting cameras to locate bears to put his dogs on. The cameras allow the hunters to target adult males. The camera at the bait where the dogs were released revealed a large bear had been there five hours earlier. Although the hunters knew the bruin was big, the animal proved to be bigger than it appeared in the photos.
One clue that the bear was exceptional in size is the amount of food it ate while at the bait.
“That bear had eaten an entire 22 1/2-pound box of cookie dough,” Vande Hey said. “Because of the big meal, he bedded close to the bait. The dogs only trailed him 500 yards before they jumped him.
“As soon as the bear was jumped, he tried to cross a road, but the noise from the dogs that were still in the trucks on that road turned him back. Otherwise the hunt could have been over in 10 minutes.”
Instead of minutes, the chase lasted hours.
“The first thing in the morning, Steve and I waded across a river, with water up to our chests, to follow the dogs,” Jason commented. “The bear was walking and would stop at regular intervals to face the hounds. We followed the chase up some ridges after crossing the river.
“We saw the bear, but dogs were surrounding him. I didn’t want to risk hitting a dog, so I didn’t shoot. Then the bear horseshoed around us and went back toward the road. So we headed for the trucks.
“When we got back to the trucks, we got on his backtrack where he had attempted to cross the road earlier. We set up on a small clearing that was an old skid trail. We picked a good spot because the bear came right to us.
“I could see him coming for 50 yards,” Jason continued. “The dogs were tired by then and they were strung out behind him. The bear was not much over 15 feet away when I shot him at the base of the skull, tipping him over.”
Jason shot the trophy bruin with an iron-sighted .450 caliber Marlin lever action rifle. He dropped the bear 170 yards from the road. The bear was weighed before it was field dressed on a scale that read 500 pounds. The scale was divided into 20-pound increments, however, and the scale operator said the bear could have weighed between 489 and 509 pounds.
The monster bear Ware got in the UP is his second 500-pounder. He got another bruin similar in size 15 years earlier while hunting in Ontario with Vande Hey and Jonet. At the time, Jason was 18 or 19 years old.
“The big Canadian bear was spotted feeding in a field 300 yards away,” Jason said. “A guy took a shot at it and missed. We then put some dogs on its trail and Darrell’s Dagger Dog treed it in a half hour.
“When we got to the tree, everybody picked numbers to see who would get the chance to shoot the bear. I picked 7 and the number that had been chosen was 8. Since I was closest to that number, I got to shoot the bear.”
Jason shot the bear in the head with a .30-06, killing it instantly. The bullet also damaged the skull, however, rendering it ineligible for record book entry. Jason had a full mount of that bear done, which is on display at Big Bob’s Up North Outfitters in Frankfort.
Even though Jason’s bear was about 100 pounds lighter than the one Mark Starr got, its skull was larger. When measured for Safari Club International Records, which does not require a drying period, the skull scored 22. Jason is also having a full mount done of the Gogebic County bruin.
John Flynn’s 440 Pounder
It was September 20 when John Flynn from Fruitport got a bruin with a live weight of 440 pounds in Menominee County while hunting with Wild Spirit Guide Service from Powers. Head guide Dan Kirschner said they were concerned about being able to find a track to put their hounds on that morning because it had rained heavily the night before. He said they put the dogs on the trail of a 200-pounder that had visited one of their baits.
Kirschner thinks the hounds crossed the fresher scent of the bigger bear while cold trailing the smaller animal and switched tracks. It took the dogs about 1½ hours to jump the bear and it was about another 90 minutes before Flynn got in position to shoot the bear while with guide Brian Maule. Brian got Flynn in position to intercept the chase. The bruin was only about 10 yards away when John dropped it with a 12 gauge slug.
The big bear fell on one of the hounds when it went down, injuring it. One other hound received minor injuries during the hunt.
John borrowed the shotgun he bagged his bear with from Brian. He said the scoped rifle he brought on the hunt proved to be too cumbersome to carry through the thick swamp where the chase took place.
The skull from Flynn’s bear was expected to measure at least 20, but John said he sawed part of the skull off when removing it from the carcass. So if the skull is measured, it will score less than it should have.