Fourteen-year-old Brady Firman from Hillman bagged a state record black bear in the youth category, according to state big game record keeper Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM), while hunting over bait with grandfather Steve Wicks, also of Hillman, last September in Montmorency County.
Brady’s grandmother, Ethyl Wicks, made it possible for Brady to go on his first bear hunt last fall by transferring her success in the drawing for licenses in the Red Oak bear management unit to her grandson. And Brady borrowed the scoped Savage .270 caliber rifle he shot the bear with from father Rick Firman, so the exceptionally successful hunt was truly a family affair.
The bear Brady bagged had a skull that officially scored 22 3/16 after being panel measured by CBM, tying it for third place among all bears entered in state records. Jim Henney shot a bruin in Menominee County during 2000 that scored the same. The current all-time state record bear, which had a skull scoring 23, also came from Montmorency County. Sharon Agren tagged that bruin in 1997 while hunting with hounds.
The former state record for black bears in the youth category was also set in 1997 when 17-year-old Jackie Piatt from Powers collected a big bear in Menominee County that had a dressed weight of 470 pounds and a skull measuring 21 7/16. Brady’s bear had a dressed weight of 520 pounds.
Wicks maintained the bait that Brady hunted over and he had a game camera on the bait to monitor bear activity there.
“I had a nice bear on the bait that we were hoping to get that was a good 300-pound plus animal,” Steve said. “He was on the bait every day during daylight hours. He came in as early as 7:00 p.m.”
On opening day of bear season, Brady and his grandfather were in a pop up blind about 40 yards from the bait, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the bruin they were expecting to get, but they didn’t see any bears.
“Last year was the first year in four years we had an acorn crop,” Wicks said. “There was a good wind the night before opening day that knocked a lot of acorns down. I thought the bears were going to go to the acorns, and I’m sure that’s what they did. I talked to a lot of people in the area who were baiting bears and they all said their baits went cold on opening day.”
On the second day of the season, the pair was only in the ground blind for 15 minutes when a small bear they estimated would weigh between 100 and 125 pounds appeared at the bait. They both agreed it was too small to shoot, so they watched it for 10 minutes before it left.
It was the third day of the season when the monster bear made an appearance late in the day.
“He came where I wasn’t expecting to see anything,” Steve said. “He walked right by the corner of the blind. I saw the bear coming in. Brady hadn’t seen it yet. The bear walked out in front of the blind and stopped broadside at 10 yards. I knew it was a big bear, but I didn’t know it was as big as it turned out to be.
“I had shooting sticks positioned in the front of the blind, ready for Brady to use. He did a good job shooting that bear. There was a massive blood trail. The bear only ran 31 paces after Brady shot it.”
They were in for a surprise when they reached the dead bear because it was much bigger than either of them thought.
“Brady, that’s the biggest bear I’ve ever seen in my life,” Steve told his grandson.
Besides being big, the bear has a distinctive large white patch on his chest. Its ears, nose and face were tattered and scarred from previous battles with other males. They tried to weigh the bruin on a scale in Steve’s garage that night that went up to 440 pounds.
“The scale pegged out when half of the bear was still on the garage floor,” Steve said. “I tried to winch the bear a little higher and the scale blew apart.”
Until then, everyone had been underestimating the bear’s weight. They brought the bear to the DNR office in Atlanta the following day where it tipped the scales at 520 pounds.
Even though Steve didn’t have any photos of the state record bear on camera at the bait Brady hunted during 2018, Wicks said a buddy of his hunted the same bait site during 2017 and he got photos of the bruin at the bait four or five times.
Although last fall was Brady’s first time bear hunting, he’s an experienced deer hunter. He shot his first deer, a doe, when he was 8, and he’s shot at least one deer every year since then. During the 2018 firearms season, Brady shot a big 9-pointer that was the biggest buck in the youth category on the Hillman Buck Pole, winning him a rifle. Steve took honors for big bucks among adults with a 10-pointer.