“Where do I shoot it, again?” my 13-year-old daughter Megan asked. “What if I miss it? What if I don’t even see one?” It was Sept. 1, 2009, and my daughter and I were driving up to International Falls, Minn., for a bear hunt. This was Megan’s first hunt. She had passed her hunter’s safety course the year previously and spent much time practicing at the shooting range in preparation for this hunt. But it didn’t take away the butterflies in her stomach in her anticipation of getting her own bear.
Upon arrival, Megan and I met with our guide Kenny from Sportsman's Paradise, and purchased her bear tag. Since it was too late to go hunt that evening, we went to the shooting range. It was decided, after four bullseye shots at 110 yards, that Megan would use my Ranger Arms .350 Remington Mag rifle for the hunt.
The next morning, Kenny took us out to an old plywood deer stand with 4-foot-tall walls. The bear bait was about 70 yards away. We got in the stand to find two chairs. I told Megan to quietly practice getting up and raising her gun. After about the eighth practice, amongst noise and movement, Megan whispered in a loud voice, “Dad, there’s a bear!” Without looking, I told her that the bear must be pretty blind and deaf to come around with all the noise she was making, but I looked over to the bait to see what I thought was an average-size bear. I asked her if she wanted to take this bear or wait for another. She wanted this one. She raised the gun, but since the walls of the stand were so tall, she would have to take an offhand shot. I could see that Megan was jittery and could not steady her rifle. I told her to hunch over and rest her front arm on the wall of the stand to settle the shot, and started the video camera as she fired. Startled, the bear stood up on its back feet, looked right at us, and then ran off into the woods. We both thought that she had gotten it.
Kenny and his hired man Gene looked for about two hours for blood, bullet hole; anything that would give a sign that the bullet hit true. Finally after reviewing the video, Kenny and Gene determined that the bear was about 300+ pounds and a trophy Minnesota black bear in anybody’s book. We were able to determine where the bear had been standing when the shot was taken and eventually found the bullet buried in a log. As Megan realized that she had missed the shot, I saw a look of utter disappointment cross her face.
The afternoon hunt was quiet. We saw squirrels and pesky ravens. Megan was in a surprisingly good mood, as she was thankful that she had seen a bear and taken a shot. At the guide office that evening, Megan was able to talk to several of the other hunters who reassured her that missing a shot happens to the best of hunters and an offhand shot is tough at any age. Megan felt a little better after talking to the other guys and getting an up-close look at two of the bears that had been taken that afternoon.
We arrived at the stand the next morning to see that the bait had been hit during the night and that logs were scattered everywhere. We spent the morning counting blue jays, ravens, squirrels and mosquitoes. We also passed the afternoon by watching squirrels play peek-a-boo with us. Close to the end of the afternoon, the Thermacell mosquito-repellent flame went out. About a thousand mosquito bites later, I saw a bear stand up in the distance. It was about 400 yards away. When the bear was 100 yards from the bait, I told Megan to slowly get her gun ready. As I was watching the bear, I heard a loud thud in the stand. The large book that my daughter was reading to pass the time had fallen to the floor of the stand with a loud crash! The bear stopped and took a quick turn into the woods. I looked at my daughter, shaking my head in disbelief. After a few moments, the bear emerged about 75 yards from the bait. Megan was about to raise her rifle when the bear looked right at us. I signaled for her to stop. When it got to the bait, I motioned to her to raise her gun.
I whispered, “When you get a clear shot, shoot the bear.”
“Behind the right shoulder, Dad?”
“Yes, just like we talked about.” I said.
I heard her take the two deep breaths that her grandfather had taught her to take before shooting and then she squeezed the trigger. The bear lay 3 feet from the bait pile. Megan put her rifle safety on and hugged me, saying that this was one of the best moments of her life. She called the guide to come and help pick up her bear. The bear was missing half of its left ear and some of its teeth were missing. We took several pictures of an overjoyed Megan with her bear and then dragged it back with an ATV.
Megan was welcomed by the other hunters who had waited for her return. She was given many high fives for her first successful hunt, as the guide began winching the bear out of the sled and onto the scale. The bear registered 360.5 pounds. This was the second largest bear brought in by Sportman’s Guide in the 10 years that they had been operating!
Later that night, I thanked God for this great hunt. I have hunted big game since I was 12 with my father in Washington State, Montana, Colorado, Texas and Minnesota. The exhilaration is nothing compared to what I felt when my daughter got her prize bear. I am thankful for the freedom that we have in our country to hunt.