I applied for Michigan preference points for 7 years before I got my tag for the highly prized 'first week' in the DNR Lottery. I contacted Mark Boulton of Sage River Outfitters in Newberry as I had no previous experience in locating or baiting bears. I had met Mark the previous summer on a scouting trip to the Upper Peninsula. Mark, his son Matt, and his wife Linda come highly recommended and provide a great guide experience. I was also allowed to park my RV on site for free. We were shown our sites, helped with a setup (I chose a ground blind), met with a bonfire and fed each night upon our return. Our sites were baited daily and covered with logs. This is to keep the other critters out of the bait as well as provide the bear with a time consuming challenge.
Our hunting group for the first week of the season consisted of 6 hunters, none of which had gotten a bear before. On the first night a local archer, Mike, harvested a very nice 300+ pounder which when measured by DNR will qualify for Pope and Young! The second night provided even more action as Corey and Vince harvested bears. The third night wrapped up with Corey's dad and Miss Becky earning two more very nice bruins. After 3 nights our party was an incredible 5 for 6!
I had seen nothing the first two evenings, but discovered on Day #2 that my bait was being 'hit' before I even arrived each afternoon. We changed our tactics and waited to bait till 3 p.m. when I entered the blind. The first night proved to be a game changer for me. I watched a young bear nose around the bait for 30 minutes and then a much larger brute visited the site 30 minutes before dark, but never gave me a clear shot. Night 4 provided no action on a beautiful afternoon/evening. This trail cam picture shows one of the animals that had been hitting my bait on regular basis, just not with me present.
I arranged with Mark to stay a couple of extra days just in case as I really wanted to keep trying and he wanted all of us to be successful. I found bear hunting to be a real challenge even over bait as these bruins are very intelligent with a sense of smell about 7 times stronger than that of a bloodhound. Even though I was hunting from inside a ground blind any small movement can be detected through the porthole so stealth on my part was essential. I used a monopod to steady the pistol and kept my movements to a minimum.
Unfortunately this story does not have a happy ending, but it was the adventure of a lifetime no matter how it turned out. On the evening of the 5th day I passed up another young bear about 6:17. At 7:30 the large bruin I had seen 2 days earlier moved in like a cat and began to disassemble the bait pile carefully from the right side, putting him broadside to me. I had plenty of light and what I thought was a good shot opportunity. I waited till he lifted his head so as to give me the best possible perspective on shot placement. I brought the crosshairs back just behind the front shoulder and squeezed the round off. He jumped up, screamed, and ran off into the woods crashing through everything in his way. For the next several hours, Mark, his son Matt, and a friend helped me track the bear through hundreds of yards of swamp edge. The blood trail was good, several times there were areas where it was obvious the bear had laid down. But, he always kept moving. We finally came to the conclusion that the bear, although leaking as well as he was, was not as well hit as I had hoped and was continuing into the swamp. It was Mark's recommendation that we not pursue it further. I can only hope he heals and lives to fight another day, wiser because of our encounter.
No hunter likes to lose an animal, but it happens. It was the experience of lifetime. I can honestly say that I accomplished much of what I set out to, but the ending remains bittersweet. Mark Boulton and the staff of Sage River Outfitters are a tight knit family that provides everything a bear hunter is looking for in a package regardless of experience. I highly recommend them and thank them for their hospitality. I made some new friends here. So, now it's back to the drawing board buying those preference points with DNR for another 7 years and beginning the adventure anew.