What will probably be the largest black bear shot either in Minnesota or Wisconsin this fall was taken last weekend by Rhonda Anderson of Sarona, Wis., a fourth-grade school teacher. The animal weighed 658 pounds live weight, 564 dressed.
Anderson was in a four-person party that included her husband, Brian. They were hunting behind three Walker hounds and a Plott hound when the youngest canine in the bunch, a mere 6 months old, got on the hot trail of the big bear, finding it in a corn field while the hunters and other dogs took a break.
"We really just let the young dog out to stretch his legs,'' said Cody Fankhauser of Cumberland, Wis. Also in the group was Rich Einum of Rice Lake, Wis.
Each is an avid bear hunter, and has chased bruins many times in past years. But this is the biggest bear they've encountered.
Anderson's bear green-scored 21 10/16 at a taxidermist on Monday (scorers don't reduce the fractions). The Wisconsin state record is 22 12/16. That bear was taken in 2002 in Washburn County.
Anderson's bear was shot in Barron County, in the general vicinity of Cumberland.
The Wisconsin DNR doesn't keep records of bears or other animals taken by hunters. But Linda Olver of the agency said Monday that wildlife managers rarely see bears in Wisconsin that field-dress over 500 pounds.
A bear reportedly weighing about 700 pounds was killed by a farmers' combine last fall near Menomonie, Wis. But later investigation found that the animal had been shot and wounded illegally by an unknown poacher before it was hit by the combine.
Though black bears are abundant in Wisconsin — the state issued 57 percent more permits this fall, for a total of 7,310 — hunting so far has been slow, Fankhauser said.
"It's been too dry and hot,'' he said.
Wisconsin alternates between letting bear hunters with dogs enjoy the first week of the season, with those who prefer to sit in stands over bait. This year when the season opened Sept. 9, the dog hunters had first crack. Next year, hunters who sit over bait will get to hunt the first week without dog hunters also being in the field.
After the dogs picked up the bear's scent, they ran the animal into and beyond a small lake, where it climbed a tree.
"I've never seen a bear that big climb a tree,'' Fankhauser said.
Anderson shot the bear through the neck, killing it instantly.
The hunters then dragged it to a nearby stream, and floated it about a quarter-mile to a road and their awaiting pickup truck.
Bear hunters in Wisconsin are required to register their kills. When they do a tooth is extracted to determine the animal's age.
Olver said she doubts the bear will be found to be real old because old bears have difficulty keeping weight on. Genetics and the quality of available food would determine the bear's size, she said.
Anderson is having a full mount done of her trophy bear.
"We've been running our dogs, training them since mid-July,'' she said. "My husband has shot bears before, but I never have.''
Anderson added, "I'll have something to tell my students.''