A 648-pound black bear killed last week by a hunter on his property just north of Hudson, Wis. -- on the outer fringe of the Twin Cities metro area -- may have set a state record, the hunter and authorities said Sunday.
"He's immense. I couldn't believe bears are this big," Lon Feia said of the 7-foot-2-inch bear, which he had been hunting for more than a month on his Hudson Township property.
That's a very large bear indeed for Wisconsin, said Paul Sickman, a conservation warden for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
"That could be a record-size bear," he said, adding that although its size was highly unusual, sightings in the Hudson area, where the black-bear population has been growing, are not. Hunting for bear and other game is not unusual in the area despite its proximity to the metro area and it isn't considered unsafe, he said.
The Wisconsin record for a bear's weight is 727 pounds, but the official record is determined by a bear's dried-skull measurements, Sickman said. To be listed among the state's largest, the bear's skull would have to have a combined length and width of more than 20 inches.
A taxidermist measured the width and length of the bear head for a total of 28 inches, although that measurement will shrink when the skull has dried.
A Minnesota DNR officer said the bear is far larger than the average bear he's seen in five years of working in northern Washington County. Alex Gutierrez said the typical bear taken there is about 250 pounds and the largest in recent years was a 330-pound bruin shot in Scandia in 2010.
Bear sightings, while relatively infrequent, are not unusual in the metro, especially in the spring, when natural foods are less plentiful than they are in late summer and fall. In one week this May, more than 10 sightings were reported in the east metro, and one was even seen in Apple Valley, in the south metro, this spring. In March, a black bear was sighted at Whitewater State Park, in southeastern Minnesota's Winona County.
Feia, 54, who owns a Verizon store in Hudson, lives on a 47-acre wooded spread on a lake next to Willow River State Park. He started putting out bear bait -- stale doughnuts and bagels sopped in grease -- about July 1, a legal hunting practice. By late August, his two trail cameras had recorded images of a big black bear.
It didn't take Feia long to realize that he was stalking an animal a lot bigger -- and smarter -- than the average bear. The video time-stamp showed that it usually appeared about 9 a.m. So Feia climbed into his tree stand at that time and waited. No bear.
"It soon became apparent he knew when I was there," Feia said. "He'd come 45 minutes or an hour after I left."
He bought a drum of cookie dough past its expiration date. The bear loved it, but not when Feia was there.
He recruited a buddy to sit in a tree stand some distance from his. The buddy left at dusk, hoping to draw the bear into Feia's view. It didn't show.
About two weeks ago, he moved his stand to an oak tree facing the bait pit. "I heard him crunching the leaves," he said. "He's behind the tree ... and he just stopped" -- and left.
Saturday, Oct. 8, arrived, the last weekend of bear season. Feia was in his stand by 6 a.m. He worked on homework for his church Bible study. Seven hours later, no bear. He headed in for a bite at 1:30 p.m. When he got back, he checked the camera and found that the bear had been eating cookie dough at 2:30.
"I was starting to come to grips with the idea I was not going to get him," Feia said.
Sunday was his last chance. Feia wanted to take the bear with his bow, but brought a shotgun, too. He headed out about 1 p.m. Five hours later, the bear appeared in a glen about 50 yards away.
Moving slowly, it reached buckthorn by the bait pit, 30 yards from the bowman. The brambles precluded a clear bow shot, and Feia didn't want to chance wounding the bear. He picked up the gun.
"The wind swirled around and he ... gave a grunt and turned to leave," Feia said. It was then that he got off a clean shot. "He ran off like a freight train," Feia said.
He searched for its trail until dark. About 8 p.m. he called a friend, who came to help. "We heard a big stick snap," Feia said. "We said, 'We're getting out of here.'"
On Monday, they returned and found the dead bear about 50 yards from the bait pit. It took four men to haul it out.
"It was the hunt of a lifetime," Feia said.
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283