Spot & Stalk
Nov 28 2023
By Richard P. Smith
24-year-old Spencer Kloc from Freeland, Michigan wanted more of a challenge than a typical bear hunt over bait or with hounds during his first ever bear hunt during the fall of 2022 in the state’s Upper Peninsula (UP). His original goal was to ambush a bear utilizing a natural food source, but he ended up using a predator call to lure a bruin to him on the last day of his 16 day hunt. Calling bears is a popular method of bear hunting in the west, but is seldom used elsewhere. Kloc’s experience confirms the technique will work in the Midwest, too.
Kloc said he had been accumulating preference points for four years in anticipation of a UP bear hunt and decided to apply for a license in 2022, which was his fifth year of applying. He was drawn for the second hunt in the Amasa Bear Management Unit (BMU) and started on September 12 that year.
Michigan, like other Great Lakes States, has a limited number of bear licenses available each year. Hunters who want to hunt bears must apply for either a preference point or a tag during a month-long application period from May 1 to June 1 each year. There’s a nonrefundable $5 application fee. Hunters can apply for three separate hunt periods in each of six UP bear management units.
The first five days of the first hunt in each of the six main UP BMUs are limited to methods that don’t involve the use of hounds. There’s a lot of competition for those tags since most Michigan hunters use bait, and the license quota for that hunt is the lowest of the three. It can take a minimum of five preference points to draw a tag for the first hunt.
The second hunt starts six days after the first and that’s when bear hunting with dogs begins, but all other methods are also legal. The third hunt starts on September 25. The highest number of licenses are available then so hunters don’t have to wait as long to be drawn, but the chances of success are lower than the first two hunt periods. For information about applying for a Michigan bear license, go to the DNR website (www.mi.gov/dnr).
After being successful in the drawing for a second season tag in the Amasa BMU, Kloc spent as much time as possible doing research online to prepare for his hunt.
“I spent hundreds of hours researching,” Kloc explained. “I looked at habitats and for potential natural food sources. Basically, I concentrated on looking for stands of oak trees that would produce acorns. This is the way I wanted to hunt.”
Kloc’s father, Robert, who was 70 years old at the time, accompanied him on the hunt for support.
“My father was along for the ride,” Kloc said. “He tended to our camp and cooked our meals.”
The pair camped on public land, sleeping in tents. They set up camp two days before the hunt to allow for preseason scouting.
“My hunt started on Monday, and Saturday and Sunday were scouting days,” explained Kloc. But, finding what he was looking for actually took longer than expected.
“The first 10 days I pounded the ground, looking for bear signs such as tracks, droppings, and feeding activity,” Kloc commented. “On the tenth day, I found old and new bear signs in two locations.
“The first week and a half the weather was hot,” he said. “It was in the 80s. I got the impression that bears were not actively feeding on acorns yet due to the weather. The weather skewed the game plan I had been forming all summer.”
After finding locations with bear signs, Kloc hunted those spots from a climbing tree stand. He was right about bears being in the area, but bear hunters who were using dogs got those bears before he did.
“Hound hunters killed two bears from the same locations where I found bear signs,” he said. “I was in my tree stand and heard the dogs at both spots.”
Part way into his hunt, Kloc bought a Primos predator call in Kenton. The call mimicked the sounds of a jackrabbit in distress. That type of call is typically used to bring coyotes, foxes, and bobcats into shooting range for hunters, but he had heard about that type of call used to hunt bears in western states and wondered if it would work in Michigan.
The weather turned cold during the last days of Kloc’s hunt. On the final day, he was in his climbing stand about 12 feet from the ground in some oak trees where he originally started bear hunting. He got in position about noon and the weather was cold and wet.
Kloc had tried the predator call he bought in the UP a number of times without success, but he used it again on that last afternoon. The wind was blowing in his face from the south and that was the direction he was looking. A while after using the predator call, he heard a couple of huffing sounds.
“I looked down and a bear was practically at the base of my tree,” Kloc related. “He came in from downwind behind me. I never thought of looking that way. After 16 days of sleeping in a tent, I’m amazed it didn’t smell me.
“When I saw the bear so close, I just froze. I thought if I moved, it would take off. The bear eventually put two paws on the tree I was in and then started coming up the tree. It came up about six feet.
“I scanned the area for other bears. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a sow with cubs. When I didn’t see any other bears, I assumed it was a boar. I was able to study it through the rungs on my stand.
“The bear seemed to sense something wasn’t right and dropped back to the ground. As soon as he hit the ground, I grabbed my rifle. When he got out to 36 yards, he turned broadside and I shot him. It was 3:46 p.m. when I shot the bear.”
Kloc shot the bear with a scoped Winchester.308 Model 100 semi-auto that he inherited from his grandfather. The date was September 25, 14 days after his hunt started. When he climbed down from the tree, he immediately went to get his father and the pair returned to look for the bear 1.5 hours later.
They followed the blood trail 70 yards to the edge of a swamp. Since the muck wasn’t disturbed at the edge of the swamp, they assumed the bear didn’t go in the swamp, but a thorough search failed to find any more blood. Then rain started pouring down. Next, they tried to locate hound hunters that they had been seeing almost every day to ask about using one of their dogs to search for the bear. Unfortunately, they were unable to locate any hound hunters. Through a series of phone calls, Kloc was eventually able to make contact with Al Sherman, who operates Dat Spotted Dog Big Game Recovery out of northern Wisconsin. Al agreed to meet them the next morning to look for Kloc’s bear
“The dog found the bear in five minutes,” Kloc said. “The bear was 40 yards beyond where we left the blood trail at the edge of the swamp. The bear did go in the swamp after all. Al took 10 steps in the swamp and he hollered back, ’We have a dead bear in the swamp, guys.’” The bear was indeed a male that had a dressed weight of 246 pounds.
“It was really an incredible ending,” Kloc commented. “It was also an incredible experience with my dad. My original intent was to only go for eight or nine days, but it’s a good thing we stayed as long as we did. If the hunt had been shorter, I wouldn’t have gotten that bear.”
And if the bear had smelled him from downwind and left, it would have been gone without him even knowing he had been close to a bruin, which is what happens to many bear hunters.