2017-09-14 / Front Page

Hunters break 50-year void with bears

By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

TWO BEARS were shot by state-licensed hunters over the weekend. They are, left, Wayne Kalchik with his wife Barb and Mark Steimel. TWO BEARS were shot by state-licensed hunters over the weekend. They are, left, Wayne Kalchik with his wife Barb and Mark Steimel. For black bears in Leelanau County, state-sanctioned hunting seasons have come and gone for half a century with hardly a brush in their daily routine.

But with their population on the rise, that changed over the weekend.

For the first time since what is thought be the 1960s, a state-licensed hunter on Friday evening shot a black bear in Leelanau County.

Then a second hunter connected Saturday night.

Both hunters are lifelong county residents. And both hunters were adamant after waiting 12 to 13 years in line for a bear license that they would only hunt in the county.

“I set my goal to shoot a bear in Leelanau County,” said Leland Township fruit farmer and taxidermist Mark Steimel. “I decided if I didn’t, I wasn’t going to lose any sleep.”

Steimel climbed into his tree stand on private property in the Cedar swamp at 5:20 p.m. Friday, the first day of an early bear season for the Baldwin bear unit. His .30-.06 bellowed at 7:05, and what will likely be registered as a trophy bruin fell 20 yards away.

“The head on him will probably make CBM (Commemorative Bucks of Michigan), at least. We figure it’s an old bear. We figure it’s at least 12 years or older, but we won’t know until the DNR sends back the aging on the sheets.”

It’s not unusual for bear to live 20-30 years, Steimel said. His bear weighted 298 pounds dressed — or better than 350 pounds alive.

Steimel recalls when growing up that the state allowed bear hunting during the deer season in Leelanau County. Separate seasons were created in the 1970s, and eventually a lottery system developed for issuing fewer and fewer bear tags.

“It took me 13 years to draw the tag,” Steimel said.

Bear hunting was not allowed in Leelanau for years until 2003, when the DNR placed the county in the Baldwin bear-hunting unit.

But bear hunting is more productive in the deep swamps of Manistee, Wexford, Lake and Benzie counties, so few if any hunters tried to fill their tags in Leelanau.

Steve Griffith, DNR wildlife biologist based in Traverse City, knows of no other bears taken recently by state-licensed hunters in the county.

“Since I’ve been here since 2000, I don’t believe we’ve had any taken,” Griffith said. “Then we got two in one year.”

The other successful bear hunter was county animal control officer Wayne Kalchik, who tried baiting at several locations in the county hoping to find a resident black bear. He finally succeeded attracting a bear in Bingham Township near his home.

Baiting is the most common method used by bear hunters, as bear tend to cover miles-long swaths in their foraging for food. Their routines, like deer, tend to be nocturnal. But unlike deer, they are much less predictable.

Kalchik didn’t see a bear on Friday.

“He had been coming in pretty much every night for the last 2 to 2 1/2-weeks. My struggle was he was mostly nocturnal, and he wasn’t being seen during daylight hours,” Kalchik said.

But that changed Saturday when a 3- to 4-year-old male black bear came by around 8 p.m. Kalchik dispatched him with one shot from his .280 rifle.

“I committed to getting one in the county or I wasn’t going to take one. For me, it was being able to enjoy a recreational opportunity to hunt bear in Leelanau County, and now we have a huntable population. I was just tickled,” he said.

Kalchik called his wife, Brenda, who has shot two bears in Canada, to help him drag out the beer. He has taken three three in Canada.

“She loves to hunt and fish,” Kalchik said of his wife. “I was really hoping to be the first one to take a bear in the county. I actually found out that night that Mark had gotten one as well. I was excited for him. He’s a fantastic person.”

Both hunters were aware of their friendly rivalry. “The bear (Kalchik) got was pulling sweet corn out of my brother’s property,” Steimel said.

Biologist Griffith said interest in black bear hunting has been on the rise. in 2015 some 2,665 hunters applied for 80 tags available in the Baldwin unit; the number of applicants increased to 2,845 last year. The DNR increased the number of tags available to 153 for the 2017 hunt.

As of Tuesday morning four successful hunters had reported filling tags in the Baldwin unit; two were from Leelanau County.

Griffith said the hunt is necessary to avoid more bear confrontations with humans and agricultural damage.

“We have a growing bear population and complaints have gone up. Most of the time bears are getting into bird feeders or garbage cans. It’s getting into some type of food or food-like scent,” he said.

Also registering a bear was a Tribal member hunting in Kalkaska County, Griffith said. Native Americans hunt in seasons set by their tribes.

Griffith said he had heard of a Native hunter taking a bear in Leelanau County last year, but could not confirm. A call to the Natural Resources Department of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians was not returned.

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