A big Minnesota bear story with legs, but not many teeth
Pine City, Minn. — Nate Rich, 21, killed his first bear a few weeks ago, and the story has legs, if no teeth.
That’s because the bear weighed 640 pounds, putting it even with the fifth-heaviest bear ever killed in Minnesota’s unofficial record books. And it was missing all of its front teeth.
“There’s been a lot of talk about this bear in the area,” said Dan Smith, who runs Wildlife Re-Creations Taxidermy, where Rich has taken the bear for a half body mount. “How it ate with all of its front teeth missing, it’s just interesting. All it had was its grinders.”
Rich, of Lino Lakes, had been hunting hard this fall on some family property near Pine City, but was able to focus on black bear more than the past couple of years. Typically consumed with deer hunting, he took an 8-point buck early in the season.
Lately, Rich, a student at Northwestern College, had been out hunting about three times a week.
The evening before, he’d seen a 200-pound bear, and though he’d been bowhunting all fall, decided to switch to a rifle, a pump action .30-30.
The next afternoon, at the same spot, the rotund boar emerged from the cornfield about 70 yards away.
Rich said he aimed for the shoulders, and after hitting the bear, it turned and bolted directly at him.
Rich was glad he was in a tree stand.
He aimed at the head, and hit its muzzle, though that didn’t seem to deter the bear. Finally, at 20 yards, he fired a fatal shot to the head.
“Pretty good adrenaline rush,” Rich said. “I think if I would have had the .30-06, I would have killed it a lot sooner.”
The bear was weighed on a feed wagon, which measures in 10-pound increments.
“It was bouncing between 640 and 650, so we called it 640,” Rich said, noting that he called the Minnesota DNR to make sure that they weighed the bear properly.
Dave Garshelis, the DNR’s bear research biologist, said Minnesota doesn’t keep official weight records, but unofficial records have been kept, though they only go back to 1980.
“Based on the records that we do have, this matches the fifth largest bear in the DNR database,” Garshelis said, noting the biggest bear in the books weighed 687 pounds.
Garshelis plans to collect the skull, which measured 2113⁄16 inches even with a broken eye socket. Garshelis hopes to age the bear and determine why it is missing its teeth.
“From the pictures I have seen, they seem to be worn all the way down,” Garshelis said. “I’ve never quite seen anything like this.”
That made Smith, the taxidermist, wonder how the beast could eat.
“Maybe it fit a whole corn cob in its mouth and grinded it around,” Smith said. “Obviously, it survived for a long time.”
The bear was full of surprises. Smith found an old bullet underneath it skin. And the bear sported about a layer of fat that was about five inches thick, Smith said. What isn’t surprising is the location it was taken.
“The biggest bears we have are at the fringe of the range, where there’s a fair amount of agriculture,” Garshelis said. “They don’t typically come from the most wooded areas.”
Rich’s cousin, Ryan Shuey, had killed a couple of bears already this season, including one that weighed 490 pounds, and trail cameras had picked up several bears, “but nothing even close to that big.”
Rich, who was not hunting over bait, said the bear may have been gorging on bait set out by a neighbor.
“It was a fat bear,” Rich said.
Rich knows it’s going to be near impossible to kill a bigger black bear.
“He’s going to have to hunt grizzly to get something bigger now,” Smith joked.
Asked if he was going to have to just give up now, Rich laughed, “I’ve been thinking about that but, no, I’m going to try to get one with a bow. I probably won’t come close in Minnesota, but that’s fine with me.”