Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Houndsmen introduce warden recruits to bear hunting


To many who saw them, they looked young.

“Looking at them, I’m feeling pretty old,” said a DNR employee
as he watched the “kids” go through ATV safety drills at Leisure
Lake Youth Camp north of Spooner the first week in August.

The young people who impressed so many at Leisure Lake weren’t
really kids at all, despite their youthful appearance. They were
the Wisconsin conservation warden recruit training class of 2002.
The 12 young wardens-to-be were in Week 17 of intense training and
the trip north was what most of them had been waiting for.

“This is the best part,” said recruit Shawna Kerndt, the only
female in the Class of 2002.

The Class of 2002 includes Michael Disher, a Thorp native, Shane
Fields of Idabel, Okla., Thomas Heisler, of Park Falls and a deputy
warden for nine years, Jason Higgins, of Fond du Lac, Shawna
Kerndt, of Waukon, Iowa, Daniel Michels, of Bloomer, Tim Price, of
Rome, Ryan Rivers, a native of Cornell and a former Minneapolis
police officer, Jason Roberts, of Milwaukee, Wade Romberg, of
Baraboo, Paul Sickman, a Franklin native, and Ryan Volenberg, of

Busy schedule

Some of the future wardens expressed a desire to be assigned to
northwestern Wisconsin if the opportunity arose.

“I’ve never seen so many stars before,” said one of the
recruits, mentioning that stars are pretty hard to see in
Milwaukee. It was the first time most of them had been so far
north, and they liked it. Leisure Lake Youth Camp and the Spooner
DNR office were the sites of intense training served up with an
extra dose of fun and northern tradition.

Their schedule was filled to bursting. The Class of 2002
received training in such diverse topics as man tracking, growing
ginseng and wild rice, commercial deer farming, illegal harvest and
sale of bear parts, taxidermy, and ATV operation. They covered fall
hunting enforcement, gaining valuable information on such topics as
baiting, violation detection, shining enforcement, cabin shooting,
use of aircraft, archery enforcement, and use of night vision
equipment. And then, they got to try the fun stuff.

Live-trapped bruin

It was hot on July 31 as the recruits finished up ATV training.
Hot and brutally humid. “Like taking a breath of soup,” said one
man at the camp. Yet with enthusiasm, the recruits covered ATV
tracks, raking the grass and shoveling dirt over the ruts the
machines had made in the dirt. About that time, Eric Fromm of the
USDA Wildlife Services in Brule arrived with a live bear in a
culvert trap.

“This bear was trapped in Benoit near Ashland,” Fromm told the
class. “You’ll be getting calls on bears, especially if you work in
this area. We have nuisance bears that tip dumpsters, bears that
break and enter (causing property damage), bears that do crop
damage which will be the majority of your calls and depredating
bears that might kill pigs, cattle or chickens. This is a property
damage bear, a 200-pound dry sow. She broke into a lady’s kitchen,
got up on her counter and stole a container of Strawberry Quick
it’s a crime punishable by relocation.”

Fromm explained that such bears are relocated at least 50 miles
from where they’re captured. The Strawberry Quick thief would be
released in Washburn County, well away from people with sweet

Fromm showed the recruits how to tranquilize a bear by “putting
out” the trapped bear so a tooth could be pulled before the

As the bear was “going under,” recruit Wade Romberg got close
enough to make a rookie mistake as he looked in one of the viewing
holes. The bear swiped with her paw, covering the young man with
foul-smelling “bear poop.”

“He isn’t riding with me!” laughed one of the many members of
the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, who were arriving to offer
the recruits instruction on bear hunting.

BEAR hunters

The hunters were there to give the recruits a crash course in
bear hunting with dogs, as the next day the future wardens would be
riding with members on a hunt. Warden Dave Zebro introduced members
of the group calling itself BEAR (Bringing Ethics and

The recruits gathered around as Dave Samuel, a bear hunter and
one of the organizers of BEAR, explained a bit about the sport,
including quick lesson on some of the terms they’d be hearing the
next morning when riding with the bear hunters.

“We put out bait to attract bears,” Samuel said. “With the
healthy bear numbers we have, most baits are hit every day. It’s
not uncommon for more than one bear to work a bait. We can also
drive down dirt roads looking for tracks. When we talk about
rigging, that’s when a dog rides on top of his box and barks when
he smells a fresh track.

“Free cast is when we walk the oak ridges with dogs to catch a
trail. Cold trailing is when the dogs pick along a trail and try to
catch up to the bear sometimes they catch up quickly, sometimes it
takes three or four miles.”

Samuel explained how houndsmen have learned to tell what is
going on during a chase by the types of sounds the dogs make while

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