Ladysmith, Wis. — Patrick Finger had never hunted bears before, but the last thing he expected was to have one clawing at him before the killing bullet hit pay dirt and toppled the 700-pound bear off Finger.
Finger, of Washington County, is a big dude who once bench pressed 400 pounds. When 700 pounds of bear was going crazy on him Sept. 8 during the bear season, he might not have been able to bench press the beast, but he at least kept the bear from ending his life with little more than a few scratches, bruises, and ruined boots.
“I was hunting up north of Ladysmith with Dave Proden of Thornapple River Outfitters,” he said. “He has a ton of experience, almost 40 years of field knowledge, but we weren’t treeing bears the size that we were after.”
Finger was hunting with Proden, of Ladysmith, and Proden’s dogs in Rusk and Sawyer counties during the hound portion of the season. Even though they had some bears working baits, Finger had not pulled a trigger until the last day of his hunt when they were in Sawyer County. That’s where they had found a big bear. Not just any old bear either, they were after “The Pig Bear.”
“I named him that because he had a huge gut but a pretty small head,” Proden said. “He sort of narrowed from back to front.”
It was the last day that Finger had available to hunt, but still The Pig Bear eluded them. They were joined by another hunter and Proden’s good friend Jim Drehmel, who is also a guide. In the closing hours of the hunt, the dogs got on another bear.
Proden hoped it was one he had been after for over five years, but he had his doubts because the bear ran a long ways before baying up.
“It just kept going, and in the thickest stuff you could imagine,” Finger said. “So Dave thought it probably wasn’t a huge bear – it just had ran too far.”
Still, Finger wanted a bear, so he was allowed to be the shooter, even though they did not expect this bear to be a big one.
The dogs ran the bear, with the hunters following into a thick, nearly impenetrable swamp. A person couldn’t walk five feet without having to dig deep, push hard, and break branches.
“It was so thick I couldn’t believe a bear could get though it,” Finger said. “I could barely get in the cover. I couldn’t imagine a bear getting in it.”
The chase continued, and eventually, the bear stopped. Proden told Finger to make sure his gun was ready and loaded.
“Be ready, I think this one is bayed on the ground,” Proden said.
Imagine the feeling of being in the bush where a potentially big bear is waiting for you – in cover where it would be impossible to run away. Big bears, even huge bears, can climb trees if they want to. The problem is, they usually don’t want to climb. If a big bear is pushed hard enough by the hounds, sooner or later, it will decide that enough is enough and it will bay up on the ground and face the dogs.
The three dogs had the bear bayed, but had their paws full.
“It was so thick – all I could see was a black spot,” Finger said. “I had a scope on my gun, not the best bet for hunting bear in thick cover. We walked in side by side, and Proden said to shoot.”
Finger readied his gun, aimed at the head of the bear, and squeezed of a round. He hit the bear, but not with an immediately fatal shot.
“The next thing I knew the bear was on me,” he said. “All I can remember is that he charged and bit into my shoe and started working his way up to my face. “
Luckily, Proden was ready, and legally began to fire at the bear that was now on top of his client. The bear was dying, but Proden was worried his client might be dying, too. In all of his years of guiding, Proden had never had a scene unfold like the one he was witnessing as he fired his .375 H&H Magnum at the bear.
“The bear was on top of me, clawing at me,” Finger said. “Even though he weighed so much, I don’t remember his weight crushing me. I just kept trying to push him away from my face, yelling at Dave to shoot the bear.”
Finger acknowledged that he might have swore at little bit while encouraging Proden to shoot.
Proden didn’t need Finger’s urging – he was unloading his .375 as fast as he could accurately pull the trigger.
“I was cut up, but somehow didn’t have too much damage,” he said. “I ended up with some stitches in my arm and a ruined pair of boots.”
Proden ended up leaving as soon as the bear was dead, taking his dog Cheyenne to the vet for some stitches. After looking Finger over, Proden left Finger in the woods to guard the bear from the next problem – timber wolves.
“There were a lot of wolves in the area, and we didn’t want to lose the bear to them,” Finger said. “Even after field dressing the bear, and waiting for a couple of hours, I didn’t quite know what happened.”
Finger heard a pounding sound around him. He didn’t know if it was grouse drumming or wolves coming in. The cover was so thick he just could not tell. All he could do was sit there, on guard.
“I eventually realized it was my heart beating too hard,” he said. “I’m in pretty good shape, but I knew I had to calm down. I didn’t want a heart attack.”
Eventually, Proden came back and loaded up the bear with the help of four other men and an ATV to get it out.
The bear dressed out at 644 pounds (on a certified scale), which meant a live weight of over 700 pounds.
“I’m kind of glad I didn’t know how big he really was at the time,” he said. “I may have reacted differently. I’m also glad that the bear came after me, not Dave, because he was cool and collected and was able to finish off the bear. Had it attacked Dave, I don’t know if I would have been able to save him.”