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WI - Bear batters hunter

Bear batters hunter
Cub's cry lures mother to man's tree stand

By MEG JONES
mjones@journalsentinel.com
Oct. 16, 2007

Hunters know it's not wise to come between a bear cub and its mama.

But what happens when a frightened cub climbs up your tree stand while you're bowhunting, gets scared and starts bawling? Then the cub's angry mother comes running and climbs up after it?

Kevin Schultz, 42, found himself caught in that ursine sandwich while sitting in his 12-foot tree stand late Friday near Ladysmith. Now he has a load of stitches closing up his wounds as well as an incredible story to tell.

It all started around 6 p.m. Friday while Schultz hunted on a friend's property near the small Rusk County community of Tony. Wearing hip boots to traverse a swamp and get to his stand, Schultz climbed up, strapped himself in and waited for a nice buck to come by.

He heard a commotion in a nearby cornfield and hoped it was a buck scraping, but instead he saw four black bears ambling his way. Schultz figured they would stay near the cornfield, but they congregated under the elm tree where he was sitting.

Schultz yelled and motioned at the animals to shoo them away, but their response was just the opposite. The smallest cub got so scared he scurried up the tree. Making matters worse, the cub went right past Schultz to a branch overhead, then started crying for his mama. That put Schultz between the frightened cub and its alarmed mother, the last place he wanted to be.

That's when things really got interesting. And scary.

The sow saw her crying cub, saw Schultz and saw red, so to speak.

She immediately went up the tree after her cub. Schultz tried fighting her off with his bow and his kicks. But the bear quickly got the upper paw.

"She got me by the side and by the armpit and tried to drag me out of the tree, but I had my tree stand strap holding me. Then she tried to pull my leg. She actually pulled my boot off. I think she then thought she had me and took the boot off," said Schultz, who owns a snack, candy and tobacco distributorship in Ladysmith.

He dropped his bow during the fight and was pulled out of his seat, but the safety harness kept him from tumbling to the ground. Schultz isn't sure of the sow's size but estimates she weighed at least 300 pounds because she was bigger than a 200-plus-pound bear he shot a few years ago.

"It didn't really feel painful, it just felt super scary. I felt if I fell to the ground - the 12-foot drop would have been painful, but I think she would have killed me because she would have gone after my head and neck.
Everything I was trying to do was stay in the tree. As far as pain, there was so much adrenaline I didn't really feel pain," said Schultz.

After the sow pulled off Schultz's boot, the cub climbed out of the tree and the family of bears left.

It's likely they were in the area because of a dead cow near the cornfield, said Dave Oginski, the Department of Natural Resources conservation warden supervisor in Park Falls.

"It's very uncommon for a bear to initiate contact unless you get between a sow and a cub," said Oginski. Cubs are "taught to go up the highest tree to avoid danger, and that was the highest tree in the swamp."

Despite scratch and puncture wounds to his left leg and right arm, Schultz managed to climb down and drive to his parents' home about a mile away. They took him to Rusk County Memorial Hospital - his heart rate was 200 on arrival - where he spent the weekend. Doctors didn't close the wounds for a few days to allow them to drain. He was stitched up Monday and given rabies and tetanus shots.

Schultz has bite and scratch marks on his foot, ankle and thigh, and a patch of flesh the size of a hockey puck was ripped from his elbow.

He told a warden he didn't want anything to happen to the bear since it was natural for the sow to protect her cubs, said Jim Bishop, a DNR spokesman in Spooner.

The cub that climbed above Schultz would have been born in January or February and though its size is not known, cubs weigh an average of 40 to 70 pounds at this time of year.

Though the encounter was frightening for both bear and human, the incident was unusual. Black bears are generally not aggressive and will usually leave when they hear or smell people. Occasionally bears tangle with hunting dogs, and there have been a few times when a habituated bear that is being fed by humans becomes aggressive.

Wisconsin's black bear population is estimated at 13,000.

"Considering the density of bears and the density of people that use Wisconsin's outdoors, these incidents are extremely rare," said Keith Warnke, DNR big game specialist.

As for Schultz, he's at home recovering. He'll be out of the woods for a while, though he hopes to resume bowhunting when the deer rut begins, and he expects to participate in the gun-deer hunt next month.

He does not plan, however, to return to the property where he tangled with an angry mama bear.

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