A Michigan Bear – one of the biggest!

Richard P SmithBucks n Bears, Hunting Stories & Adventures, Video & Podcast

Samuel Wiltzius from Marquette bagged one of the heaviest black bears bagged in the state during 2022 seasons while hunting over bait in the Carney Bear Management Unit in the southern UP. The bear he shot certainly was the biggest entered in the annual Big Bear Award Contest sponsored by the Michigan Bear Hunters Association for its members.

The bruin Wiltzius tagged in Dickinson County on September 16 had a live weight of 578 pounds and dressed weight of 503 pounds. The skull from the bear scored 20 12/16, qualifying for a spot in Boone and Crockett Records.

The trophy bear is the third one Sam has taken. He got his first bear when in high school in Wisconsin that weighed 245 pounds. During 2015, Wiltzius got his first bear in Michigan, an adult male with a live weight of 390 pounds, from the same location that the bigger bear came from last fall.

It took him seven years to draw his second Michigan bear tag for the first hunt in the Carney Unit, which started on September 7. Based on game camera photos, Sam said he identified six different bears that were visiting his bait in an opening near an extensive cedar swamp, including a sow with two cubs. Wiltzius kept careful records on a spreadsheet of when individual bears arrived at the bait and when they left along with temperatures, moon phase and other factors.

The successful bear hunter said he knew a big bear was in the area before 2022. He hunts deer in the same area out of a hunting camp with his father. While bowhunting for deer during 2020 or 2021, Sam saw a bear that he’s sure is the same one he got last fall. 

A bear also carried off a 50-gallon drum filled with corn for deer bait, and they suspect the bruin Sam eventually shot was the culprit. Based on Sam’s records for 2022, the big bear would visit the bait for three to five days in a row and then would be gone for a period of days.

“The big bear was in September 4, 5 and 6 and didn’t return until the 10th,” Wiltzius said. “The day before the season started, he was lounging around the bait a good part of the day during the daylight. During the 13th and 14th he came in after hours. On the 15th, he showed up just after dark.”

Sam was in his elevated box blind 45 yards from the bait on the evening of the 16th, hoping the exceptional bruin would arrive during legal shooting time. It was a cloudy, rainy day. Due to the rain, Wiltzius kept the barrel of his Ruger #1 single shot 7 mm magnum inside the blind to keep it from getting wet. The rifle was mounted with a variable Leupold Scope set on 6 or 7 power for the best light gathering.

After many hours of looking at photos of the trophy bear, the hunter recognized the bruin as soon as he saw him.  “Within six seconds, I knew it was the big one,” Wiltzius commented. “I was ready to go when he came in during the last 15 minutes of shooting time. I watched him for 30 seconds while waiting for him to turn broadside.”  A 150-grain bullet from his rifle put the bruiser down within 50 yards. 

“When we first started looking at photos of the big bear, we labeled him as 450 pounds,” Sam said. “As the season got closer, we thought he might weigh 450 to 500 pounds. When I walked up on the dead bear on the ground, ‘He’s bigger than I thought,’ went through my mind. ‘Ya, he’s over 500.’ When my dad saw the bear, he thought it might weigh 600. He was close.”

The big bear proved to be 10 years old.

Sam was by himself when he killed the bear. He tried to get the massive animal in the trailer of his ATV, without success. As a weight lifter, he said he has lifted 400 pounds without a problem. The fact that he was unable to maneuver the dead weight into the trailer was a clue he was dealing with more than 400 pounds.   Wiltzius did manage to wrestle the beast into an ice fishing sled to pull behind his ATV, but he buried the machine when trying to pull the heavy load up a hill. After unhooking the sled from the ATV, he went back to camp to get a larger and more powerful ATV to finally tow the bear to camp. When Sam’s father arrived, he used a tractor to hoist the bear for weighing.

Sam said he looked at and video taped a lot of bears during the days he hunted without seeing the big one. Another male that was visiting the bait that had white on his chest had an estimated weight of 250 to 300 pounds. Wiltzius passed that bruin up a number of times.

Sam produced a YouTube video about mounting bear skulls on plaques for display. The link to that video is https://youtu.be/EucrQShJa0k.

Richard P Smith
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