By Richard P. Smith
Faithorn, Michigan resident Mark Hanna bagged one of the biggest black bears ever killed in the state on the evening of September 25, 2019 while hunting over bait in the Upper Peninsula’s Menominee County. The enormous bruin had a dressed weight of 640 to 650 pounds and a live weight of around 730 pounds.
Even though the monster bear was taken out of the woods with the help of nine men in an effort to get an accurate weight, it was difficult to locate a dependable scale capable of handling the beast. The fact that temperatures were warm complicated matters. It was necessary to skin and butcher the bear as quickly as possible to avoid losing the hide and meat. Several scales were tried to weigh the whole bear without success.
After the bear was gutted, the best scale they could find wavered between 640 and 650 pounds. The 730-pound live weight is the best estimate based on the animal’s dressed weight. Fifteen percent of the dressed weight is usually added to the dressed weight to get the live weight of a bear, which would be a minimum of 736 pounds, if a dressed weight of 640 were used.
The bear Hanna shot is comparable to the heaviest Michigan bear known taken historically. Herb Mitchell from South Haven shot a bear in Iron County, which is also in the Upper Peninsula, during the 1950 gun deer season in late November that had a dressed weight of 650 pounds. There’s a photo of that bruin in the book Understanding Michigan Black Bear. The bear Hanna shot certainly would have put on even more weight if Mark had not killed it during late September.
Big bears are nothing new to Hanna. Over the years, he’s tagged three or four around the 500-pound mark. The one he got this year is by far his biggest. Mark’s son Chris shot the state’s highest scoring bear taken with a crossbow on September 17, 2011 in Menominee County. That bruin’s skull scored 21 11/16 and had a dressed weight of 407 pounds with little fat on the carcass.
The skull of Mark’s bear from this fall will probably rank near the top of state records. He said the green score was around 22.
The behemoth bruin first showed up at one of Hanna’s bear baits on August 20, based on game camera photos, and it remained in the area until Mark shot it. Over the following month, the veteran bear hunter got hundreds of photos of the big bear. Realizing what an exceptional bruin it was, Mark set his sights on trying to get it. He had a license valid for the second hunt starting on September 16.
“I baited the spot where the big bear was coming on private land at the same time every day,” Hanna said. “I went there at 7:15 every morning. I had a lot of morning pictures of him. Sometimes I would have a picture of him at 7:10. He would hear me coming and leave.
“He was eating 60 pounds of food per day. I fed him something different every day. Although I varied most of the food I put in the bait barrel, two things I put there every day were honey and peanut butter.”
Some of the other types of food Mark baited the bear with were granola, different cereals and nuts. Bait barrels have been legal to use for bear hunting on private land for years. The use of barrels was legalized on state land during 2019 as long as they were located within 100 yards of a forest road and anchored to a stake in the ground instead of a tree.
The 700-pounder was not the only bear visiting the bait. Mark said a 500-pounder also fed there.
“When the barrel was upright and the biggest bear was standing on all four feet, his back was six inches above the barrel. The smaller bear’s back was below the top of the 55-gallon barrel. The bigger bear’s belly was also closer to the ground.”
Although Mark’s bear hunt started on September 16, he waited for a day with a west wind to hunt the spot.
“We had south winds almost every day,” Hanna lamented. “With a south wind, my scent would have been blown toward the bait from where I set up a ladder stand. I knew it would be a mistake to try to hunt him when he would be able to smell me.”
The wind was still from the south on September 24, so Mark decided to hunt another bait where that wind would not be a problem. A nice bear that Mark guessed would have weighed 350 to 400 pounds showed up at that bait at 6:30 p.m. Central Time. Hanna enjoyed watching that bear, but he wasn’t tempted to shoot it.
There was finally a west wind on the 25th and Mark was in his ladder stand at 3:00 p.m.
“I could hear him coming through thick spruce about 6:30,” Mark said. “At first, I thought it was a deer. He stopped 50 yards from the bait and just stood there for five minutes. I started wondering if he left.
“Then he let out two roars and came running toward the bait, stopping in my shooting lane. I never heard a bear make a sound like that before. I’m guessing he heard the other bear coming and was warning him that he better not be at the bait when he got there.
“I already had my rifle up when he came running toward my shooting lane. When he stopped I shot him right behind the shoulder in the middle of the body. He was only 25 yards away. Then he took off running, plowing through the brush.”
Mark shot the bear with a 225-grain Nosler bullet out of a .340 Weatherby rifle. The bear ran 150 yards before expiring. There was a good blood trail even though the bullet didn’t go all the way through the bear.
Taxidermist Jim Kuntze is doing a full mount of the bear. The one-of-a-kind bruin measured 7 feet, 9 inches from nose to tail and was 8 ½ feet tall when hung. A front foot was 8 inches across and the chest girth was 60 inches. Mark said the bear had a nose as big around as a gallon jug. He added that the animal had eight inches of fat on him to prepare for winter.
Although the bear visited the bait Mark maintained on a consistent basis for about a month before he shot it, he said it disappeared for a couple of days three days before the 25th. The hunter suspects the bruin may have been preparing to enter a den. Prior to its disappearance, the animal wasn’t eating as much food as it had been previously.
“I set out to out smart him, and I did,” Hanna commented. “I don’t think he’s very old. His teeth are in good shape.”
The DNR should be able to determine the bruin’s age from a premolar tooth taken when the bear was registered.