Editor’s Note: A version of this story was originally published in local Michigan publications in 2007. We’re republishing it here to serve as a reminder: Never forget the backup gun.
Black bear attacks are rare, but they do occasionally happen. Many reported attacks involve mother bears protecting their young. However, wounded bears can also be unpredictable and dangerous, as a group of hound hunters found out in 2007 when a 400-pound bruin charged down a tree to maul a dog and a hunter.
Shane Major was leading a hunt with family and friends in the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when his Walker hound Scout and another hound named JB treed a large bear. The massive bruin made his stand in a hemlock tree on an island of high ground in a swamp.
Major’s nephew, Allen Major, who was one of the members of the party with a bear tag, arrived at the tree with his 12-gauge shotgun. Steve Remsing, who also had a bear tag, arrived later with his brother along for the ride.
However, Remsing had left his gun behind. Three other unarmed members of the party eventually made it to the tree as well — two of which, providentially, were trained nurses.
Trouble at the Tree
There’s normally more than one gun present when a group of hunters gather near a treed bear. However amid the excitement of the hunt, miscommunication can happen, and backup guns can get left behind.
Still, Major wasn’t overly concerned when he assessed the situation at the tree. Major had been bear hunting with hounds for more than 12 years and he followed a careful plan to safely and efficiently kill treed bears.
“When a bear trees, we never have hunters and hounds on all sides of the tree,” he says. “We figure out where the bear might go, if it’s alive, when it comes out of the tree, and we position ourselves in the opposite direction.
“Treed bears usually have an escape plan, too. They normally come down on the opposite side of the tree from where we are and take off away from us.”
In all his previous years of bear hunting, Remsing had never had a close call with a bear, wounded or otherwise.
Since Allen was the first person with a tag to get to the tree — and he was the only person with a gun — the bear was his to shoot, if he wanted to. However he gave up that opportunity in order to let Remsing fill his tag — an amazing gesture considering the bear was a trophy class animal. Allen figured that as a young man he would have far more chances to take bears in the future.
So Allen handed Remsing his shotgun, which was loaded with four 3-inch slugs.
Well before Remsing got ready to shoot, the two hounds were tied to trees a good distance away from the hemlock that the bear was in. This was to ensure that the bear wouldn’t tangle with the dogs when it hit the ground. Other members of the party positioned themselves in the same area as the dogs, giving the bear plenty of room to escape if it was alive when it came down.
A Wounded Boar
Usually four shells are more than enough to dispatch a treed bear. One well-placed shot will kill a bear quickly. However, as an inexperienced bear hunter, Remsing emptied the gun on the bear. Before the bruin hit the ground, Remsing was completely out of ammo. It’s unclear how many of the rounds had connected.
“The bear’s size was hard to judge when it was in the tree,” Major says. “We figured it was at least 300 pounds [when it was in the tree]. When the bear fell out of the tree, he came out on the side we were on. As he came down, those big hemlock limbs pushed him closer to us.
“When the bear hit the ground, he grew 100 pounds. At that point, it was obvious he was bigger than we thought. He hit the ground on all four feet like a cat and came at my dog with his mouth open. ‘Oh no. We’re in trouble,’ I thought.
“The bear piled on top of Scout, grabbing him by the head. My knife was the only thing I had to try to get the bear off my dog, so I tried to cut his jugular. His neck was huge. I also stabbed him in the ribs, but he just wouldn’t let go.”
The knife wounds did eventually get the bear’s attention. The bruin let go of the dog, whirled around, and took a swing at Major with a front paw. Fortunately, Major was able to dodge the blow.
As the bear turned toward Major, Allen pulled Scout out of harm’s way. The bear turned back toward where the hound had been and instead found Remsing, standing there with the gun but no loads. The hunter couldn’t get out of the way fast enough and the bear grabbed him on a downhill slope, mauling his arm.
“Steve was hollering, ‘Bear get off me,’” Major said. That’s when he put his knife back into action. “I just kept working on the bear’s left shoulder.”
Once again, the bear turned toward Major to retaliate for the knife wounds. This time, the hunter was uphill from the bear. Major said the bear took one step toward him, then started staggering to the left and died.
“It seemed like it took forever,” Major said, “but the entire episode probably only took about 30 seconds. It’s a good thing the bear went for the dog first. He could have taken any one of us. The bear used most of his remaining energy to bite Scout. The same bite would have broken Steve’s arm or leg.”
The two hunters who were trained as nurses got to work on Remsing’s shredded arm while Allen raced out of the woods and back to his truck. Allen found an old logging road that he was able to drive a four-wheeler down to get within a couple hundred yards of where the incident took place.
They hustled Remsing out of the woods, and he was transported by ambulance to a hospital in Ontonagon, where his wounds were cleaned. He was then transferred to Marquette General Hospital where he underwent surgery to repair his torn arm muscle. He was also put on antibiotics to reduce the chance of infection and he started on a series of rabies shots.
When I spoke to Remsing in his Marquette hospital room, he told me he was given two choices. He could either turn the bear’s head over to the health department so it could be tested for rabies, or he could undergo the rabies shots himself. When he was told the bear’s skull would be damaged in the process of accessing the brain, he decided to undergo the shots instead.
“I want to keep that skull,” Remsing said. “It might score as much as 20 inches.”
The giant bear had a dressed weight of 373 pounds and an estimated live weight of 430 pounds.
Scout was taken to a clinic in Appleton, Wisconsin for surgery. It was successful, but the bill was substantial.
“Scout now has three steel plates, pins, and wires in his jaw, but he’s doing fine,” Major said. “I’m thinking of retiring him from bear hunting. A lot of people want to use him for breeding.”
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Major picked Remsing up from the hospital on October 10, and he joined the crew on another hunt the next day. This time, however, Remsing stayed in the vehicle.
“That was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen,” Major says of the bear mauling Remsing. “I never want to see that again.”