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CW Erickson
 

Minnesota bear hunt brings lasting memories

True sportsmen never judge the success of a hunt by the size of the gut pile they can heap, but by the quality of memories they build.

A long standing tradition of Minnesota Archery Bear Hunting. Curt Erickson and his companions have been hunting bear in the Chippewa National Forest for over two decades.

Each fall for more than two decades, Curtis Erickson of Buffalo, Minn., and his companions head to the forests of northern Minnesota for their annual black bear hunt. They stay in a cabin they build from lumber they cut themselves and prepared at a nearby sawmill. The cabin sits on 80 acres adjacent to the Chippewa National Forest about 60 miles south of International Falls.

About two weeks before the September season opener, the crew starts establishing bait piles to lure bears to their hunting area. They generally hunt the first week of the early September season and make the 250-mile trip from home to the cabin as often as possible.

“We bait them with sweet rolls and cereal,” Erickson explained. “I have contacts with a bread company and a packaging company so I get about 6,000 to 8,000 pounds per year to feed the bears. The bears have plenty berries, plums, nuts and other natural things to eat up there, but we want to offer them something they might like better.”

Owner of ArcherHunter Mfg., Co. in Buffalo, Minn., and a master archer, Erickson designed a number of displays, fixtures and equipment to improve bows and bow hunting. In 1986, he designed a special tree stand bow rest that enables archers to more easily use any style of compound, recurve or longbow with it.

As often as possible, Ericksons sons, Tyler and Ethan accompany their father and his brother, Leonard Erickson to the cabin. Their friends Dale Boffard and Roger Toumisto also join them. This year, a cousin, Blake Hanson, and John M. Schaefers, president and CEO of Perspective Technique Photography, Inc. of Annandale, Minn., joined the crew. Schaefers served as expedition photographer, recording every moment of the adventure for their party.

“PTP photographers document hunters harvesting wild game humanely and ethically so that no animal suffers needlessly," Schaefers said. “Through our photography, we can also show how sportsmen respect the land and waters they use. We feel it is important to show them leaving their campsites as if no one had ever been in the area before.”

In dense forests dotted by swamps where bears can cool themselves, Erickson and the seven others of his party wait in tree stands near the bait piles for the bruins to come with 12 to 15 yards. Erickson shoots a PSE bow with carbon arrows. They generally hunt in the afternoons until just about dark. They spend their mornings replenishing the bait piles, doing chores around the cabin and practicing their archery skills.

“We have something we call the King of Hearts Club,” he said. “To get in the club, you have to shoot a bear through the heart with all blades of the broadhead passing through the heart, not just cutting it. Just about everyone in the camp has earned that distinction at least once. We want to make sure the animals expire quickly. We don’t like to track wounded bears through the thick forests.”

Back at the cabin by nightfall, unless they need to track a downed bear, the companions eat supper and swap lies around the campfire. Erickson didn’t bag his bear in 2008, but Hanson arrowed the only bear of the season. He killed a 300-pound female, the second for the 24-year-old hunter.

“Bears had a lot of natural food to eat this year so it was very difficult to entice them in close,” Curtis said. “I did not even see one in 2008. The closest I got this year was hearing one, but some years I can watch 18 to 20 of them. That’s hunting. It’s all about the camaraderie and experience, not the killing. We had a really good time, even though I didn’t get the bear. I look forward to this every year. Every trip to the camp is special.”

Each year, bear hunters in Minnesota must draw for permits in a lottery system. Some years, only one member of the Kings of Hearts Club draws a permit to hunt, but everybody goes to the cabin anyway. People who can’t legally hunt bears help around the cabin and enjoy the camaraderie.

“When we can’t hunt or hunting isn’t good, we work at the camp,” Erickson said. “Hunting is more than killing animals. It’s about enjoying the outdoors, enjoying the company and respecting nature. It doesn’t matter if I ever kill another bear. I still love going and just being there at the cabin. One must take a lot of time and dedicate oneself to being a sportsman. Respect the animal and what you’re doing. When you get an animal, take care of it. Don’t just shoot something, cut its head off and hang it on the wall. Take care of it.”

For more information about ArcherHunter Mfg., Co., call 763-682-3665 or see archerhunter.com. For more information about Perspective Technique Photography, see www.adventureshoots.com.

by John N. Felsher