Hunters keep Duluth area bear-meat processor busy
DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — John Chalstrom peered into the bed of Don Bloom's pickup Thursday evening to look at the bear. Bloom, a Duluth bow hunter, had taken it just a couple of hours earlier.
It was a warm, muggy evening at Chalstrom's Bait & Tackle north of Duluth. Bloom had brought his bear to be registered — and weighed.
"I'd guess 270," Chalstrom offered, guessing the bear's field-dressed weight.
Bloom estimated a more conservative 240 pounds.
But on the big scale in front of the store, the boar weighed in at a chunky 326 pounds.
"When I first walked up to it, I thought, "Well, that's the biggest bear I've shot,' " Bloom said.
Minnesota's black bear season opened Sept. 1 and will continue through Oct. 16. Just more than 7,000 hunters are hunting in zones where permits must be won through a lottery. In no-quota zones, licenses are unlimited and may be purchased over the counter.
The state's bear population is estimated at 18,000, and Department of Natural Resources officials would be happy with a harvest somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 bears. Last fall, about 9,200 bear hunters took 2,966 bears, a typical success rate of about 29 percent.
Bear hunters are allowed to place up to three baits to attract bears. Bloom had shot his at 25 yards.
Most hunters put out trail cameras near their bait sites to get an idea when bears are visiting, how many are coming in and how big they are. Many hunters will pass up a shot at a smaller bear early in the season if they know a larger one is visiting their bait.
Bear bait might consist of stale pastries, Gummi Bears, popcorn, cherry or chocolate syrup, taco chips or almost any other food a hunter can get readily and at low or no cost.
Bow hunter Ron Lillo of Duluth had already scored. He took an average-sized 150-pound bear at 4:30 p.m. opening day at a distance of 15 yards.
"It's a good eater," said Lillo, who has now shot 15 bears in the 17 years he has drawn permits.
He had dropped it at Chalstrom's for processing.
Chalstrom always stays around late into the evening on the bear opener. He processes bears for hunters, and they'll often call late in the evening to make sure he's there. He has waited until after midnight some nights for hunters to deliver bears. He has been quartering them as late as 2:30 a.m., he said.
His mom, Sue Chalstrom, handles the front desk at the shop, doing the DNR paperwork to register the bears.
Amanda Wartman of Beaver Bay Sports stopped in Thursday evening to pick up some wholesale night crawlers and leeches for her store. Her shop had registered four bears so far, she said.
"One came in at 8 this morning," Wartman said. "I said, 'Did you have him tied up overnight?' "
Most bears are shot during the evening hunt, when bears begin to get active as the day cools. But some hunters also will hunt in the early morning. Bears can be on the move at any time.
Duluth's Kim Gerard called Chalstrom's Thursday night just to check in. He had seen a bear but passed on it, having seen a larger one on his trail camera. With less natural food available because of dry conditions in late summer, many hunters have had multiple bears hitting their baits.
"Ever since I started, they've been coming in," said Gerard, a bow hunter. "I've got five different bears coming. But with the warm spell, the big ones have been hunkered down. The little ones are running around."
Brett Hoglund of Hermantown stopped by Chalstrom's later in the evening just to visit with John. Hoglund had been out hunting that afternoon, too.
"No luck tonight," he said. "I saw two rabbits, two chipmunks and a skunk."
It was 9:45 p.m. when Tyler Schmidtke of Owatonna drove up with a bear in his pickup box. Wearing his camouflage clothing, Schmidtke presented his bear license to Sue Chalstrom to register his bear. He had taken it with a rifle north of Island Lake about 7:30 p.m.
Bears had begun visiting his bait about 7 p.m., he said. Four of them.
"They came in and out six or seven times," Schmidtke said. "It was a neat group."
He picked a larger one and made his shot.
"Any guesses?" John Chalstrom asked Schmidtke as he hoisted the bear onto his scale.
"I have no idea," said Schmidtke, 21.
The bear weighed 192 pounds. Schmidtke hauled it back to Chalstrom's processing garage, where Chalstrom would skin and butcher it.
As Schmidtke drove off into the night, Chalstrom ran one of his knives over a sharpener and got to work. In an hour or so, the bear would be reduced to a collection of quarters and smaller chunks of meat still on the bone. The meat would cool overnight, and Chalstrom would bone it out in the morning.
And he would save the hide for Schmidtke.
"I think we're going to do a full-body mount," the hunter said.
Information from: Duluth News Tribune, http://www.duluthsuperior.com
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.