For Tye Carlson and his hunting group it was just another day in the woods following the hounds and hunting black bears in far northwest Wisconsin. It was a scene repeated often and enthusiastically by the Carlson clan for more than 40 years. But on Saturday, Sept. 29, the routine of following the hounds turned on its head when a 357-pound black bear decided to go on the offensive.
Carlson recognized right away that this bear was in fight mode when it came out of the trees ahead of the hounds. “He popped out,” says Carlson, “and he wasn’t going to stop. He ran me over and started biting on me.”
Wisconsin has an estimated 29,000 black bears. The incident happened near the tiny town of Wascott in the heart of the state’s prime black bear habitat. Hound hunting is a popular and effective bear management tool here where the large omnivores thrive. But attacks on humans, especially hunters with hounds, have been almost unheard of—until now.
There is no way to know exactly how long the bear was on Carlson, but the attack likely only lasted a minute or two. That was enough. “He wasn’t wasting any time,” explained Carlson. Remarkably calm following the encounter, Carlson said the bear didn’t have any trouble holding its own. “I’m a big guy… I wasn’t too panicked at first, but then he started pushing me and biting hard. That’s when I thought, ‘Uh oh! I’m in trouble here.’”
The bear hounds arrived just about that time and the distraction of the dogs allowed Carlson to retrieve his rifle and shoot the bear. But that wasn’t the end of it. The now wounded bear renewed the attack on Carlson, biting his face and legs. Finally, another member of Carlson’s hunting party arrived on the scene and dispatched the bear.
Carlson doesn’t know how many stitches he has following the encounter, but he has bruising, claw marks and bites from the violent attack on his arms, legs, torso and face. He lost a lot of blood in the fight, too. Yet, like most hunters, Carlson doesn’t hold any animosity towards the bear. “He was a beautiful animal,” he said, adding, “He was going down swinging. I was just lucky.”
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials took the bear carcass to test it for rabies or any other issues that might have caused the unusually aggressive behavior, but they believe the bear was healthy. They will return the animal to Carlson when the tests come back if they are clear. In the meantime, Carlson now has a heck of a hunting story to tell.