FLIRTING WITH THE BLACK BEAR RECORD…639 pound boar challenged Wisconsin’s top spot

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By Dick Ellis

Reader note:“You never know what you’ll find in a Mike Foss bear camp. But at least the opportunity for success is as close as a hunter can come to a guarantee. Hunters over many years have achieves a near 100 percent shot opportunity due to the guide’s hard work in pre-season. Craig Cichanofsky of Green Bay found a little more during his 2009 hunt; a 639 pound record book boar and a once-in-a-lifetime memory. That story, which first appeared in the Ellis syndicated column in 2009, included photos of the nighttime recovery by almost a dozen hunters and this reporter.”

Wisconsin bear hunter Craig Cichanofsky’s hopes began to fade like the tangled Bayfield County forest floor fast disappearing below his treestand. Cichanofsky had already held vigil for more than nine hours above the bait pile that had in recent weeks drawn in the monster bear known as Snaggle Tooth. But in these final minutes of light September 17th, the legendary boar was apparently once again a no-show.

Black Bear Hunting Bayfield County Wisconsin 639 pound black bear bayfield county Guide Mike Foss of Northern Wisconsin Outfitters captured this Cuddeback photo of the 639 pound black bear on the bait pile less than one month before hunter Craig Cichanofsky of Green Bay tagged the big boar in Bayfield County on the second day of the Wisconsin black bear season for bait hunters. The bear is expected to challenge the existing state record determined by skull size after a 60-day official drying period. Guide Mike Foss of Northern Wisconsin Outfitters, left, and hunter Craig Cichanofsky of Green Bay with the 639 pound black bear taken September 17th in Bayfield County on the second day of the Wisconsin black bear season for hunters using bait.

The Cuddeback camera mounted on a tree near the bait had revealed the recent visits of a bear estimated to weigh well over 600 pounds, and another bear almost as large. The long tooth jutting from the side of the bear’s mouth, a badge of war almost surely inflicted in a fight for dominance with another bear earlier in life, verified that it was indeed Snaggle Tooth, the startlingly large boar Guide Mike Foss had first seen years before in broad daylight during the black bear mating season.

Over several years of diligent scouting Foss, owner of Northern Wisconsin Outfitters in Washburn, had narrowed the bear’s travel and bedding areas. His clients, though, had played a futile waiting game on strategically placed stands during the bear hunting seasons that came and went. Big bears don’t grow to exceptional size or live to old age without an uncanny sixth sense for survival.

bear hunting Wisconsin wisconsin bear hunting Bear hunter Craig Cichanofsky of Green Bay with his 639 pound black bear taken September 17th in Bayfield County on the second day of the Wisconsin black bear season for hunters using bait. Guide Mike Foss of Northern Wisconsin Outfitters baited the station which was also visited frequently and captured on cuddeback camera by the legendary Snaggle Tooth, a black bear expected to be even larger. The bear tagged by Cichanofsky is expected to challenge the existing state record for skull size after a 60-day official drying period. Wisconsin bear hunters enjoy a 100 percent shot opportunity due to months of baiting work by Guide Mike Foss and his team at Northern Wisconsin Outfitters in Bayfield County. After four days of hunting in 2009, eight hunters out of 12 in camp had scored, including Craig Cichanofsky of Green Bay, who tagged this monster bear weighing 639 pounds.

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Cichanofsky checked his watch and checked his emotions. He could legally hunt for three more minutes. That was the plan. The digital clock on the motion camera had told Foss that Snaggle Tooth was a nocturnal feeder and arrived at the bait, when he came at all, only for the final few minutes of legal shooting hours. Foss, in turn, stressed patience to the first time bear hunter from Green Bay who had already waited nine years for a coveted Wisconsin kill permit and now held vigil over bait within the favorite haunt of one of the largest bears that had ever roamed the state. With the thought of a potential face to face encounter on the ground with the enormous boar if the bear did arrive even a few minutes after legal shooting hours, Cichanofsky was not anxious to leave the stand in complete darkness.

Wisconsin Bear Hunting

“When Mike asked me if I would like to hunt the Snaggle Tooth stand, I said I would be honored to have the opportunity even though I also knew the chances of him coming to the bait were slim” Cichanofsky said. “I remembered Mike’s words to be patient. But with three minutes left, my hand was literally inside my coat and on the rope that I would use to lower the rifle.”

The stand itself was Cichanofsky’s portable climber set in a mature poplar just 14 yards from the bait. Sweat lay heavy on the hunter in near 80 degree heat. Below, wild apple trees mingled with thick stands of briars and dense pines, sloping from the bait to tangled river bottom. Rising from the looming darkness, an eerie grunting…the rythmatic, and labored breathing of an obese bear coming to feed…broke the quiet. Cichanofsky watched the monster bear come in like a black ghost. “Snaggle Tooth”, he thought.

The shot of adrenalin pushed emotions even higher. He reached back to his experience as a deer hunter, mentally pushed aside the enormity of the moment, picked out a single log on the bait pile, rested the crosshairs of his Winchester Short Mag 300 on the spot, and waited for the bear to enter the field of vision…

Just a day before, Wednesday, September 16, opening day of the Wisconsin bear season for hunters using bait in Zone D, Cichanofsky had been disappointed when Foss asked him not to hunt the stand at all. A changing Lake Superior wind threatened to kill even the best laid plans that had been in motion for months and even years.

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bear hunting Wisconsin Bear Hunting Wisconsin The boar is seen after transport to the Mike Foss’s camp from the field. Photo by Nathanial DoucetteBear hunter Craig Cichanofsky is shown with bear weighed at 639 pounds on the scale at Outdoor Allure Guiding Service in Washburn.

“This time of year, opening day was a prime example that we don’t know what the wind will do,” Foss said. “It can change in a hurry. That stand needs a southwest or a northwest wind to be alright. Three out of the first five days of the season the wind was out of the east. If Craig would have sat in that stand the first night, the game was over. The bear would have caught him without question. On the second night, the wind had changed back. The bear came in from the south. He never had an inkling Craig was there. It was absolutely perfect.”

It was a field-savvy Cichanofsky who immediately agreed to the request of a guide with a reputation for working hard from the first day of legal baiting on April 15 to ensure that his clients enjoy 100 percent shot opportunity during the September season. This year, Cichanofsky had traveled north several times to Washburn to help Foss and Northern Wisconsin Outfitter guides and assistants Bill Kurtz, Bryce Doucette, Jake Macabee, Gary Dressen and Chris Martens bait numerous stations on a circuit over 20 rugged square miles of Lake Superior country. Cichanofsky had even transported loads of sweet bait to Washburn received from his close friend, Brian Bolssen, who works in a Green Bay ice cream cone factory.

Wisconsin bear hunting

Bear hunters already successful relax and wait for word of success from other hunters on stand at Northern Wisconsin Outfitters camp in Bayfield County. After four days of hunting, eight of 12 hunters had tagged bears, including bears taken of 300 and 639 pounds.

In 2009, bear hunters Darren Selk of Jackson, Rob Johnson of West Bend, Dave Rondeau of Plymouth, Mark Black of Lake Geneva, Chris Abel of Menasha, John Kohls of Sheboygan, Al Jordan of Waukesha, Ryan Tearney of Germantown, Bob Lipstreuer of Burlington, Scott Pita and Kurt Rojemann of Dubuque, Iowa would reap the benefits of the team effort. By day four of the season, eight bears would be tagged with bow or firearm, and each hunter would have bears come to bait while on stands, offering the choice of shooting or not.

“Mike said ‘I hate to do this to you but I’m not going to put you on stand’,” Cichanofsky said. “He asked me how I felt about that. But I get it. I understand working the wind. A southeast wind would have put my scent right on the bait pile. I had mixed emotions. But I was able to sit that first night to film John Kohls’ hunt when he shot a 300 pound sow. I would never have known what a grunting bear sounds like coming into the bait if I had not sat on that stand. The next night, I knew what that noise was coming into my bait.”

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…Cichanofsky held the 300 mag steady on the log and waited for the bear to step in. When it did, he adjusted the crosshairs to the vitals and squeezed the trigger. The big boar dropped on the bait, never taking another step. The hunter would return to camp believing he had dropped Snaggle Tooth. Foss, in fact, would identify the boar as another captured on motion camera at the bait station less than a month before; not only by its obese size, but by a badly split snout that with little doubt had also been inflicted in battle with other boars during the summer mating season.

It would take 11 hunters and guides using the Bear Scents, LLC Big Game Cot of Lake Mills (taking numerous stops to rest and gaining just 10 yards of terrain at a time) to transport the bear from the wild forests of Bayfield County to the trucks. At Outdoor Allure in Washburn, the boar was unofficially weighed at 639 pounds live weight. The bear, Foss said, will likely challenge the Wisconsin state record determined by skull size.

According to Steve Ashley, Director of Records for the Wisconsin Buck & Bear Club in an interview Sunday, there is a 60 day drying period after the skull is cleaned before the bear is scored to the nearest one-sixteenth of an inch by measuring length plus width. The current state record, according to the most recent Wisconsin trophy Records book published by the Buck & Bear Club, is 22-12/16 taken in Zone A1 in Washburn County in 2002 by George Spaulding of Shell Lake. Regardless, the Cichanofsky bear is a once in a lifetime trophy in any bear hunter’s book, targeted by a one-of-a kind professional guide.

According to Steve Ashley, Director of Records for the Wisconsin Buck & Bear Club in an interview Sunday, there is a 60 day drying period after the skull is cleaned before the bear is scored to the nearest one-sixteenth of an inch by measuring length plus width. The current state record, according to the most recent Wisconsin trophy Records book published by the Buck & Bear Club, is 22-12/16 taken in Zone A1 in Washburn County in 2002 by George Spaulding of Shell Lake. Regardless, the Cichanofsky bear is a once in a lifetime trophy in any bear hunter’s book, targeted by a one-of-a kind professional guide.

“Mike Foss…he’s the man who made this happen,” Cichanofsky said. As it got darker and darker I kept remembering his voice; patience….patience. I’m still numb. But patience paid off big.”

Contact Mike Foss and Northern Wisconsin Outfitters at 715-373-0344 or www.northernwisconsinoutfitters.com.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>