I have hiked the trail between the upper and lower falls at Tahquamenon many times in my life but yesterday’s hike yielded a once-in-a-lifetime event. The Tahquamenon Falls State Park was having an open house over the weekend and the weather was stellar considering the park is in the yooperland, so this popular state park was packed full with visitors from all over the world. Although most visitors only venture as far as the boardwalks / stairs to the falls, a small percentage hike the relatively rugged four mile trail between the falls. With yesterday’s crowds, that meant that a lot of people were on the trail.
Along with a group of our North Country Trail friends, we decided to hike from the upper falls down to the lower falls, then drive back up and have a late lunch at the brewery. We were maybe a mile into our hike when a rather distressed woman hiking toward us said there was a dead bear in the trail ahead of us and something about hunters and a canoe. We were intrigued by this information. I have never seen an actual bear – dead or alive – in the wild up here in the yooperland in my entire life. Bear scat? Photos from moominbeach neighbors? Yes. They are around but I’ve never seen one.
After that, we met several groups of hunters (with dogs) and eventually the huntress who had shot the bear and, while I’m not sure that I am reporting this 100% accurately, to the best of my knowledge, here is the gist. The hunters were well away from the park’s visitors when they spotted the bear. The dogs treed the bear and the huntress shot and wounded it. It came down from the tree and ran — possibly across M123, a paved 2-land highway (but I’m not clear about that detail) — pursued by the party. By coincidence, the wounded bear fell to its death *on* the hiking trail. We think that the distressed woman came across the bear shortly after its death.
The hunting party pulled the bear well off the trail so as not to disturb other hikers and the huntress waited with it while the rest of the hunting party hiked to the upper falls to obtain a canoe with which to carry the bear down the river to the lower falls and out.
Was this all legal? We were wondering that too! Yes it was. Bear hunting seasons in Michigan are complicated. I can’t begin to understand all of the rules but there are three seasons and a lottery system. This is the third season and these hunters had legal permits. But can they hunt within a state park? Yes, they can. Again, I do not know the specific rules about this but I know that Tahquamenon Falls is a very large park with a *lot* of wilderness and, again, most people stick very close to the paved sidewalks, boardwalks, staircases [junk shops and food emporiums]. These hunters were nowhere near any of those areas when the bear was shot.
Our group kept an eagle-eye out for the huntress and her prey. I know that many people (maybe including a few of my nine readers) are not keen on hunting and may not agree with the employment of dogs to hunt bear. I have my own mixed feelings (at the end) but I am not sorry that I sought out the bear and its huntress. The huntress was very knowledgeable about bears in general and, as a schoolteacher, was wonderful at explaining how the hunt worked and what they were going to do with the bear and some bits of bear physiology in general. The bear was a sow and the quick age estimate was five years. Her teeth and cervix will be sent for examination to determine more accurately her age and whether she has given birth.
We were invited to touch the bear if we wanted to. In the manner of Boyz Will Be Boyz, certain people who will not be named got a wee bit of bear blood on one of their hands and did NOT WASH IT OFF until they got down to the lower falls. You can be sure I was quite a bit more reticent. I did gingerly touch the fur and of course I took a few photos, and one video. Because I fumbled my phone, the video turned out to be a mere three seconds, which I subsequently decided was long enough.
I’m sure it was quite the feat for the hunters to get the bear into the canoe and paddle it down to where they could get it out of the river. We weren’t there for that operation (we had already headed up to the brewery), but our group had an exhibit set up down at the lower falls and those who were staffing it said it was quite the extravaganza, with the bear being wheeled along (?) on some sort of device and all kinds of people following close behind with cameras. Only in the 21st century? You know I’d’ve been one of those camera people if I’d been there.
My thoughts on hunting (and guns)? I have never shot a gun. I do not think that I could shoot an animal unless it was threatening my or someone else’s life. But I would have to learn how to shoot a gun to do that so I’m in sort of a catch 22 there. I am not against hunting. I want to believe that hunters shoot animals for good reason (food, etc. for themselves or others) although I know there is also some sport involved and I don’t begrudge them that. Getting beyond that basic question to methods of hunting, I don’t understand them well enough to have an opinion. I don’t like the idea of any yahoo who happens to get his/her hands on a weapon out there getting drunk and shooting randomly but I think that is a pretty small percentage of the hunting population.
I enjoyed talking with these hunters (the huntress in particular but she was who we talked to most extensively). I was impressed at how knowledgeable they were about bears and that they were very concerned that their hunt happened to intersect with a relatively highly traveled tourist hiking trail. I’m sure they didn’t plan that. They were aware that the opinions of the random folks walking the trail that day would vary greatly and I was impressed that they pulled the bear far enough off the trail that no one would accidentally happen upon it.
It was so hard to leave the Tahquamenon area today but we’re having one last day of summer here at the Moominbeach. Closing it up tomorrow morning just as more typical inclement weather moves in.