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Young Duluth hunter makes the most of bear-hunting opportunity

Justin Taylor of Duluth had plenty to smile about Sept. 1 after shooting a black bear west of Grand Marais on opening day of Minnesota's bear hunt. It was Justin's first bear. Sam Cook/Forum Communications Co.

GRAND MARAIS -- Justin Taylor had a decision to make in the next few minutes.

Sitting in a tree stand early Wednesday morning on opening day of Minnesota's bear season, the 13-year-old from Duluth was watching a black bear at a bait pile 15 yards away. The bear was moving logs to get at the concoction of trail mix, licorice and raspberry topping.

"I was thinking if I got a shot, I'd probably take him," said the Woodland Middle School eighth-grader. Sitting beside Taylor was his father, Duluth's Bill Taylor. They were in the woods west of Grand Marais looking over bait that had been tended daily since mid-August by bear guide Kelly Shepard of North Shore Outdoors near Grand Marais.

Justin wasn't the only one whose heart rate had increased.

"It was very exciting," Bill Taylor said. "I was actually more nervous for him than I was when I was hunting myself."

As the bear worked to remove the logs, Justin and his dad mulled options and debated in whisper tones. This wasn't a big bear, and Shepard had told them a couple of big bears had been hitting this bait early in the mornings. Every bear hunter dreams of shooting a big bear.

Justin would have a few more days to hunt before school started, but in the zone where he was hunting, Zone 31, hunters are permitted to take just one bear.

Now, here was a decent bear right in front of him. And he knew the forecast called for rain the next couple of days. That could make hunting tough, or at least less comfortable.

Justin, who shot his first deer last fall, had made his decision.

"I didn't want to not get a bear," he would say later.

So far, the bear hadn't presented what Justin was looking for -- a broadside shot that would lead to a quick, clean kill. "He was facing us," Justin said. "So, I couldn't get a good shot."

He and his dad watched the bear rummage around the bait pile for about 20 minutes, Justin said. Finally, the bear offered the broadside shot that Justin wanted, and he took it. His .270-caliber rifle cracked once in the clear September air.

The bear walked a few yards and died right under the tree stand where Justin and his dad sat.

"At least I got my first bear," Justin said.

Help on the way

Shepard was eating breakfast with another bear hunter at the South of the Border Cafe in Grand Marais when he got Bill Taylor's call.

Shepard met Justin and Bill at his camp outside of town where hunters from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Tennessee were congratulating Justin. Shepard grabbed a knife and a plastic sled. With the Taylors, Shepard walked into the stand where the bear lay. They loaded the bear in the sled.

"Here you go," Shepard said, handing the sled's tow rope to Justin. "It's your bear."

Justin, who plays both hockey and cello, isn't a big 13-year-old. But he's fit. He grabbed the reins and began towing the bruin out to the main trail, where it would be field-dressed.

"I'll bet you're glad you didn't shoot a big bear now, aren't you?" Shepard said.

Shepard field-dressed the bear as Justin looked on. Then they loaded the bear back onto the sled. Justin started pulling again. He heaved and puffed as he pulled his bear up a slight incline toward the road.

"I'm starting to feel sorry for sled dogs," he quipped.

He and his dad have plans for the bear. The meat will be used to make bear jerky. And there's talk of a bear rug.

Minnesota's bear season continues through Oct. 17. A total of 9,500 permits have been issued to hunters.

Sam Cook is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.