MN 2009 Bear Season – Upper Red Lake Area


I can still remember the sureness I had a few weeks ago when I purchased my bear tag, that it would remain un-punched for only a short time. What would follow would definitely be a celebration over a bow-killed bruin of epic proportions, one of the many that Jon Petrowske from Outdoors with Jonny P Guide Service had on trail camera only days previous on the baits I was about to hunt. I was excited, my equipment was ready, and mentally I was ready to do what it took to harvest a black bear. That’s all it takes right?

Milky Corn - A Bad Sign!

Milky Corn – A Bad Sign!

Enter reality. 80 degree highs in the north country, coupled with milky corn just to the south of my zone, and what ensued was 5 consecutive days of baiting with not a single hit (sans an overeager abandoned cub) on any of the 6 baits I had entirely to myself. Jonny is the last person I can fault however. We tried everything. Special concoctions sprayed high into the trees, a honey burn, 4 wheeler scent trails, etc……we couldn’t get a bear working in the only time I had to hunt. When the drive-shaft on my truck dropped on the ground while preparing to head out for my last night’s sit…..I took a hint and opted to fix the truck. Partially so I wouldn’t be stranded in Waskish (yikes!), and partly because with the way my luck was going, I’d probably fall out of the stand or run myself over with a truck or something. Not my truck, because it was broken.

Good Enough To Eat - And We Did!

Good Enough To Eat – And We Did!

However, bears can be killed, even in tough conditions, and while success was dramatically affected, all but two of Jonny’s clients had legitimate chances at good bear that week. One decided to pass, another just gave one a haircut, and another yet had one circling that he decided to wait on that never arrived to the bait. Opening week, they were 10 for 11, and over the nearly week long of helping Jonny bait, hang stands, and check trail cameras, I was lucky enough to receive a first class education on hunting these bears.

On an over 90 mile bait run, we tended only about 20 baits of the 40+ they start with at the beginning of the season, as hunters were just finishing up. Just doing half of the run was a pile of work that had us mixing bait at sunup, only to barely make it back in time to get hunters to stands.

Infamous Skunk Bait - Never There When Jonny Was

Infamous Skunk Bait – Never There When Jonny Was

At each bait, Jonny and I would re-bait the station if it was hit and re-arrange the logs so the coon/skunk wouldn’t get to it. Most importantly, we checked the trail cameras and uploaded pics so the hunters could see what was working their baits and when. This invaluable tool made all the difference in the world, as it kept us from hunting sows/cubs, and kept us on reliable bears that came into the bait before dark!

The only thing I saw in my zone however was a rascal skunk. This thing really had it out for me. Our first meeting happened when I got near the bait to get into my stand…..he started walking towards me……then we each froze for a few minutes, then he came again. I retreated and took another path to the stand. Skunk 1, Joel 0. The next night, he almost delivered the final blow. A guide trick is to sprinkle candied hearts towards the back of the bait and beyond, so that a black bear was contrasted with the white candy… the hunter a little bit more shooting light. Well, no one told me they skunks live “IN” the bait. Just as I bent over the bait to sprinkle candy, the thing took off out of the bait…..I froze……his leg got caught, and I was 4 feet from the business end of a struggling skunk. I thought I was a goner, but a blurry trail-cam pic told the final story of my 2009 MN Bear Season. I was skunked, and always in the wrong place at the wrong time!


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Joel Nelson

From the big water of Chequamegon Bay in Northern Wisconsin, to the prairie ponds of the Ice Belt, to the streams of Yellowstone, Nelson has filled an enviable creel with experience, reeling in bluegills to lakers, walleyes to stream trout. Full Bio ›


  1. sorry bout your luck joel

    sounds like you made the best of it thou and glad the skunk didnt get you but sometimes you smell like it did

  2. Thanks for the report Joel Wouldn’t it make sense to have late July, early August weather in mid-Sept… This year seems 2 months behind weather wise….suppose the whitetail rut will hit late december….

  3. No apologies needed. It’s always an adventure up there, and I learned a ton about hunting these things. Thanks Jonny!


  4. Joel – I truly enjoyed your bear report even though it did not end with a kill. More times than not, the animals we pursue win the battle and that’s the same exact reason why we hunt them. To me, a successful hunt is measured by what we learn versus what we kill. I also believe it’s just a matter of time until you even the score with a bear.

  5. Thanks for the report, I found it quite entertaining…

    Sorry to hear about your bad luck. I’m sure you’ll get ’em next time!!


  6. Sorry to hear your hunt wasn’t successful with a kill. Hopefully next time the bear gods will be good to you! Good reading though and looking forward to your next report!

  7. Quote:

    Joel – I truly enjoyed your bear report even though it did not end with a kill. More times than not, the animals we pursue win the battle and that’s the same exact reason why we hunt them. To me, a successful hunt is measured by what we learn versus what we kill. I also believe it’s just a matter of time until you even the score with a bear.

    Like you said Brad, it wasn’t a bad hunt at all. I learned, in five days, what otherwise would’ve taken me years of screwups to attain. Not to mention, I got to hang out with a buddy and live the life of a bear guide if only for awhile.

    Hunting is hunting, and this wasn’t the first and isn’t the last time I’ll go home empty-handed. With all of the advice out there, advanced tactics/gear, and improving populations of many game animals, I think the temptation is to expect that all hunts culminate with a kill. I’ve been blessed with great luck over the years, but that’s never been my experience with fish or critters, even though this time I was counting my chickens….

    I’m using this opportunity as a learning experience by devouring as much literature as I can on the subject; hoping to correct any mistakes I might’ve made and learn what I can for my next hunt. I’m now about halfway through Dr. Ken Nordberg’s Bear Hunting Book. Johnny calls him the “Jesus of bear hunting,” and it’s an incredible read. No doubt I’m already looking forward to this time next year!


  8. Awesome recap Joel!

    Congrats on a great hunt and sharing it with us! It is not always about the harvest. But more about the memories made and things learned that makes us a better hunter!

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