Jimmy Knutson at Jim's Ash Trail Store in Orr says it's the "year of the big bear."
Apparently none so far is bigger than one he registered -- and tried to weigh -- on Saturday. The bear, taken by a Florida hunter who was not using a guide, weighed 662 pounds field-dressed on Sunday at Bob Christianson's Gannon Ridge Taxidermy in International Falls, Christianson said.
The bear was 7½ feet long with a 36-inch neck, Knutson said. It was taken in the Ash Lake area, Knutson and Christianson said. The hunter, Craig Harnden of Inglis, Fla., had never hunted bears before, Christianson said. He took the bear with a rifle.
Karen Noyce, a bear research biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Grand Rapids, had one word for Harnden's bear.
"Huge," she said.
She said the largest Minnesota bear she could recall was taken about 20 years ago.
"A teenager shot a bear that field-dressed at 684 or something like that," Noyce said.
The largest bear that DNR wildlife research officials have handled was a bit more than 500 pounds, live weight, Noyce said.
In September 1993, a black bear named Duffy was weighed at 848 pounds (live weight) at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary near Orr, said Dennis Udovich of Gheen, president of the American Bear Association, which operates the Vince Shute sanctuary.
"This has been, hands down, the year of the big bear," Knutson said. "We've had the biggest bears we've ever had in. The previous biggest was 405 pounds (field-dressed). This year, we've had a 430, a 425, and this one."
He tried to weigh the bear on the scale at the Ash Trail Store, but that scale went only to 500 pounds. So Harnden took the bear to Christianson's taxidermy shop in International Falls on Sunday.
Christianson said one revolution of his scale goes to 550 pounds, but it is accurate up to another one-half revolution.
"So it should be a fairly close weight," he said.
The bear was wearing 9 inches of fat on its back, Christianson said. Bear records are kept according to the size of their skulls. Christianson said he didn't think the bear's skull would be large enough for the Boone & Crockett record book.
Bigger bears often don't present themselves to bear hunters during daylight hours, preferring to feed at night. Northern Minnesota has been short of rain for much of the summer, Knutson said. The blueberry crop was minimal. Other natural foods are in short supply.
"My dad (Jim Knutson Sr.) is a bear hunter," Jimmy Knutson said. "His assumption is there's not much food in the woods. All these big bears are chasing the smaller ones off the baits. They're coming in at 3 or 4 in the afternoon."
Some bear guides are doing well with their clients. Udovich, also a bear guide near Gheen, said that 17 of his 18 hunters shot bears on opening weekend. The largest bear was 340 pounds field-dressed, and 13 of the 17 were males. The 18th hunter had a shot at a bear but missed, Udovich said.
Elsewhere around northern Minnesota, bear hunting success has been mixed, according to conservation officer reports filed Monday by the Department of Natural Resources. Officer Don Bozovsky of Hibbing said bear hunters were doing well. Officer Mark Fredin of Aurora said baits were being hit and some hunters were getting bears. Officer Mary Manning of Hovland reported "challenging hunting."
Officer Dan Thomasen of Two Harbors: "Some hunters and camps were found to have having decent success, while others struggled to keep bears coming to baits." Officer Scott Staples of Carlton checked several hunters. "Success seems to be down in the area," his report said. In the Duluth area, Officer Randy Hanzal reported "success was very limited, but spirits were high along with the mosquito count."