Four Generations of Bear Hunters: One Family’s Story
By Russ Fimbinger – Article & Photos © 2012 by the author
From where I live in Marion, Michigan, it’s about a four-hour drive north to Newberry, commonly known to bear hunters as the Newberry Unit. Based on the healthy number of black bears that roam the wilds of Luce County, this land of evergreens, maple and beech forests, swamps and rivers is a true bear hunter’s paradise for many outdoorsmen and women. Traveling north of town on M-123 into these eastern U. P. woodlands, this is the land that has become home to a certain family who has been chasing the black bear population for the past 50 years.
At the Little Two Heart bear camp, owned by Kip and Jean Cameron, there had been three previous generations of successful bear hunters. Hunters Clarence Cameron (Kip’s father), Kip, and his son, Jason all have successfully tagged bruins over the years. Very soon, however, this tradition was to be historically linked to a 4th generation hunter. This happened when grandson Drake Cameron tagged an incredible black bear on the opening weekend of the 2011 bear hunting season.
I was fortunate enough to be a part of the chase that morning, but there would be several obstacles putting Drake’s bear in a tree. Unfortunately and with my untimely luck, I became one of the first obstacles during the morning hunt. As I drove near the bear camp at daybreak, I was greeted by Canine, one of the camp’s dog handlers. This was not a “have a cup of coffee” greeting, mind you. In fact, it was more of a drill sergeant’s directive to get the heck out of the way.
When I stopped to talk and see what was going on, my truck rested in the middle of the road and right on top of a hot bear track! Canine waved me out of the way and said, “Hey, you gotta get outta here. Get straight into camp and right now!”
I was the true green horn here and had no idea what was up, but should have realized something was in the works because the dogs were barking ferociously in the back of his truck. It seemed these bear dogs wanted to bolt from the truck and get after that bear. As I drove away I saw him release the two dogs and the chase was on.
At that point the radios started to squawk and the strategy was planned. “Get over to the Blueberry Road and get two more dogs on that bear!” a voice screamed into a mic. Then another voice came across the airwaves, “Swamp Rat, get to the Barn Road and you better drop two more dogs there.” The strategy was in place seemed on course to get the bear up into a tree.
Kip Cameron and grandson Drake were on the scene in a matter of minutes. Now there were a half dozen dogs in pursuit and the plan was to keep up with the dogs and just plain stay on top of things. In a bear chase, it’s a crazy free-for-all with everyone involved doing what needs to be done simply to stay in the game.
When bear hunting, staying in the game means a number of things. First, it means knowing where the dogs are located, more or less, for most of the time. Secondly, hunters need to know which direction the dogs are travelling so a hunter can be placed in a position for a shot at the bruin if it decides to cross a road. Ultimately, staying in the game means to keep up with the dogs because chances are pretty good the dogs may finally tree the bear.
As the chase ensued, this is exactly what happened. The dogs were released at just the right times and at just the right points to push the bear beyond its comfort zone. The baying howls of a pack of bear dogs signaled the bear was up in a tree. The dogs had done their job and now it was a young hunter’s turn to do his. It was young Drake Cameron’s turn to make the long trek through heavy cover and attempt to harvest his bear.
While I witnessed Grandpa Kip coaching Drake as he steadied his aim on the bear, I realized that there was a huge part of the great outdoor experience and tradition running deep in this family’s blood. I also realized there was a passion for hunting black bears unsurpassed by many who call themselves bear hunters. Then, after Drake’s well-place shot from the scoped, .12 gauge slug shotgun, his 265 pound bear hit the ground and rested.
What does Drake’s successful bear hunt mean to the Cameron family? It’s hard to choose just one word to describe what I witnessed, but pride most certainly comes to mind. Yet pride is just one part of this hunting tradition. When all is said and done, it’s a combination of hunting experience, a keen knowledge of the hunting area, having well-trained dogs, a huge dose of confidence, and a genuine love for hunting this very intelligent and impressive creature. These bear hunters and their partners are definitely all of the above.
So for now it is four generations of bear hunting success for the Cameron family. The next chapter will be written when the young hunters of this generation have families of their own. When you consider the odds and add in the hunting experience this family brings to the woods, chances are pretty darned good there will be a fifth generation bear hunter in this family, where hunting black bears runs very long and very deep.
Russ Fimbinger is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer. He is a member of the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association and lives Marion, Michigan. If you would like more information about bear hunting at Cameron’s Little Two Heart Bear Camp, contact Kip Cameron at 906-293-5650.