When 11-year-old Colin Hartigan of Mercer bagged his bear it was a moment for celebration, reflection and also a little sadness.
Colin, the son of Christa Reinert and Jerry Hartigan, carried a special tag for the bear season. A tag secured under unusual circumstances.
“A very dear friend of ours — Kathryn Pettit — hit a deer and got killed, with her bike,” Christa Reinert said.
Kathryn, fondly known as “Kat,” passed away June 27. She was the proprietor of Dear Lodge Bar near Mercer and an avid bear hunter. Kat had applied for a bear tag.
“She had been issued a kill tag ... in the spring when we all get them. And after dealing with all the issues with her business and the loss of her, her boyfriend, Jim Way, also a good friend of ours, offered our son, Colin, her kill tag,” Christa said.
“Of course, our son said ‘yes’ immediately.”
They had to pay for Kathryn’s tag and mail it to the state office in Madison. Colin was then issued his own kill tag under the mentor rules, meaning he had to be in close proximity of an adult on each hunt.
“My husband, Jerry, and myself, we both sat with him. We rotated every night sitting in the stand,” Christa said.
Christa or Jerry took Colin out hunting most days of the season leading up to the successful outing, occasionally missing evenings due to other activities, such as daughter Caitlin’s basketball games.
“For an 11-year-old ... that’s a lot of effort,” Christa said. She noted it wasn’t easy for the first couple of weeks of the season, either.
“We never saw a bear. We had big, big, big ones on our cameras on our land ... so the potential was there. We just never got an opportunity to take a shot at anything, even a smaller one.”
Colin was accompanied by his mother when his luck changed. It was Sept. 22, the eighteenth day of the season.
“At first I didn’t want to go out because I was tired and I just wanted to sit at home and relax,” Colin recalled. “Mom said I should really go. It was late in the season.”
They headed for the stand. Mom had the right idea.
“We were out there for about an hour,” Colin continued. “I heard two little crackings from behind — two little cracks right behind us. I slowly turned my head and I saw the bear. My mom couldn’t see it because she was on the other side of the tree.”
The tension mounted as the bear closed the distance between itself and the stand. Christa wanted Colin to be patient until she could get a good look at the bear.
“It’s not one of the big ones that’s been coming in, but it’s still a respectable bear,” Christa told Colin when she finally got a better look. She left it up to Colin whether or not he’d like to take the bear.
Colin nodded in the affirmative. They waited for an opportunity to get the gun up and get a shot.
“It started coming toward the bait, it like sniffed around the bait and started coming toward us – coming toward our stand,” Colin said. “My mom said very quietly that I could take it right now if I wanted to, because I could just do a shot straight down into his spine, but it started turning around so I waited.”
Eventually, the bear would offer the shot Colin was looking for.
“It went back down to the bait and then it sat down and then it gave me a perfect shot. Then I shot him,” he said.
“He only went about 10 yards and then died. He actually jumped and spun around in the air and then ran like 10 yards and piled up.”
Christa recalled the moments leading up to the kill.
“I just kept whispering for him to be patient. Of course, I was nervous. I could hear it in my voice talking to him,” she said. “He was kind of shaking, so that was kind of cool.”
It was an emotional moment after the kill.
With the bear down, Christa described Colin’s temperament as one that showed respect for the animal he had just killed; a reverence for the moment.
“We talked about it in the stand, and of course I was crying because I’m a mom. Even though I hunt, that’s what I did,” she said.
“I was happy for him, I was happy we got to fill Kat’s tag in her honor. The whole thing. It was the first thing Colin’s ever killed other than squirrels, and it’s a bear, which is a huge deal. For me there was lots of emotions.”
Christa was proud of her son in the way he handled that moment, and also of her son’s shooting skill in making the clean kill.
“He put a perfect shot on him, it went right through the vitals.”
Mother and son waited several minutes before going down to see the bear. Once they did, it was time to share the moment with others.
“We went out and we got my dad and my uncle and my sister. They came and then we dragged it out,” Colin said.
Colin’s twin sister, Caitlin, his dad Jerry and his Uncle “Ya Ya” all helped get the bear out of the woods. The uncle, Kevin Hartigan, was dubbed “Ya Ya” by Colin and Caitlin when they were very young.
Ya Ya had been a great deal of help leading up to the eventually successful bear hunt and Colin really wanted to share the moment. Ya Ya wasn’t easy to find, though.
“We couldn’t get him on his phone ... so we went and found him on our other piece of property to make sure he was part of retrieving the bear,” Christa said.
She was pleased that Colin showed his beloved uncle such respect in the moment. “Uncle Kevin was a big part of us having a successful bear hunt.”
Christa noted that Kevin was also close friends with Kat.
The crew registered the bear at Kat’s Dear Lodge Bar, where another friend got to share in the successful hunt.
“We got to celebrate with Jim Way ... he was at her bar when we went there to register the bear,” Christa said. “We spent the evening with him and celebrated.”
It was a time to reflect on their mutual friend’s life and her fondness of the outdoors.
“She was really into bear hunting with the community and all about hunting period,” Christa said.
Kat’s untimely death, the hunt, the eventual kill and the celebration in its wake made for a roller coaster ride with Colin playing a big role.
“The whole gamut of emotions,” Christa said in describing the successful hunt. “Colin did just great.”
Colin noted that another family friend, “Just Jamie” Johnston would give him a honey bun to place on the bait almost every day he hunted. He thinks, perhaps, it brought him luck.
Colin plans on compiling preference points toward another bear tag.
“I’m definitely going to do more hunting in the future if I can,” he said.
Of course, there are still some plans for the bear Colin just got.
“We’re going to get a rug made out of it and put that up at our hunting camp. Then the skull, we’re probably going to put that in a glass case or something ... we’ll probably put it in my room,” he said.
Asked if he had eaten a meal of bear meat yet, Colin said, “No, not yet. But I’m going to soon, I can assure you that.”
The boar bear weighed about 150 pounds dressed.
Colin said he planned on doing some deer hunting this fall as well.
Christa, Jerry and family are proprietors of Flambeau Flowage Sports in Mercer.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org