Like a lot of Coulee Region youngsters, West Salem’s Courtney Cooper has spent a lot of time in the outdoors. She’s hunted plenty of pheasants and deer with her dad (Bill Cooper), but last month she bagged the biggest trophy of her life when she brought down a 352-pound bear.
It happened in northern Wisconsin on Sept. 20 between the little towns of Siren and Grantsburg. Courtney and her dad had left West Salem at 2 a.m. to make the long drive north. It was raining around 5:30 a.m. when they reached the area they were going to hunt. There they rendezvoused with a group of hunters who were using dogs to try and find fresh bear tracks.
Meanwhile, Courtney was not feeling all that well. “She was carsick 10 minutes before she shot the bear,” Bill said.
When the rain let up a bit, one of the dogs was released and immediately picked up the trail of a bear that was very close.
“We knew it was within a 200-yard radius,” Bill said.
The bear led the dog and hunters on a chase as it crossed back and forth across a nearby road before eventually climbing a tree. Courtney then was given the chance to kill the bear.
“She took care of it,” Bill said. “She got him with one shot.”
No one had quite realized how big the animal was beforehand. “We were amazed at the size of it when it hit the ground,” Bill said.
“It was bigger than my dad!” Courtney said.
According to Bill, Courtney was shaking after she shot the bear, but that may have been as much from the strain of the chase as it was pure excitement.
“I slept all the way home,” Courtney said.
After the kill, Bill had the bear weighed and verified. He plans on entering it in the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association Junior Big Bear Contest. Last year’s winner was 345 pounds so he believes Courtney’s bear has a chance to be this year’s winner.
They will also register the bear with the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club. “We’re having the skull taken out and measured for that,” Bill said.
Bears are apparently very numerous in that area of the state. Bill said that the group he normally hunts with shot 11 bears this year and virtually every bear had bird shot in its hide from people trying to shoo them away from homes and gardens.
“They’re pests in the towns up there,” Bill said.
Courtney said she probably would go bear hunting again if she got the chance. Bear hunting in Wisconsin is conducted under a lottery system so it will probably be a few years before she gets her next opportunity.
Meanwhile, Courtney maintains her interest in the outdoors by raising pheasants in a pen as part of her senior exit project at West Salem High School. Asked why she likes hunting so much, Courtney struggled to find an explanation.
“It’s kind of hard to put into words,” she said. “I guess it’s just the way that I grew up.”