LAST UPDATED: January 12th, 2016
DE PERE, Wisconsin – If you hear only the short version of Elizabeth Puishis’ hunting story, you might think this 14-year-old student at East De Pere Middle School just got lucky Aug. 14 in Wisconsin’s Vilas County when she arrowed a black bear the first time she ever bowhunted.
Puishis, the daughter of Julie and Shawn Puishis of De Pere, Wisconsin, climbed into her tree stand about 3 p.m. two Fridays ago and settled in. About 75 minutes later, she drew her bow, aimed at the bear that walked in, and released her deadly shot. The bear’s death run lasted mere seconds and ended 80 yards away.
Sounds easy, right?
Well, if so, it was only because Puishis capitalized on 13 weeks of archery practice in simulated bowhunting setups; two trips to her hunting site to learn how to bait bears; and several hours of classroom presentations on hunting safety, tree-stand safety, bear anatomy, shot placement, bear-management biology, and bear-hunting regulations.
But before she even started practicing back in May, Puishis had to write an application essay to participate in this state-sponsored “Learn to Hunt Bear Archery Program.” The program is conducted by the middle school’s Redbird Archery club and its five archery coaches: Matt Secora, De Pere; Mark Macco, Green Bay; Mark Love, De Pere; Tony Wiegert, De Pere; and Micah Bottz, Green Bay. The club coordinates the program with the Department of Natural Resources, which provided about 20 special bear permits statewide this year for the Learn to Hunt program.
Puishis also was a fairly experienced archer by the time she began practicing with her hunting bow in May. With her coaches’ direction, she and about 225 classmates participated last year in East De Pere’s National Archery in the Schools Program, a class that introduces youths to archery. The school has offered NASP since 2008, usually running it from October through May, and sending over 100 of its top archers to a statewide competition each spring.
Wisconsin’s Learn to Hunt program is designed for beginning hunters age 10 and older. Its adult mentors/organizers must pass a background check, coordinate the program with a DNR biologist and conservation warden, and limit each class to a specific bird or animal. The hunts often take place outside the state’s general hunting seasons, and must be OK’d by the DNR.
Participants are generally teens who would otherwise have little chance to hunt that particular bird or animal. For instance, even though Shawn and Julie Puishis have taken Elizabeth squirrel hunting and brought her along for deer hunts, neither of them hunts bears.
This is the fourth year Secora and the other archery coaches have offered the Learn to Hunt Bear Archery program. Last year’s student bowhunter, Lynaya Spang, also shot a bear when she got her chance in August 2014. Bear hunters might recognize her name, because the DNR chose a photo of her with her bear for the cover of its 2015 Wisconsin Bear Hunting Regulations pamphlet.
Puishis is the seventh participant in De Pere’s Learn to Hunt Bear Archery program to get a bruin. The other successful archers were Morgan Foss, Erika Carter, Ian Brittain, Falynne Gerisch and Drew Marquis. In addition to Puishis, this year’s group of bear-hunting archers included Faith Oswald and Grace Gonzales, who were planning to hunt again this weekend.
Puishis, Oswald and Gonzales joined their coaches on two trips to Vilas County in late July and early August to visit sites they would hunt, and learn how to place baits such as candy and pizza crusts so they’re accessible only to bears. The day of Puishis’ hunt began with a lesson on bear anatomy, shot placement and more practice.
“They wanted us to get a feel for what it would be like,” Puishis said.
She said her bear first appeared about 5 p.m. “It came in really slow and took it’s time, but then it walked away without giving me a good shot, so we kept waiting,” she said. “Then it came back in a second time. I was extremely excited. My heart was pounding. Coach Matt helped by telling me when to stand up, when to draw the bow and shoot. He guided me through it. We knew right away that I made a good hit. It let out a huge roar and ran off, and then we heard it go down. We started texting everyone. It all happened so fast that I hardly remember anything about it. I was shaking afterward. It was unbelievably shocking and exciting.”
Rather than track and retrieve the bear by themselves, coach and pupil left the woods to wait for everyone else to finish hunting. The group then returned to Puishis’ stand about 9 p.m., found the blood trail, followed it to the bear, celebrated a bit, and then dragged it out and field-dressed it.
Puishis said she intends to go bear hunting again, but first plans to hunt deer with her father this fall. She also said she enjoyed the stew that Secora made with her bear meat. “It was very good,” she said.
What did her parents think of her hunting bears? Julie Puishis said she felt a little nervous about it, but she also knew the archery/bowhunting coaches and felt confident in how they prepared Elizabeth. “We knew nothing about bear hunting, but they’re good coaches and we felt comfortable about the process they follow,” she said. “Elizabeth was excited to try it, and so we encouraged her.”
To learn more about Wisconsin’s Learn to Hunt program, visit the DNR’s website (dnr.wi.gov) and type “learn to hunt” into the search window. Or go directly to http://dnr.wi.gov/education/outdoorskills/lth.html.