Beauty and the Beast
By ANDREW MCGINN
Emily Finch was fed up and ready to go home — not unlike any other typical 17-year-old on a family trip after a few days.
To think, she was missing a dance competition in Kansas City for this. She could have been with her friends, doing the tap and lyrical routines she’s been perfecting since the age of 3.
Thankfully for her mom and dad, her attitude improved dramatically the moment she sent a razor-sharp broadhead hurtling through a black bear’s vital organs.
“Oh my God,” Emily remembers thinking, “I just shot a bear.”
Meet the new face of big game hunting, one just as confident on stage doing a tap routine as she is in a tree stand waiting silently for a fearsome beast to come lumbering into her sights.
When she needs to be — that second a bear turns broadside, revealing a soft spot only about the size of a dinner plate — she’s ruthless, her purple arrow leaving a pink bow at 300 feet per second.
“I started crying I was so excited,” said Emily, who will be a senior this fall at Greene County High School.
What the 5-foot-6-inch waif took down in May on her very first trip to hunt bear in Canada might actually turn out to be one for the record books — a black bear nearly 7 feet in length weighing almost 400 pounds.
“It was a monster,” confirmed Emily’s mom, Jane Finch, a fellow bowhunter.
“The head of it is like this big,” Emily raved last week, holding her hands up to show just how much the bear’s skull dwarfed hers.
Their guide in Manitoba predicts Emily’s bear will make the Pope & Young Club’s list of exceptional North American big game. The Pope & Young Club is the official repository in North America of records for big game taken by bow and arrow.
Once listed, it’s there for all time.
To be eligible, a black bear needs a minimum score of 18 inches, the measurement of its skull.
The current world record black bear, brought down in California back in 1993, had a score of 23 and 3/16 inches.
Emily said her bear had a skull measuring around 21 or 22 inches.
It’s likely the bear was about 20 years old.
“It was the hunt of a lifetime,” Jane said.
Emily’s bear is being mounted in Canada. It’s naturally hoped the full-body mount — the bear will be standing on a rock — will be done in time for her graduation party in the spring.
It will join an increasing number of bear trophies on display in the Finch family’s Jefferson home.
And with all due respect, family patriarch Dale Finch now has the smallest bear of the bunch.
The owners of Holiday RV, wife Jane took up bowhunting in 2006 specifically to accompany Dale on his first bear hunting trip to the wilds of Manitoba.
“He said, ‘I want to go bear hunting and nobody wants to go with me,’ ” Jane recalled. “I said, ‘I’ll go.’ I’ll try anything that doesn’t involve parachuting.”
They both got bears that trip, Jane having to use a child’s bow.
Even just a decade ago, the idea of a female hunter was something of a novelty.
Women’s hunting clothes were hard to come by, Jane said.
“Now they have their own section in Cabela’s,” she said.
Girls like Emily — Dale and Jane’s only child — have since grown up in the sport.
“I had my first bow when I was 7,” Emily explained, “and shot my first deer when I was 8 or 9.”
“I get such a rush,” she added. “You get one shot.”
Emily chose to go bear hunting this past spring over a school trip to France.
The province of Manitoba is home to anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 black bears, according to government estimates, and their numbers across North America are increasing. (Manitoba also has polar bears far to the northeast along Hudson Bay.)
A male black bear during Manitoba’s spring bear season typically weighs between 175 and 200 pounds.
Foreign hunters — like the Finches — who want to help manage the species are required to book their hunt through a licensed lodge or outfitter.
Their outfitter, Bear Track Outfitters, has an allotted area of 1,400 square miles to hunt within Manitoba’s Interlake Region, more than three hours north of the capital city of Winnipeg.
The biggest spring bear ever taken there was 8 feet 3 inches in length, according to the outfitters’ website.
Jane this trip shot a 5-foot-5-inch bear. Dale stayed back at camp this time, letting the two girls hunt.
Hunters get five days worth of hunting with no guarantees of any kind — except peace and quiet.
The guide’s job was to drive them on ATV to their tree stands and leave them alone in the boreal forest for the next six and a half hours.
“If you move,” Emily said, “it seems like you’re the only thing in the timber.”
Initially, Jane said, Dale was to sit with Emily in her stand, but they quickly decided the two of them together probably gave off too much scent.
So there, in a place without cell service with a potentially man-eating mammal lurking behind every spruce, their teenage daughter sat all alone with her customized pink and purple bow.
“I thought, ‘What kind of parents are we?’ ” Jane said in retrospect.
“Cool parents,” Emily added.
“I don’t know if DHS would’ve thought we were cool,” Jane quipped.
They could at least be consoled by the fact that there have only ever been three black bear-inflicted deaths on record in Manitoba, according to the government.
Jane got her bear the second day out.
“You feel like your heart is about to pound out of your chest,” she said.
Her bear initially tried climbing up the ladder to her tree stand, 14 feet off the ground.
Remember, just tell yourself, there have only ever been three black bear-inflicted deaths in Manitoba.
Three recorded deaths, that is.
Emily, meanwhile, was on her way to being skunked.
For four days, she saw nothing.
“I was very frustrated,” she said.
“It would’ve been a long ride home,” Jane confirmed.
The fifth and final day almost came and went like the others.
“If I didn’t get one then,” Emily said, “I was going home bearless.”
With just 15 minutes of shooting light left to spare, her bear finally came lumbering into view.
It was getting so dark, “When I drew back, I could see the outline of the bear,” she explained.
A bear’s vitals are located right behind its front legs, and you need him to be moving his leg forward in order to bypass bone.
“You can feel the pulse in your temples,” Jane said.
Emily let her purple arrow fly.
The forest suddenly erupted with the sound of a Magnus “Buzzcut” broadhead piercing a 400-pound beast’s primary organs.
Using one last burst of energy, the bear took off in a run.
“It was like a bulldozer driving through the forest,” Emily said.
Was he down? Walking around? Laying in wait?
Even the guides were unsure, and when the search resumed in the morning light, they brought their guns.
Emily’s bear was found lifeless just 10 yards from its own bed.
Its hide alone weighed 100 pounds, she said.
Had she taken the bear in the fall, it may have bulked up to 550 pounds.
Nothing could have prepared them for this — especially not the bear target they practiced on before the trip.
“It was the size of our dog,” Jane said.