By ANDREW DODSON | The Bay City Times
FRANKENLUST TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Like your typical great-grandmother, Karen Kuch enjoys doing crossword puzzles, reading books and baking.
But Kuch is anything but typical.
Measuring in at 4 feet, 11 inches tall, the 73-year-old great-grandmother traveled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula recently with her Ruger 44 Magnum rifle and successfully hunted a 220-pound Michigan black bear.
Kuch secured a Michigan bear hunting license through a competitive lottery system earlier this year after trying for the past seven years. And on her first day out on property just north of Newberry in Luce County, she hunted her prized trophy.
“It was the hunt of a lifetime,” she told The Bay City Times. “I was lucky enough to get a bear on my first hunt. It was such a thrill.”
Kuch’s hunt started at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 10, a day when a big storm thrashed across a large portion of Michigan. She was joined by her son-in-law Steve VandeMark and Jimmy Gretzinger of Michigan Out of Doors Television, who was filming the hunt for a future show.
After waiting about three hours for the storm to roll through, Kuch spotted the first bear of the day just as the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds. That bear was moving fast, though, and she couldn’t get a good shot at it.
An hour passed before another one came. This time, the bear was in range.
The petite great-grandmother steadied her firearm, aimed and pulled the trigger.
But she missed.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I thought, `That was it. We sat out here all day and got nothing.’ “
But her hunting crew kept her optimistic.
“They kept telling me that another one is going to come,” she said.
She even pulled out her Rosary and said a few prayers.
And sure enough, at 5:30 p.m., another bear started walking by their camp, and this one was clearly the biggest of the three, she said.
Kuch wasn’t going to squander this opportunity. She focused on the animal, pulled the trigger and watched it drop to the ground.
“I couldn’t believe it, it was very exciting,” she said.
Hunting big game isn’t new for Kuch. Seventeen years ago, she won the even more exclusive state hunting lottery for an elk license and successfully hunted a 6-by-6 elk that weighed 720 pounds.
Ask Kuch if she has been hunting her whole life and she’s quick to tell you, “No, just the past 35 years.”
Her father was a hunter, as was her late husband Jim, who died four years ago.
“It’s just something I enjoy,” she said.
Her daughter Shelly Kuch-VandeMark said it was quite the celebration when her mom returned to their cabin up north with her bear.
“I’m very proud of her, she’s quite the hunter,” she said. “My husband (Steve VandeMark), who is a very good hunter, told me this has been the best hunt he’s ever been on.”
On Sept. 15, Kuch was at her home in Frankenlust Township, cutting the fat off her bear meat.
“They say if there’s a lot of fat on the bear, it’s going to be a brutal winter for Michigan,” she said. “I’m here to tell you that it’s going to be a bad one. There’s a lot of fat on this bear.”
Kuch isn’t calling this hunt a bucket list item. She said her only goal is to be a wonderful grandmother to her 11 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
But that doesn’t mean she’s done hunting. She was up in her blind on Sept. 14, getting it ready for bow hunting season, which starts Oct. 1.
“I’ll be ready,” she said.