Archived Story

‘Bearman’ reminisces

Published 11:01am Tuesday, January 29, 2013

With more than seventy years spent hunting, Gordie Swenson’s nickname — Bearman — is something more like Captain or Colonel, a title he’s earned.

Having grown up in Otter Tail County, Swenson said he was born into hunting and trapping. His earliest memories bring back years of searching for small game and setting traps along the Otter Tail River.

“The first I can remember is my dad trapping. He asked me to help him skin muskrats and, I swear, I must have been in diapers,” joked Swenson, recalling the days when trapping for pelts meant extra income for his family.

Swenson went on to serve several years in the Navy, returning home to a job with Otter Tail Power Company as a linesman. Eager to return to his outdoor pastimes, Swenson continued his success hunting local game. Seeking a different challenge, he took to the idea of hunting bear in the northern woods.

Now fifty years later, having become a hunting guide with over 1,000 successful bear hunts, the Bearman looks back on his career outdoors as one of ups and downs, but one he is grateful for.

“I’ve hunted from here to Africa and Alaska, and it hasn’t all been fun. But it was outdoors, you met a lot of people, and people have asked me if I’d change anything, but I don’t have to worry about that.”

While dedicating most of his time to bears, Swenson has taken other opportunities to venture across the North American wilderness. One meeting with another hunter brought an invitation to hunt caribou in Quebec, where Swenson took one of his largest trophies: a caribou ranking third in the Safari Club’s world record book.

2012 offered a new challenge for Swenson, when the Minnesota DNR instituted its first wolf season. After being selected for a wolf license, Swenson added another successful hunt to the list of species he’s taken.

According to the Minnesota DNR website, the wolf harvest equaled 265 at the end of the season, just 12 more than it its target. Despite opposition from activists to the use of a season in the DNR management strategy, Swenson sees good for the wolf coming from the hunt.

“It’s going to give them more funds to study the animal, and it will be healthy in the way that, like friends of ours got one and it had mange, which is a sign they’re getting overpopulated,” said Swenson.

As with all the animals he has hunted, taking a wolf has give Swenson the opportunity to learn and connect to the natural world. This closeness to the outdoors is what has continued to bring him out year after year.

But with an adventure filled past finally taking its toll physically, Swenson’s activity in the woods has slowed. This, however, has turned into another opportunity.

Having always been a gifted artist, Swenson continues his devotion to the natural world through painting portraits of the very animals he once hunted. He has also published many of his stories in two books, Bearman and Bearman:The Rest of the Story, both of which are sold locally at Victor Lundeens.

Through his trips across spectacular landscapes with people who have become close friends, Swenson’s adventures have brought, perhaps, the greatest trophy of all: a life thoroughly enjoyed.

“I’m just not a guy who was made to be indoors,” said Swenson. “It’s been one god awful, enjoying, exciting, hard work — that’s what it’s been. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

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