As the parent of a boy with Down syndrome, Tracy Klein heard all the stories about what his son wouldn’t be able to do when the child was born.
He did it again Sept. 6, when he shot a bear on a hunt with his dad through Blooming Valley Outfitters in northwest Minnesota.
“We didn’t know anything about (the Down syndrome) before he was born, and when we were at the hospital, all kinds of people who were experts were saying all the things he couldn’t do,” Tracy Klein, 54, said. “We didn’t buy into that. They said he can’t have a bike or have any friends. Well, he’s riding a bike, he’s hunting and fishing.
“He’s a heck of a young man. Not without challenges, but Josh has carried a lot of water. He’s impacted a lot of people in his life.”
Josh’s latest accomplishment came the first afternoon of their hunt when the father and son from Solon, Iowa, got into a two-person portable stand that had been set up especially for them near the Roseau River in Blooming Valley Township of northwest Roseau County.
They’d been planning the hunt for three years, Tracy Klein said, and after visiting with Larry Emery, one of the partners in the outfitting service, decided northwest Minnesota was the place they’d try their luck. The area is in the no-quota zone, a part of northwest Minnesota where hunters can buy bear licenses over the counter rather than enter a lottery, as required in most of the state’s bear hunting range.
They pulled into the Blooming Valley Outfitters Camp about noon that Sunday, Tracy Klein said, and were in the stand a couple of hours later. Two bears came into the bait that afternoon, he said, and Josh picked the one that offered the best angle for shooting.
Using a Remington 870 20 gauge with slugs and a red dot scope, Josh made the shot count.
“We were whispering as the bear was getting into the right position to shoot,” the elder Klein said. “I asked Josh, ‘Are you ready?’ He goes yep, and he made a really good shot—kind of what we’d been practicing. He just takes a lot of practice and a lot of time to get things done.”
Emery, the Blooming Valley Outfitters guide who helped retrieve the bear, said it didn’t go more than about 30 yards before dying.
Josh had made a “nice killing shot” right through the heart, Emery said.
In a phone interview a few days after the hunt, the emotion in Emery’s voice was apparent as he talked about being part of the experience a father and son from Iowa shared that afternoon in the woods.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Emery said. “It was a special hunt, you know? Just thinking about it, I’m starting to get choked up. Tracy and Josh are wonderful people, and we’ve made lifelong friends with these guys.”
In the way it almost always is when fathers watch their kids have success, Klein said he was more excited than his son about the hunt’s memorable outcome.
“It was so humbling,” Klein said. “It’s just been a great experience — just to spend time in the woods with your son, and to get a bear was a bonus. It’s just been a real high.
“He was real excited, too, but he got more excited when he got the bear. … He was real quiet, which means Josh is having a moment. He doesn’t get excited like that until after he lands a big fish or gets a turkey.”
The excitement built throughout the evening that night back in camp.
“He talked about it all night and couldn’t go to sleep right away,” Klein said. “And then to have the whole camp come alive, and get (the bear) skinned and cleaned up and pictures and everything, he was just having a ball.”
A good hunt got even better a few days later when Klein followed in his son’s footsteps and shot a bear of his own. Klein figures his bear weighed about 250 pounds, while his son’s bear weighed about 180 pounds. They make salami and brats and jerky, Klein said, so they’ll probably make some sausage from the bear meat.
He’s also thinking about having a taxidermist friend make three-quarter mounts of the two bears. Regardless, Josh will have quite a hunting story to tell at the Scheel’s store where he works in nearby Coralville, Iowa.
“His manager was really excited about him coming up” bear hunting, Klein said, adding his son also works at a grocery store in Iowa City, Iowa.
“He’s a taxpayer,” Klein said. “He’s doing great.”
Looking back on the hunt, Klein says he’s grateful to the Blooming Valley Outfitters crew for their efforts in making the hunt so successful.
And it’s true, he said, that the bears seemingly appear out of nowhere.
“You can just sit there, and you don’t hear a thing, and then they’re just standing there,” Klein said. “It’s really cool. They just show up.”
Emery, who’s guided a lot of hunters to success over the years, said this one ranks among the most rewarding.
“Just seeing Josh’s emotions,” Emery said. “His arms get going, and it’s cool.
“This was a first for me.”
And for Josh, the latest example of proving the naysayers wrong.