Kaitlynn Bessette, a young 11-year-old girl from Stetsonville, Wisconsin can now officially be called a huntress. For the first time in her life, she harvested a 335-pound black bear with the help of the United Special Sportsman Alliance (USSA), a non-profit hunting and fishing wish-granting charity.

Bessette was born with tricuspid atresia, a congenital heart disease where an essential valve to pump blood into her heart is missing. This causes fatigue, poor growth, shortness of breath and Bessette has been waiting for a heart and liver transplant since birth.

Through a chance encounter, Bessette’s aunt, Carrie Garinger, was attending a Whitetails Unlimited junior banquet where a representative of USSA was giving a speech. Garinger went up to him after the speech and got the ball rolling on a hunt with the help of USSA.

On September 29, her third day of hunting and just three days before the end of black bear season over bait in Wisconsin, Garinger spotted a bear creeping through the grass. They were hunting in Junction City, Wisconsin. She tapped the guide on the shoulder to alert him of the bear’s presence. “That was the first time I’ve ever seen a bear,” Garinger said. “This was all new and exciting to me as well.”

Kaitlynn Bessette with her aunt Carrie Garinger and the 335-pound beast.

The trio was in a ground blind about 15 yards away from the bait stand. Garinger said bears are really fidgety as they eat. “He [came] only about 10 feet away from us, turned around and went to the bait, sniffed a log, ate, stood up, did a circle. I don’t know how long it was, maybe 5 minutes before it laid down and she [Bessette] tried an angle shot.

“She pointed the gun, she had it all lined up. It took her a minute to get the bear in place perfectly. She held her arms in the same place, but bent her head sideways like she said ‘I can’t do this.’ But she hadn’t moved [her arms] so she shot it, right through the heart.”

After the fact, her family was incredibly proud of the 11-year-old’s success, especially since she filled up the family’s freezer with meat. The organs were donated and the charity will pay for a shoulder mount of the bear for the family to keep as memorabilia. The family struck a deal with a local processor to make the meat into sausages, jerky, steak and more for only $250, a steal, since 335 pounds of bear will normally go for $500 to $1,000.

Bessette’s mother and father do not hunt, but her aunt, Garinger, has been hunting for 30 years. Bessette has a niece who is six years older than her and who hunts. Her niece, along with days spent alongside her aunt in a stand enjoying the squirrels and birds, inspired Bessette to want to hunt. Thanks to her aunt and USSA, this little girl will have a memory of a lifetime.

Images courtesy of Carrie Garinger

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