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Brad and the crew.

Friends, family help Somerset teen bag a bear

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Brad Marcello, 15, went on bear hunt and did indeed catch a big one.

With the help of friends and family, the Somerset teen shot a 247 pound bear on a Sept. 16-18 hunting trip near Dairyland.

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What's even more remarkable: he did it without sitting in his wheelchair.

Marcello has ostogenesis imperfecta, a generic disorder that causes brittle bones. He spends most of his time in a motorized wheelchair, but the summer tornados up north made the woods even more rugged.

Not that the teen is unaccustomed to hunting. In fact, he has been deer and turkey hunting before with his family.

"This was the biggest (animal) I ever hunted," admitted Marcello.

Lori Gebhard, Marcello's mother, said the trip was a long time in the making.

She said that John Montpetit's son had applied for a "kill tag" for a bear more than seven years ago. When it finally was approved, he was playing hockey in college out of state and would not be able to use it, as the tag is only good for the current season. Another stipulation was that the tag cannot be given to another adult, but could be donated to a youth.

So they called Brad in January 2011.

"I've known him a long time," said Marcello of Montpetit. He's helped Montpetit with meat raffles at General Sam's and handing out flyers at Float-Rite Park.

Montpetit himself was hunting up north and could not be reached at press time.

Gebhard said Montpetit enlisted the help of another family friend and well-known hunter, Ron Hill. Hill has been hunting for 40 years all over the world and was a classmate of Gebhard. He readily volunteered to help.

The first task was to create a tripod to mount the rifle so the kickback wouldn't harm Marcello.

"I'm sure other people have fabricated something like this," said Hill, "but I didn't have time to research it. So I came up with an idea and it worked perfectly."

The rifle rest would be mounted to Marcello's wheelchair, which they would take into the woods. Friends and family members would be on hand to help clear a path to where the dogs would encircle the bear in a tree.

However, on the day of the hunt, it was determined that the summer storms had made the woods too rugged for the wheelchair. So Marcello stayed in the vehicle until the bear was located.

Once the dogs found the bear, it ran up one tree and jumped into another. Hill radioed back to the Gebhards to tell them to bring Marcello in.

They used a six-wheeler to carry the teen in his chair. Several friends were on hand to try to clear a path to make the ride as smooth as possible.

"They drove very slowly all the way into the woods because his body is so brittle - it took about 30 minutes to get there," said Gebhard.

The last 30-40 yards were too dense for the six-wheeler, so Marcello's stepdad carried him the rest of the way. Hill said the family members and friends were so concerned for Brad that they cleared a path "like a sidewalk."

Without the wheelchair, they had to improvise.

"John sat on the ground and let Brad sit in his lap," described Hill. "Safety of Brad was our No. 1 priority."

"I felt a little scared at first," said Marcello, upon being 30 yards away from the bear. "I never saw something so big in a tree."

With Montpetit helping steady the rifle on the tripod, Marcello was able to make the kill.

"Our adrenalin was soaring pretty high," said Hill. "When he got the shot, it was all quiet for a minute. It was cool."

Gebhard said that the meat was processed and the head and shoulders will be mounted. She expressed her appreciation for the experience.

"He really likes hunting," said Gebhard. "His friends hunt, and it's something that he can do too. We weren't ever expecting to ever do this."

Hill has filmed several hunts and is currently working on editing the 2 ½ hours of raw footage into a 25-minute video of the hunt for Marcello and the others involved.

"John and I started the ball rolling but everyone wanted to help. It's such a cool story - just pay it forward."

As for Marcello, he said that he probably won't hunt bear again, but he isn't ready to put away his camouflage just yet.

"When I go deer hunting, I will use that tripod with my wheelchair," he said.

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