3 Shots & A Fight: Hunter Survives Bear Encounter, Bear Does Not

Black bears live across North America and offer an enjoyable and challenging hunt. (Photo: Levi Sim)

Hunters in North Carolina were surprised last Saturday when a bear they had shot multiple times decided to fight instead of drop dead.

North Carolina is known for trophy-sized black bears, and the population of black bears is growing at least 6% per year, according to Captain Andrew Helton of the state’s Wildlife Resources Commission. To help manage the population, the state allows hunters one bear tag each year, and there is no draw — it’s all over the counter. Non-residents can also purchase one bear tag per year.

The huge bear population isn’t surprising. Daniel Boone killed hundreds of bears a year near this region in the 18th century, and with the success of conservation efforts, their numbers are rising in this historic range.

“North Carolina probably has more bears than anywhere else on the East Coast,” Helton said in a phone interview. “It’s well known for great bear hunts and we have many guide services.”

A guide is not required to hunt bears in North Carolina, but they certainly help. Methods of take include hunting with hounds, hunting over bait, and still hunting/spot and stalk. “Hunters here see pretty good success — with hounds.”

These two hunters were using hounds last Saturday. Two of their seven dogs successfully treed a bear. The hunters arrived at the tree and one of them held the dogs back while the other shot the bear in the tree. He used a 30-30 lever-action, which is surprisingly popular among bear hunters.

The bear just wasn’t ready to die, however, and began climbing down the tree. The hunter holding the dogs used his .357 revolver to shoot twice more at the bear, but the bear remained undeterred. “He jumped from the tree about halfway down and charged the guy with the dogs.” He attacked the hunter with hounds, clearly identifying the hounds as the immediate danger. “The bear bit and clawed at the man’s stomach and bit both of his legs as well.”

The hunter and the bear grappled and tumbled down an embankment where the bear ran off. The hunters headed for the hospital, but after treatment for his wounds, the injured fellow was released. It appears that the hunters are as tough as the bears in the tar heel state.

The two returned to the woods and found the bear dead fewer than 100 yards from where he left them. The hunters received the meat and the hide, but the head was given to NCWRC to be tested for diseases like rabies. Even bears without rabies should be handled with care.

“North Carolina has a wanton and willful waste law,” Helton said. It’s illegal to leave meat from game to waste.

(Bear is one of my favorite meats. I canned a bunch last year and it was delicious.” Try this recipe for bear steaks.)

Bears are notorious for absorbing bullets, and even more so when a bear is large. Captain Helton said this male was somewhere between 350-375 pounds, which is considered a large bear. 200 pounds is much more common, but 600-pound bears are regularly killed as well. He said the state record is around 800-something.

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It turns out that North Carolina claims the world’s heaviest black bear on record at 880 pounds. The largest bears in North Carolina are found in the coastal regions, which is primarily private land. These fellows were hunting in the western part of the state on public land in the Pisgah National Forest.

The large male bear was killed on public land in the Pisgah National Forest in the western part of North Carolina.

This incident with the bear fighting the hunter is extremely rare. There has never been a human death attributed to a black bear in North Carolina. “These bears eat acorns and fruits and berries. They smell a human and they take off,” Helton says. Even this altercation should be considered a defensive incident with the bear trying to protect himself.

As populations of bears rise, there are more and more incidents with bears in neighborhoods around the state, but it’s usually the animals just being a nuisance.

If you’re looking for a good place to hunt bears, it sounds like North Carolina is a good option. Fall seasons are open now and go through the end of the year in some places, so you could head over there now and get and over-the-counter tag.

Residents can hunt bears for about $70, and non-residents will pay about $280. You can find all the details (after the usual run-around common to state websites) at the North Carolin Wildlife Resources Commission website.

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About the author: Levi Sim is an avid hunter, and an increasingly avid shooter. He strives to make delicious and simple recipes from the game he kills. He makes a living as a professional photographer, writer, and photography instructor. Check out his work and he’d love to connect on Instagram: @outdoorslevi

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • MeeesterPaul January 31, 2022, 1:21 pm

    really #1; “Daniel Boone killed hundreds of bears a year”

    really #2; is shooting a bear in a tree really hunting?

  • Whitt July 13, 2021, 3:19 am

    A 30-30 should be more than enough for a black bear in the tree. It may be the area target wasn’t good. If they were target loads could be an issue as well. If the bear was turned around facing the ground that may have been better. A clean shot in the chest ribs or head cavity would have don the trick.

  • Ej harbet June 28, 2020, 9:48 am

    12 Guage slug stops the party

  • john April 7, 2020, 10:53 am

    Like the other responders above, I feel the 30-30 is light for bear. We used to kid that a 30-30 only pisses the bear off. The minimum 30 caliber for bear should be a 308. Remember this is a predator who can hunt you while you’re hunting him. Ballistics on a 308 would add another 600 ft.lbs. of energy. A 35 or 45 cal. rifle would be even better.

  • Thomas Foster November 18, 2019, 11:43 am

    What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, except a bear, a bear will kill you, lucky to be alive with those calibers.

    • Irish-7 November 21, 2019, 11:21 am

      I had similar thoughts. I’m not a bear hunter. Regardless, I think I’d at least want a more powerful rifle. Doesn’t a 30-06 pack more punch than a 30-30? I believe a .357 MAG COULD work, depending on load and shot placement. A .44 MAG or .454 Casuall would be better.

  • Big Jim November 5, 2019, 3:51 pm

    Why does it appear that the photo is of a brown bears foot?

    • Levi Sim November 6, 2019, 5:56 pm

      “Black” bears, Ursus americanus, come in all kinds of colors from black to blonde. On the East Coast, you’re most likely to find truly black bears. I killed the bear above in Idaho where color phase bears are quite common. When people refer to Brown Bears, those are specifically very large Grizzlies in certain areas of Alaska. I prefer to use my own photographs whenever possible 😀

  • ralph mccrery November 5, 2019, 8:40 am

    Sounds like those guys were not well prepared for a bear hunt. A 30-30 ? not enough gun for a big bear, a 357? not enough pistol for dispatching a wounded bear. Did not move the dogs out once he caught them ? Another bad mistake, should have been removed before shooting the bear. Actually the most popular rifle in the east is the 45-70 and there are lots of guides that carry a 500, 460 or 44 mag pistol for the finish work. I don’t think those guns would be allowed at the biggest and most successful guide service in eastern NC. Don’t go bear hunting with your grandaddy’s old “deer rifle” Big bears have massive amounts of shock absorbing fat. It takes a lot of gun to put them down cleanly.

    • phil elliott June 11, 2020, 1:53 pm

      .357 mag can be a good round. depending on load and bullet used. what I use is a 190 gr. hard cast flat nose running about 1250. Penetrates like no tomorrow, and straight! Another would be a FMJ in 180 guise, they would also work well.
      A 125 gr. hollow point is not the thing to use on a Bear.

  • kerry purcell November 5, 2019, 8:25 am

    now they will be instagram models,,,

  • Steve Rudawski November 5, 2019, 7:17 am

    Sometimes you kill the baar, sometimes the baar kills you!

    • Keep on a Glockin' me baby November 5, 2019, 9:40 am

      The dude abides.

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