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.
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.
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.