"We heard cracking in the woods, and I realized the bear was coming straight at me," recalled a 16-year-old Tarheel State hunter on his very first trip into the field during the state's annual bear season came across an absolutely immense bruin. What happened next stunned the young sportsman.
Bears have always been numerous in North Carolina. Going all the way back to 1761, British Colonel Henry Timberlake accompanied a delegation of Cherokees into the area and reported the presence of many bears. However, this population bottomed out in the 1970s to just a few thousand. Effective conservation practices rebounded the species to where now there are upwards of 16,000 bear statewide and in 2009 alone; NCWRC District Wildlife Biologists received over 700 complaints and sightings of these creatures coming in contact with humans.
In fact, according to one study, "There are probably more bears in North Carolina today than there have been at any time in the last 100 years."
Thus, the importance of controlling their numbers through hunting to keep down the population explosion.
Bear hunting in North Carolina more often than not involves dogs. The use of hounds to "strike" and "tree" bears in the state goes back to Colonial days and the official state dog is the indigenous Plott Hound, which was bred especially for the sport. Appropriately, it was a pack of dogs that helped our young hunter out on his first trip for bear.
As told by the Star News, Wilmington high school student David Honeycutt Jr., aged 16, was hunting on a private farm in Hyde County earlier this month. The 7,500-acre farm, owned by a family friend, abutted next to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, and is about half forested.
Borrowing a Marlin .45-70 lever action rifle, most likely an 1895, Honeycutt's party took to the field just before 5 a.m. to be ready when the sun came up. By 7:30, the hounds were on a big track and things got very real.
As related by Honeycutt:
"The dogs crossed a big ditch and started barking. We went around the ditch to an open cut and the dogs had the bear bayed up in the thick stuff in the woods. We heard cracking in the woods, and I realized the bear was coming straight at me.
"He came out on my right side into the open cut about 10 or 15 yards in front of me and then he turned. I shot him 25 yards from me and hit him right front shoulder. I had no idea what to expect. But when he came out, I didn't want him to run over me, and I was hoping he would turn."
Since the young first time hunter had never gone after bear before, he didn't have much to compare the size of the animal to. However, he started to get an idea that it was a bit oversized when the other hunters kept remarking how big it was and the fact that it took a tractor to get it out of the woods. Final weight when verified by a state biologist: a whopping 784-pounds.
According to data from the state conservation agency, yogi in the region average five to six feet in length and the average height is two to three feet when standing on all fours. On average, adult females weigh between 100 to 300 pounds and adult males weigh between 200 to 500 pounds. To call Honeycutt's bear above average is an understatement. In fact, it is believed to be the second largest ever bagged in the state with only a massive beast harvested in Craven County in 1998 at an amazing 880 pounds beating it out for the all-time record.
As for Honeycutt, he plans to mount the whole trophy...provided he has a place big enough to put it.