Hunters get briefed on the basics as they prepare for bear season

Sportsmen learn about rules, anatomy

hunt begins today

October 25, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

FROSTBURG - Harry Spiker, Maryland's top bear biologist, rapped on the bleached skull of a black bear with his knuckles yesterday as he lectured more than 200 sportsmen preparing for the state's first hunt for the animal in 51 years.

"The bears have real solid, real stout bone structures in their skulls, so I really discourage anyone from trying a head shot on a bear," Spiker told the camouflage-decked audience in the auditorium of Beall High School in Frostburg.

He gestured toward an overhead projector, which flashed a red-and-blue image of the lacework of veins and arteries inside a bear's body. "And don't try the neck; too much fur, and the arteries are the size of a pencil," Spiker said. "Your best bet is a side-shot to the chest, where the vital organs are."

The lesson in bear anatomy was part of the state's effort to reduce Maryland's black bear population of about 500 by 30 bears to control a growing nuisance in the western counties of Garrett and Allegany.

A state ban on bear hunting, in place since 1953, along with forest growth in Garrett and Allegany, have helped bears rebound in such numbers that they regularly raid garbage cans and bird feeders.

Amid protests from animal-rights activists, 2,272 hunters paid $15 each to enter a lottery for the 200 licenses awarded to shoot bears this fall. The season is set to run between sunrise this morning and sunset Saturday, but the hunt will be called off at 8 p.m. on the day hunters report killing the 30th bear, Spiker said.

Last night, about 30 animal advocates who failed to stop the hunt with a lawsuit held a candlelight vigil in Annapolis, on Lawyers Mall outside the State House.

Michael Markarian, president of the Silver Spring-based Fund for Animals, said the activists will be videotaping and photographing dead bears as hunters bring them to state check-in stations in Garrett and Allegany. "Our goal is not to be confrontational, but to document the killing to show people how inhumane and unnecessary trophy hunting is," Markarian said.

During yesterday's meeting with hunters at the Frostburg high school, officials with the Department of Natural Resources laid out the rules. Hunters are barred from using bait or dogs, and they must call a state telephone before they go out each morning, to get word on whether the 30-bear limit has been reached.

The bears that are killed must be hauled to one of the state weighing stations, where biologists will remove teeth and tongues for studies on the age and health of the species. Hunters were also asked to remove the sexual organs of female bears, and bring these in plastic bags to the check-in stations for scientists to examine as part of a study of bear reproduction, Spiker said.

All but 12 of the 200 people who won hunting licenses are Maryland residents, with the rest coming from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan, Florida and Indiana.

As they stood outside the high school auditorium yesterday to receive information packets, many of the hunters said they were proud to be participating in a historic event that shows how well wildlife management has worked in Maryland.

Carl Bender, a 65-year-old dairy farmer from Garrett County, said he wanted to offer his land for the hunt because black bears ate about $2,800 worth of his corn crop last year.

"The bears do a lot of damage," Bender said. "And I've got little grandkids, 2 and 3 years old, and it would just kill me if one of them bears got at my grandkids."

Bender contacted the state, and officials put him in contact with one of the license winners, longtime deer hunter Jim Barker.

Barker, a 42-year-old Anne Arundel County transportation department manager, said he plans to be out before dawn in the woods next to Bender's cornfields with a high-powered rifle, perched atop a portable ladder-like tree stand, wearing camouflage and an orange vest.

"This is part of our heritage as hunters," said Barker. "I've never won anything in my life, and when I found out that I won this license, I was so excited. ... It doesn't even matter to me if we catch one. How many people can say they're participating in something for the first time in 51 years?"

Walt Pohlhaus, a 38-year-old mechanic from Carroll County, said he's killed bears in Canada and Maine, and is excited to try it closer to home. Two years ago, Pohlhaus said, he used a crossbow to kill a black bear in Canada that was dining out of a barrel baited with doughnuts and bagels.

"If you get a bear, it's not easy to get it out of the woods. It took 10 of us to drag that 450-pounder out of there, a real group effort to pick it up," said Pohlhaus. "But bear tastes real good when you cook it up."

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