Teenager bears down, scores big

OUTDOORS

October 31, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

MOUNT NEBO WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA - Eric Andrews isn't saying where he shot his record 496-pound black bear last Monday.

He's hoping to go back to the same spot next fall - lottery willing - to get the bigger one he saw on a scouting mission earlier this year.

Bigger one?

When you see canine teeth the size of a man's pinky or a paw that would dwarf Shaquille O'Neal's hand, it's hard to put your imagination on super-size and envision a bigger bruin snorting around in the laurel and underbrush near Friendsville.

But Andrews, 16, of Lonaconing in Allegany County, swears it's true. State game officials agree, saying there's probably a 700-pounder or two out there somewhere.

The soft-spoken high school junior was one of 381 hunters who took part in Maryland's first bear hunt in 51 years. He was the subpermit holder on his father's permit.

With pre-1953 records hard to come by, it's pretty safe to say that Andrews holds the mark to beat.

The sandy-haired 6-footer needed less than two hours to bag his bear bragging rights. He had just walked about 50 yards from his ATV, when the bear rose out of some grapevines, startling him. At a distance of 30 yards, he dropped the male bear with a single shot from his .308-caliber rifle.

Now, a bear roughly the size of Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III doesn't come out of the woods easily (Bear: 496 pounds, 95 inches end to end. Andre: 525 pounds, 89 inches.) Andrews needed the help of seven strong friends and family members to haul the carcass onto an ATV to get it out of the woods, a task that took hours.

By the time the hunting party got home, it was dark. So Ed Andrews called the check station to say he and his son would be in first thing Tuesday morning.

It was worth the wait. Pulling into the Mount Nebo station next morning, it wasn't hard to find the Andrews family, even in the thick fog. Department of Natural Resources biologists clustered around the bear like a NASCAR pit crew, taking pictures and blood and tissue samples.

"I knew he was big. I didn't know he was that big," said Andrews as his bear was hoisted onto the scales by Harry Spiker, DNR's black bear project leader.

Ed and Pattie Andrews beamed and snapped pictures.

"I might not consider letting you go out there again," his mother teased.

His son should have been in advanced placement calculus class at Westmar High School instead of filling out the paperwork, Ed Andrews confided.

Guess you could file that one under, "Guilty with an explanation?"

"It's a good excuse," agreed Ed Andrews, a middle school teacher.

Despite the fact that they had to close the season after one day and the number of bears shot fell 10 short of the target of 30, DNR wildlife managers said they were satisfied with the results.

The 381 hunters consisted of 183 permit holders (200 were chosen, 17 did not show up to claim their prize), 149 hunting partners and 49 landowners on their own property.

The regional success rate is three percent to five percent, so Maryland was on the high side of the average.

Sixteen of the 20 bears were shot on private land, and all of the bears were killed within a half-mile of a public road, Spiker said. Eleven bears were male, and nine were female.

The success rate surprised biologists, who didn't believe the quota would be approached until the end of the first week.

Spiker theorized that a combination of factors improved hunters' odds: bears were on the move as they fattened up for winter, the weather was good and the hunt didn't conflict with any other big-game season.

Samples of teeth, tissue and blood will be sent this week to lab technicians who will provide a better picture of the bear population. That information will be used to help decide if there will be a season next year. While DNR officials won't commit, they have the authorization for a season next year.

The support appears to be in place.

In Garrett County, landowners with bear problems seemed pleased that wildlife managers have another tool to use to control the population. The folks in the hospitality business - restaurants and motels - were happy for the added revenue.

Yesterday, at the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. praised Paul Peditto and his team at the DNR Wildlife and Heritage Service for their efforts.

Hunters, even the ones who had a permit but came out of the woods bereft of bear, felt wildlife managers did the right thing by ending the hunt when they did.

"I'm ecstatic," said Steve Christian, president of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association, who didn't get a bear. "Paul [Peditto] had a tough call, but if we had gone another day, we would have had over 40 bears. We would have faced an uphill battle next year. Now that we have had one safe hunt, we have a track record."

Christian said it perfectly. Anti-hunters, long accustomed to having things their way in Maryland, have been stung by a string of defeats, from approval of Sunday hunting to the rejection of the proposed ban on leghold traps. A Prince George's County judge practically laughed at their attempt last month to block the bear hunt.

By taking the conservative approach, DNR has made it nearly impossible for the opposition to get any traction.

The anti-hunters are victims of that old saying: Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.

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