19 bears reported killed as hunt opens

Day's take includes first by muzzleloader

October 24, 2006|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,Sun reporter

MOUNT NEBO WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA -- Sitting in his tree stand yesterday morning, Danny Fyffe barely had time to raise a decent-sized goosebump when a black form ambled into view.

"Should I shoot?" he asked his friend, Greg Haberkorn, huddled next to him.

Before Haberkorn could answer, a larger form came into view less than a football field away.

Shouldering his rifle, Fyffe fired twice. The black bear stumbled a few yards and rolled over. He fired once more.

With that, the Baltimore City police detective recorded the first bear kill of the season, a 290-pound male that had been tagged as a nuisance animal by wildlife biologists last year.

The landowner, George Shifflett, was pleased.

"There are way too many bears up here. I've videotaped seven different ones in an hour," he said, watching state wildlife biologists weigh and measure the kill. "There's one that makes this one look like a baby - 5 1/2 [550 to] 600 pounds - that keeps tearing our apple trees down."

The bear, Fyffe said, was the first he had ever seen in the wild.

Maryland's third bear hunt began as slowly as the snowflakes that drifted down to decorate the landscape. With temperatures hovering near freezing, 206 permit holders and a like number of subpermit holders fanned out over Garrett and Allegany counties - the state's prime bear turf - to reduce the bear population in Western Maryland, estimated at 326 animals, excluding cubs.

The state has set a quota of 35-55 bears for the split, two-week hunt. The first segment will end Saturday. If the number isn't reached, the second will run Dec. 4-9.

Maryland banned bear hunting in 1953, after overhunting nearly snuffed out the bruin population. In 1972, the state placed the bear on its endangered species list, where it remained for eight years.

From the mid-1990s on, wildlife managers began developing a monitoring plan and the framework for a lottery-style hunt.

When hunting resumed two years ago, it was not without controversy. A legal challenge failed as did an attempt to ban the season by anti-hunting lawmakers. Sign-carrying protesters stood outside the gate of the Mount Nebo check station on opening day.

But yesterday, there was just a lone woman videotaping hunters' comings and goings.

As of 8 p.m. yesterday, none of the 19 checked animals - all killed in Garrett County - came close to breaking the state record of 496 pounds set in the inaugural season. Seven additional bears have been called in but won't be checked in until today.

But there was a first: The fourth bear brought into Mount Nebo was the first ever taken by muzzleloader.

A local man, Walt Tasker, took the 200-pound bear while walking down a logging road near Laurel Run. Last season, his cousin and hunting partner, Doug Tasker, was the first bow hunter to kill a bear.

To better understand the dynamics of the hunt, researchers from West Virginia University are continuing to track the hunters who track the bears.

Forty-seven hunters volunteered to be wired with GPS units to determine how effective they are in finding their prey. Nine bears are wearing radio collars to track their movements.

Last season about two dozen hunters carried GPS units, which provided researchers with their first glimpse at how the two-legged critters go about their business.

Ed Arrow, a graduate research assistant at the university, said a large number of hunters stick close to roads, but some are beginning to tackle wetlands, where bears hang out.

"But there are definite pockets in Garrett County - eight or nine - where the bears are and the hunters aren't," he said.

Researchers want to learn what successful hunters are doing, and want to know how the bear population moves between Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, all which have bear seasons.

"The question of how vulnerable bears are to hunting is important," said John Edwards, an associate professor. "I think we will find out that these bears are pretty sharp. Just because they haven't been hunted for years in Maryland doesn't mean they just stand around when hunters move in."

For example, a Maryland-tagged bear was shot last week in West Virginia, about eight miles west of the state line. The 200-pound bruin was the offspring of a sow killed during last year's Maryland hunt.

But the hunters are wising up, too.

Fyffe was selected for a permit in 2004, but didn't get off a shot. The Glen Burnie resident knew he had until his shift Wednesday to change his luck, and with Haberkorn got permission to hunt on the Shifflett family's 123 acres, where bears were plentiful.

"Just to have a Maryland bear," Haberkorn said.

"Is a prize in itself," Fyffe said, finishing the sentence.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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