Black bear season off to big start

some think it's grisly

615-pound animal shot

opposition remains strong

October 23, 2007|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,Sun reporter

OAKLAND -- As a photography major at a Washington college, Coty Jones is used to taking tough shots.

But yesterday, on the first day of Maryland's black bear season, Jones shouldered her rifle, steadied her nerves and brought down a 615-pound bear, breaking the three-year-old state record by 129 pounds.

On its hind legs, the bear would have barely squeezed through a doorway, its ears grazing the ceiling. It took eight men two hours to drag it the length of five football fields.

"He didn't look that big until he got close," said Jones, a Hoopers Island resident and junior at Corcoran College of Art and Design. "I just froze."

Jones was sitting in a tree stand in Garrett State Forest, just west of Deep Creek Lake, with her father, Phillip Jones. Shortly after sunrise, both saw the bear lumbering from right to left about 80 yards in the distance.

"She was shaking, but I was shaking more," Phillip Jones said.

It took Coty Jones two shots to bring the bear down, and then came the hard part.

"It wasn't straight dragging, it was straight up," said her father, his hat and shirt still soaked in sweat.

Phone calls brought out a small army of volunteers, who pushed, pulled and shoved the bear onto a platform on the back of the Joneses' truck.

Jones said the bear will fill the family freezer.

Her bear was one of 36 killed yesterday, the Department of Natural Resources reported. The hunt will continue today.

With springlike temperatures and under a robin's-egg blue sky, the start of this year's season was the opposite of the previous two years, when snow and ice blanketed the region.

And this year also lacked the protesters and anti-hunting monitoring crews that had been fixtures outside the check station gate. But that is not to say opposition to the hunt has abated. Last week, the Humane Society of the United States took out a full-page ad in The Sun calling on Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration to stop the hunt. On Sunday, several dozen protesters - one in a bear suit - renewed the demand during an Annapolis rally.

The anti-hunting group pressed its case yesterday, releasing a telephone poll it said indicated that Maryland residents overwhelmingly oppose bear hunting. The survey of 839 registered voters that ended Sunday shows 61 percent oppose hunting and 72 percent want DNR to control the bear population by nonlethal means such as public education, the use of bear-proof garbage containers and scaring bears with guns that shoot rubber pellets.

However, 63 percent of those polled in Western Maryland, where the bulk of the bears live, favor the hunt.

Black bears, native to the state, were hunted to near extinction when a moratorium was declared after the 1953 season. The population slowly rebounded to the point where biologists and wildlife managers were able to recommend a limited, lottery-style hunt.

The bear population numbers 500 and grows 10 percent each year. Hunters and collisions with motor vehicles kill about 100 annually. This season, DNR wants to reduce the population by 50-70 bears.

A total of 2,804 hunters, a record number, applied for this year's hunt. The state issued 220 permits.

For Mark Arbutus and Paul Taylorson, their successful hunt was a textbook case of supply and demand.

Taylorson took out ads in two local newspapers and an online news site several weeks ago, seeking land owners vexed by nuisance bears. Of the half-dozen phone calls he received, one on the Allegany-Garrett county line seemed ideal.

At 7:20 a.m., Arbutus saw a 145-pound bear ambling toward his tree stand. He took aim at a 4-foot clearing just ahead of the bear, but at the last second, it veered away. Choosing an 18-inch clearing between two trees, Arbutus again took aim and waited.

The bruin walked right into the single shot.

"My heart was about to jump out of my chest," said Arbutus, 46, an electrical technician for Constellation Energy.

The two hunters - cousins from Millers Island in Baltimore County - tracked the bear 45 yards and loaded it into their pickup for the ride to the check-in station at the Mount Nebo Wildlife Management Area, near Deep Creek Lake.

"That was smart," Arbutus said of his cousin's advertising campaign. "Next year, I'm sure you'll see a ton of ads."

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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