By Jim Stabile
JEFFERSON, NJ –-(Ammoland.com)-A Morris County deer hunter who shot one of the biggest black bears taken in North America was disappointed.
“I would have traded getting two bucks instead of the bear,” said Bruce Headley, 62, of Weldon Road, Milton. Headley’s 829-pound live weight black bear was one of fewer than a dozen over 800 pounds in 35 states and most of Canada.
Bruce and his family prefer venison, but he missed a shot at a buck on opening day of bear and deer season, Dec. 5, at the 150-acre property that has been in his family for nine generations. It abuts the 3,200-acre Mahlon Dickerson Reservation, Morris County’s biggest park.
Headley had seen the big bruin in his backyard in late September “under a yellow delicious apple tree shoving apples into its mouth,” about half a mile from Jefferson High School. He wasn’t hunting for it, but was one of 7,294 other hunters who bought $2 bear hunting permits.
The next time he saw the giant bear was at 11:15 a.m. Dec. 9 while at his deer stand in the woods where he’d been since before daybreak, about three-eighths of a mile behind his house.
Neighbor John Pessagno, hunting about 350 yards away, called him on his cellphone after 11 a.m. to tell him five does had passed and were heading toward him. Headley saw only one doe come and bed down nearby.
“I was looking to see if a buck might be coming when I saw the bear coming up an old tote road,” Headley said. “I waited till he came to a clearing about 45 yards away, and when he did, I shot at him; I knew I hit it at least three times.”
After the bruin went 50 yards and dropped in a rocky, small ravine, Headley called neighbor Gordon Galfo, who drove over with his four-wheeler, then got Adam, Headley’s 21-year-old son, and Passagno, to help.
They chainsawed a path to the bear, used a “come-along” — a hand-operated crank with a cable — and pulled the bear up on a heavy-duty plastic rescue sled. They next picked it up with a front-end loader and put it onto Galfo’s pickup truck for the drive to the Franklin bear checking station.
It took them about three hours to get the bear out, including getting the equipment and help and clearing the path.
“It took longer to get organized than to get it out,” said Headley, who has hunted since he bought his first license at age 14.
He donated the big bear to the Division of Fish and Wildlife, which hopes to have it mounted and displayed at the Pequest Natural Resource Education Center, so others can see the biggest bear ever taken in New Jersey.
“If the hunter wants to donate the bear and the conservation groups are willing to cover the cost of having it mounted, I think the Pequest Natural Resource Education Center would be a great location,” said Division of Fish and Wildlife Director David Chanda.
“It would be a nice compliment to our conservation education programs,” he added. “After all, the black bear represents a truly remarkable success story.
“Especially when you consider that they were all but wiped out by the industrial revolution in the early 1900s, and now as a result of tremendous habitat and management programs developed by professional wildlife biologists, black bears have been sighted in all 21 counties and will forever remain a part of New Jersey’s landscape.”
Bear Biologist Kelcey Burguess of the Division brought it to Wildlife Preservations in Woodland Park, formerly West Paterson, the studio of famed taxidermist George Dante, whose work is on display worldwide.
Dante’s clients include permanent and traveling exhibits of the Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo, and dozens of museums and zoos. The New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs has offered to pay for Dante’s work on the bear.
The day before Headley brought his bear the Franklin checking station off Route 23 — driving past anti-hunting demonstrators who shouted and made [rude] gestures at successful hunters — John Noon of Sussex had brought in 776-pound bear he shot in Stokes State Forest. That bear was a record until Headley’s bear was weighed.
Hunters killed 469 bears in this year’s hunt that coincided with the six-day December firearms deer hunt, fewer than the 592 killed during the 2010 bear hunt, because fog, heavy rain and warm weather reduced the harvest this season. About 800 cubs are usually born every January.
Hunters had to bring their bears to one of five check-in stations where biologists extracted a bear’s tooth to age the animal, took a DNA sample, weighed and measured the bears and determined the location of where the bear was shot.
The division is preparing on a comprehensive report on this year’s season, which again included bears known to have caused damage and other problems. New Jersey’s bears annually cause tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage by breaking into homes, killing pets and livestock, damaging crops and preventing many homeowners from feeding birds or leaving barbecue grilles or garbage outdoors.
For this year’s successful bear season, 7,502 hunters bought 9,082 permits and had a 6-percent success rate, harvesting 140 male bears; 329 females. Of these, 19 percent had been handled during year by biologists: 311 in Sussex; Warren, 98; Passaic, 25; Morris, 33; Bergen, 1, and Hunterdon, 1.
The largest bear shot during the 2010 hunt had an estimated live weight of more than 750 pounds (651 pounds when field dressed) and was taken in Montville Township, near the Boonton border.
Garden State adult male American black bears (Ursus americanus) weigh on average 400 pounds. Males are called boars; females, called sows, average 175. Headley’s bear was a boar. Cubs are born in January and most weigh an average of 80 pounds by their first December. Sows aggressively chase their cubs when the reach ages of 16-18 months, so they can breed again.
Pennsylvania’s state record bear, estimated at 879 lbs., was shot in 2010 in Pike County, but weighed 700 lbs. on June 7, 2009, when it was caught, tagged, weighed and released by N.J. bear research biologists off Old Mine Road, in Hardwick Township, Warren County. Six bears heavier than 800 pounds have been shot by hunters in Pennsylvania since 1992.
The U.S. record wild black bear, shot in North Carolina in November 1998, had fattened by eating discards near a pig farm. It weighed 880 lbs. A 805-pound black bear was killed by a hunter in Manitoba, the province where one that was 856.5 lbs was killed when struck by a vehicle on a road near Winnipeg in 2001.
New York’s record black bear, shot in Franklin County in the Adirondacks in 1975, weighed 750 lbs.
Bears can grow as big as 900 in captivity if they’re overfed, which is what happened to the wild one that roamed last year in Pike County, Pa., and had been fed by workers at the Fernwood Resort. The Monroe County hunter who shot it with a crossbow said he didn’t know that.
2011 Black Bear Season Harvest Data
(Below is is preliminary harvest information and subject to revision.)
Black Bear Harvest by Bear Hunting Area
|Bear Hunting Area||Bears Harvested|
Bear Harvest by Check-in Station
About Jim Stabile:
Jim has been writing about the outdoors since 1961 and is a current contributor to Gannett Sunday Papers.
Jim was an editor at Outdoor Life Magazine in NYC and the editor of Michigan Out of Doors Magazine.
He is currently an Officer in the New York Metropolitan Outdoor Press Association and still an active hunter, enjoying success in his 61st year of deer hunting.