When people ask me about Eastern North Carolina bear hunting, I tell them it is truly the land of giants! The large swamp thickets and big tracts of timber along the eastern shore of North Carolina are home to some trophy black bears.The warm coastal weather along with vast agriculture fields allow bears along the coast to reach sizes larger than in most states. It's not uncommon to see 500 lb or more bears harvested along the coastal region each year.

 I discovered black bear hunting years ago when I was invited to come to West Virginia. I went bear hunting with a friend who had hounds and ever since then it has been in my blood! Watching the hounds track a bear is like a race, sometimes they will slow down and lose the trail, other times they are trailing just feet behind the bear. Watching all this will give anyone a true appreciation for the hard work and time that houndsmen put into their dogs!

 With all the craziness between Covid and a hectic work schedule, I was looking forward to my annual trip to North Carolina. It's not only a time to bear hunt, but to fellowship between hunters and to share stories around the dinner table after a long day of chasing bears and rounding up dogs. I might also add if you love seafood, then the coast of North Carolina has all that you could ask for!

The typical style of hunting bears with hounds in North Carolina is a little different than in some places. The areas that we hunt are normally sections of woods surrounded by dikes and levees. Shooters will typically line up along the levee while the houndsman sends in the dogs from a different direction. Bears will try to sneak out ahead of the dogs and swim across the water, so shooters have to be vigilant and ready to shoot at any moment. Larger bears that are not able to climb up a tree typically will be bayed on the ground by the dogs. This can be quite the experience when a large bear is only feet away from you but also dangerous at the same time as they can injure the dogs.

The first day of the season started off promisingly. Our group had treed a few nice bears and a few first-time hunters were able to get their first bear. I had an encounter with a nice bear that was over 400 lbs, but was unable to pull off a shot in the dense brush. I had an opportunity later in the week at a nice bear, but decided to pass on it as I was determined to break my goal of shooting a bear over 300 lbs. 

 It was the last day that I could hunt before I had to head back home to Ohio, so the pressure was on. As we pulled up to the bait pile, we could tell that a big bear had been there so we decided to turn the hounds loose on the track. I watched on my Garmin as the dogs started  the chase. Within fifteen minutes a call over the radio broke the morning silence; the dogs had a bear bayed. As we headed back to where it showed the dogs were at on the gps, the howls of the dogs grew louder so we knew we were getting close. The vegetation got so thick at one point that we started crawling on our hands and knees to get to where the dogs had the bear bayed. As we approached, the howls of dogs grew deafening and we knew the bear had to be close. We got to a point where we could see a small opening where the bear was and crawled towards it. At this point we were only fifteen feet from the bear. As I pushed aside some brush, I was finally able to see the bear. He was a giant and I knew the dogs could only keep him at bay for a little bit before he would make a break for it. The bear was backed into the thick brush, swatting and snapping at the dogs around him.

I looked to my buddy to make sure he was ready to follow me up with a back up shot, and he nodded. The dogs still had the bear backed up into the brush, so I knew I would have to make my shot soon. As the bear turned away our eyes met, and although I have seen many bears in my life, it is still something that sends chills down your spine. As I shouldered my 450 bushmaster and placed the sights right behind his shoulder and fired, everything around me went silent. My heart was pounding—I could barely think. When everything calmed down, I was in shock at the size of the creature that laid at my feet. We all gathered around the bear and gusses of the weight were thrown around, but I wouldn't know the true weight until we got it out and back to the skinning shed.

As any hunter knows, the real work begins after the kill. The issue now at hand was how we were going to get this bear out of the thick brush. Luckily we devised a plan and had a large sled with a couple hundred feet of rope and a pulley attached to a truck. After cutting paths with a chainsaw, we were finally able to get the bear pulled out to the dirt road. It took almost eight people just to hoist him up into the bed of the truck. As we gathered around the truck to take pictures, I knew the bear was going to easily surpass my goal of 300 lbs, but I was soon in for quite the surprise.

 When we arrived at the skinning shed to drop the bear off, we backed the truck up to the hoist to get an official weight. I was shocked as I watched the scale climb to 607 lbs. I knew that this would be a once in a lifetime bear for me. I knew the first person I had to call was my father as I always do after a harvest. Even though my dad wasn't able to make it on the trip with me this year, he could tell from the excitement in my voice that I had shot a monster!

This trip will be something I will always remember for the rest of my life. Even though I shot a giant bear, that was only a small part of the whole experience. It's the events leading up to the harvest that make it so special for me. Hearing the hounds run through the woods, trailing a bear, sharing a cold beer at the end of the day with great friends, and telling stories is what truly makes everything memorable.