For the second time this season, a black bear took over the second-place slot for the state's heaviest bear. Sixteen-year-old David Honeycutt Jr. was participating in his first bear hunt when he shot the sumo-sized bear with a Marlin .45-70, lever-action rifle borrowed from his host, Phil Barker. He shot the 784-pound bear on Thursday, Dec. 18 at a private farm in Hyde County that Barker owns with four other partners.
"We had been seeing this bear for a couple of months," said Barker, a building contractor from Wilmington. We turned dogs on the track at 7:45 a.m. and David shot it by 8:30 a.m."
The 7,500-acre private farm is adjacent to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, which has one of the highest black bear population densities in the lower 48 states. The group of hunters also took a 581-pound and a 480-pound black bear later the same day, bringing the total number of bears taken on the farm this year to 16.
"We try to take 20 bears a year off the farm," Barker said. "I have been hunting up there for 30 years. We have leased it since the early 90s before purchasing it nine years ago. We hunt ducks, bear and turkey and had taken David duck hunting the previous afternoon."
The farm has 3,500 acres of cropland and 4,000 acres of timberland. The hunters began by looking for tracks in the fields and roads.
"One of my partner's sons, Harris Shaw, and my daughter, Ann McBride Barker were along," Barker said. "David is a friend of my daughter and they go to New Hanover High School. He said he would like to go bear hunting, so I invited him up. Keith Nations, who is from Silva, N.C., came from the mountains with his dogs. He is the leader of the hound group."
"We got up early and went out at about 5 a.m.," Honeycutt said. "We were looking for bears and bear tracks. They ended up grabbing the dogs about 7:30 a.m. and, right where we were sitting, they put the dogs on a big track. Keith went in there with me because I had never done it before. There is a big ditch and the dogs crossed it and started barking. We went around the ditch to an open cut and the dogs had the bear all bayed up. He was in the thick stuff in the woods. We heard this cracking in the woods and I realized the bear was coming straight at me. He came out on my right side about 10 or 15 yards in front of me and then he turned. I shot him about 25 yards from me and hit him right front shoulder. He rolled after a couple of steps and he was dead right there. I had no idea what to expect. But when he came out I didn't want him to run over me and I was hoping he would turn."
Eight other hunters came to catch the dogs and move the bear out of the woods. They pulled the dogs away from the bear and returned with a Polaris ATV that had a front-mounted winch. They winched the bear across a shallow ditch then hoisted the bear with a tractor and carried it to a game processing shed.
"It was so heavy, the bear almost pulled the Polaris into the ditch before the winch moved it." Honeycutt said. "I didn't have anything to compare it to since it was my first bear, but everyone was telling me how big it was. When we put him on the scale, he weighed 784 pounds and that's when I realized how big he was."
Chris Turner, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, arrived to check the bear's weight and remove its premolar teeth to age it. Commission personnel obtain samples from about 60 percent of hunter-harvested bears in a cooperative program that has resulted in North Carolina having the best black bear reproductive database in the world. The information supplied by hunters helps biologists set seasons and bag limits that keep black bear numbers in check while allowing sport hunting and ensuring that bear populations continue to thrive.
The hunters weighed the bear on the same certified scale that weighed the state's former second-place black bear, a 782-pounder shot on November 11, 2014 by Virginia resident Thomas Capps during a Hyde County still hunt. The two bears bumped a 760-pound bear taken in 2009 into fourth place. North Carolina's heaviest black bear, taken by a Craven County hunter in 1998, weighed 880 pounds.
"I'm getting a full-sized mount," Honeycutt said. "I just have to figure out a spot to put it."