WILSON — Edward Pittman said he knew it might be a special day when he woke up on Nov. 12, the first day of bear hunting season in the history of Wilson County.
Pittman had already bagged about a dozen bears in other counties and in states as far away as Maine, but for the tobacco farmer from near Stantonsburg, the first day in his home county was different.
At about 7:30 in the morning – after a little over an hour of hunting with about a dozen others in an organized hunt with hounds off Good News Church Road – he fired his Remington 30.06 rifle and took down a 424-pound adult male bear.
Later that morning, Kevin Barnhill, a welder from near Elm City, fired his Browning Gold 12 gauge shotgun and killed a 448-pounder at a site off U.S. 301. It was the second bear Barnhill had ever taken.
Pittman, 59, and Barnhill, 31, are Wilson County natives.
“I’ve killed several before, but to get one in the county on the first day was special,” said Pittman, who said he grew up a hunter and has pursued rabbits, squirrels, deer and bear along with game birds for more than 50 years.
“I held the (county) record for about three hours, I guess. I thought when the bear hunt came here it was a little bit premature, but I guess the wildlife people know more than I do.”
Apparently they did, with two trophy animals taken the first day of hunting season.
“That’s the first real trophy I’ve ever had,” Barnhill said. “I’ve killed some nice bucks, but nothing that big as far as deer goes.”
Pittman said bear hunting gives him a level of excitement he used to have pursuing deer. And he and his friends did their homework for the hunt.
“There was an area where the farmer was having trouble with a bear digging his peanuts up, and ‘Little Wayne’ Edmundson and my brother Hardy had the dogs,” Pittman explained. “They had gone around the peanut field the day before to pick up a fresh track. We had several tracks of the one bear.
“In just a matter of minutes they were running him. Before long they had him bayed up, and we pulled right up on him. There’s kind of an adrenaline rush when you go up on one that size and he’s running at the dogs snorting and blowing and you try to get a good shot on him. He was swinging his head. I tried to get a shot, and he went off at some dogs. I couldn’t see him because he was in the brush. But he made a small circle and came back into a thicket. I knew I had just passed one guy there, and the bear walked out of a thicket and I got a head shot.”
And then a couple of hours later, Barnhill got his big one.
“I started out with a long walk to where I had him bayed,” explained Barnhill, another nearly lifelong hunter who has bagged squirrels, rabbits, dove, quail, deer and raccoons. “There in the woods we couldn’t really hear him, but we heard the dogs and guys were talking about it on the radio.
“I got to him a few times, but then he broke from the dogs and ran and then he’d bay again. Then I got down on my knees and saw him and shot him.”
The bears yield 250 or so pounds of quality meat, which became bear burgers, chops, steaks and ribs at Flowers Slaughterhouse near Sims.
“I haven’t ever eaten bear meat,” said Barnhill, whose wife Kristy – a fellow hunter who said she was envious because she had to work the day the guys went out – said she knows all about how to prepare it.
“We’ll have stew, and burgers with gravy,” she said. “I really couldn’t tell much difference from beef. I like deer in tacos and spaghetti, so maybe we’ll try that.”
The first part of the bear season in Eastern North Carolina counties ended in mid-November. The second started Monday and will run through Dec. 22.