Patience and composure. Especially composure.
A 12-year-old from Holly Springs demonstrated those qualities when he faced down a huge bear in a dense thicket during a Hyde County hunt and came away with a trophy of a lifetime.
JT Coley, a sixth-grader at St. David’s School in Raleigh, killed a 566-pound black bear at less than 10 feet during a Dec. 17 hunt on Lux Farm.
On his third bear hunt, JT was with his father, John Coley, vice chairman of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Fellow commissioner Wes Seegars, one of the property owners, invited the Coleys, John Coley said. The afternoon hunt came on a cloudy day after a predawn rain. JT was the designated shooter.
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“You’re fortunate when it works out the way it’s supposed to. It doesn’t always happen that way,” John Coley said.
It doesn’t always happen this way, either. Pursuing a 300-pound bear that escaped, the Coleys and Rob Lynch, owner of some of the bear dogs, crawled for an hour through a dense thicket. A radio call said a bigger bear was 500 yards away. Hearing the baying dogs slowly grow closer, Lynch moved the trio several times in hope of finding the bear’s route, JT said.
“We couldn’t see the bear, but he was about 20 yards away when we heard him,” he said. “We crawled forward.”
Suddenly, the bear appeared in a ditch less than 10 feet away. JT aimed and fired.
The bear, swiping huge paws at the dogs, headed toward JT.
“My first thought when that bear made eye contact with me was, ‘Is he going to bite me,’ and I was scared then,” JT said.
He refocused and fired three more times. The bear dropped five feet from the stunned trio, John Coley said.
JT had fired four rounds from a Marlin .45-70 guide gun. He had one left.
“I just remember that I didn’t feel the kick,” said JT, a hunter since age 3. “That surprised me. It’s a 400-grain bullet. When you’re shooting an animal, you don’t feel the kick because you’re focused. … It was kind of a blur. I was really, really scared, and my heart was beating a mile a minute.”
John Coley videoed much of the action and said he gets “goose bumps” viewing. Mom Gretchen Coley was not pleased to see such close quarters, but she hunts and understands. She is a proud mother figuring out a place for a full-body bear mount.
“I can’t believe that kid had the wherewithal … to keep his bearings about him. And he had to pump and shoot it again,” she said. “… He believes he’s going to come out of the woods with something. He just has that belief and positive attitude. And the belief is what allows him to be successful.”
Closures: Bear season closed Dec. 26 in most eastern N.C. counties and ends Friday statewide. Deer hunting ends Friday; the western season has closed.
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