While most hunters are pursuing white-tailed deer, a few are hunting another native big game animal. Regulations changes the past few seasons allow hunters to use bait for the hunting of black bears as in many other states and provinces.
One black bear hunter is Johnnie Dale, a 56-year-old hunting guide who operates Buffalo Creek Guide Service in Magnolia, N.C. While he guides deer and pig hunters, most of his bear hunting is on his own time. He was at Puter’s Neck Hunting Club in Brunswick County on Sunday, Nov. 20, when he took a black bear.
“I have been a member of Puter’s Neck two years and hunted as a guest the year before that,” Dale said. “I killed a bear there all three seasons. The first weighed 150 pounds, the second, 230 and this one, 110.”
Dale passed shots at two bears, but shot a smaller one. Then, the day he took his bear, a larger one had already walked past his stand.
“It did not quite come into the clear,” he said. “When I looked at the video I shot, I could see that had happened. The bigger bear was more cautious.”
Dale credited Green Swamp Bear Sanctuary for producing the large number of bears. He was hunting 300 yards from the boundary. He shot the bear with a bolt-action Tikka, .30-06-caliber rifle with 180-grain bullets. It had a 4-12x variable scope. Dale has tracked bears hit with less powerful calibers, but this bear fell in its tracks.
“I was carrying peanuts and ear corn into the thickest area I could find for three weeks,” he said. “I began bear hunting in Canada about 35 years ago and that is the way they hunt them there. Altogether, I have taken 10 bears.”
Dale also guided photo trips for Alaska brown bears in 2012. He has a penchant for getting close to large, potentially dangerous animals. He was hunting from a two-person ladder stand about 40 yards from his bait.
I hunted three days, morning and evening, including that morning,” he said. “I passed up three I thought were too small, but shot a small one anyway. That is okay, because the smaller ones are best eating because they are so tender. The bear season is longer in that county this year, so I was taking my time, staying in the clubhouse and eating my lunch at my hunting area on the tailgate. It is a long ride by ATV on paper company roads. But, it was Sunday, so I came out after the morning hunt to go to Town Creek Church.”
After harvesting his one-bear bag limit, Dale called his daughter, Elizabeth Conley, to ask if she wanted to try. A stay-at-home mother of three, she could not go unless she found a babysitter. Her mother and Dale’s wife, Debbie, took the children the next afternoon so she could hunt from the same stand.
She has some trouble getting seated in the 15-foot tall stand. Once they were aloft, Dale slept.
“We were only there about an hour when she started hitting me really fast and said, ‘Daddy, there he is,’” Dale said. When I saw the bear, I told her not to move, just be really still. The bear circled around and she did not have a good shot. He was looking right at us.”
When the bear turned away, Conley downed the bear on the spot with her father’s rifle. She had been watching squirrels.
“He said if the squirrels ran away, a bear is coming,” said Conley, 31, who lives in Four Oaks. “They kept going into the woods and coming back. When they did not come back, I saw a big, black head. Then, out came the rest of him. His hide was perfect – slick and pretty. I asked if he was big enough after Dad woke up. I watched for about five minutes, getting really excited. I have shot a lot of deer and don’t get excited like that anymore unless it is a big buck.”
Conley was glad the bear did not run. She is eight months pregnant and did not want to crawl on her knees in the thicket, tracking a bear. Dragging it out would have also been a problem, although it only weighed 95 pounds.
“I walked out with Dad and he put some bait on a different stand,” she said. “He is hoping to take my nephew, next time. He made it an easy hunt and now I will have my own bear rug. When I was very young, I laid on Dad’s bear rugs to watch cartoons.”
Dale cleaned the bears and removed the fat. The fat holds in body heat, causing the meat to spoil. He rendered the oil into lard, which had the side benefit of frying strips of meat called “crackings, the same as when rendering pork fat.
“I cook bear meat in a crock pot or a cast iron pot over an open fire,” Dale said. “I cook it like pot roast and it doesn’t matter which part of the bear because it all tastes the same. I add onions, potatoes and carrots and season it with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. I use the lard for cooking and for greasing my boots. It has lots of uses.”