December 5, 2005, was the opening day of New Jersey's deer and bear hunting seasons. The bear hunt was going to be just the second in the state in the past 35 years, and my first.
On Thanksgiving morning, a light snow covered the ground so I decided to scout my hunting area. Suddenly, movement caught my attention. About 30 yards away, a very large bear was coming down off a ledge toward me. The bear seemed to sense me and veered slowly off to its left. After it left, I checked the tracks and its paw print exceeded the size of my open hand. If only today had been hunting season.
After seeing the bear, I spoke to my good friend Dave Swingle and told him that there was a really big bear on the mountain and that I was apprehensive about shooting it since it would be so difficult to get it out due to rough terrain. Dave assured me he would help if I got the bear.
On the opening day of the season, I did not start for my stand until well after legal shooting light. Just before reaching my stand, I spotted a set of boot tracks that came down off a side hill through a thick stand of young hemlocks, crossed my trail and went toward a rocky ledge. I couldn't figure out why a man would be walking through that area and felt that something was just not right. After a closer look, a lone, round print stood separate from the boot-like tracks and I realized that all of the tracks were made by a bear. When I placed my hand in the print and saw that it was larger than my whole hand, I knew it was made by the bear I saw Thanksgiving morning.
I began to follow the track, and after taking about two paces, there was a loud crack of branches breaking and additional rustling sounds of something running. I looked to my left and saw nothing, then looked straight ahead and saw only a big rock and hemlocks. I backtracked about 20 feet, just out of the hemlock patch and got on one knee and began looking for shooting lanes if the bear appeared. Suddenly, out of the darkness of the hemlocks, a large black mass appeared. I shouldered my Remington 11-87 slug gun, placed the crosshairs of my scope behind the bear's shoulder and fired. The bear made a long leap forward and disappeared out of sight.
With the events happening so fast, I thought I had hit the bear too far back. My stomach tensed up and turned sour. Suddenly there was a loud crash. I began tracking down the trail, and after about 20 paces, I saw my bear under a fallen tree.
I called Dave on my cell phone and I saw it was only 7:01 a.m. My first bear hunt was over in less than 2 minutes! I took a long stick and touched the bear's eye while cradling the gun on my side, pointed at the animal. There was no movement; it was dead.
After getting Dave and heading back to the massive boar, we met two hunters that offered to help get the bear out of the woods. We were all back at the truck before it dawned on me that I didn't even know the names of these men. I introduced myself and learned that one of the men was Phil Meyer, a fellow member of the North American Hunting Club.
My bear was indeed a trophy, sporting a skull that measured 223 16 inches—enough to qualify him for the Boone and Crockett Club record book. But what I will remember most about that day is how three men, two of whom I had never seen before, gave up their day of hunting to help me out.