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Local farmer bags potential state-record bear

By: Susan Bush - October 8th, 2004

POWNAL, Vt. — With a single bow shot, local farmer Michael Darling brought down a 443-pound black bear this week that may set a state record.

"This is probably the biggest hunting thrill I've ever had," Darling said during a Monday interview.

Darling was hunting on Oct. 3 when he encountered the bear. Black bears of its size are uncommon in Vermont, according to Debra Wood of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

"We don't see too many 400-pound bears," she said.

A bow hunter killed a 412-pound bear in the state's Northeast Kingdom last year, she said, but she didn't know if that weight reflected the "dressed" weight or the "live" weight. Darling's bear had a dressed weight of 403 pounds and measured 7 feet tall, he said. If the weight of the other bear, shot in Norton, was its “live” weight, Darling will have the new state record for bow hunting.

William Adams of Pownal, a veteran hunter, visited Darling's home on Monday to take a look at the behemoth bruin.

"I've gotten three bears in the past three years," Adams said. "The biggest bear I've gotten was 180 pounds."

Female black bears weigh between 120 and 180 pounds on average, while the average male black bear weighs between 300 to 400 pounds, according to information from the state wildlife agency.

Darling said he was perched in a tree stand about 15 feet from the ground when he heard rustling sounds from some distance away.

"I heard something and I turned around and saw it was a bear," he said.

The bear was about 50 yards from Darling and continued moving toward him until he took his shot from a distance of about 20 yards, he said.

He said he knew he needed help getting the bear out of the West Mountain woods, so he went home and enlisted the aid of his wife, Becky, his son Bradley, his father, William Darling, and a brother-in-law, Richard Bisson. The group used a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle to carry the bear from the woods.

Darling brought the bear to taxidermist Peter Lajoie of Shrewsbury and said that after seeing the bear Lajoie told him it may qualify for inclusion in the Pope and Young record book as the largest black bear killed by bow and arrow in Vermont.

The Vermont bear season runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 17; bow-and-arrow deer hunting season began on Oct. 2 and will conclude on Oct. 24.

The black bear population is growing in Vermont and Massachusetts, and the increase is generating numerous bear and human interaction. During the 1970s, about 100 black bear rambled about Massachusetts. By 2002, that number had jumped to about 2,000, according to the MassWildlife Web site. Vermont's current bear population is between 3,600 and 4,500, according to statistics provided by the New England 2004 Black Bear Forecast. The Berkshire region hosts the largest number of black bears in Massachusetts, while the northern regions of Vermont contain the most bears in that state.

Bear are categorized as "big game" in both states, and hunting seasons are included as a means of bear-population management.

"The number of bears taken by hunters each year is regulated so that the bear population remains stable and healthy," according to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Homeowners from the southern Berkshires to southern Vermont have reported seeing bears in their yards or on quiet streets with greater frequency, and area newspapers have reported numerous backyard bear stories during the past few years. Bears can wreak havoc in orchards and cornfields and have been spotted at bird feeders and rummaging through trash cans. Black bears eat plants and other animals and may prey on deer and moose, but they try to avoid people in the bears' own habitat, according to Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

Access to food brings bears to populated areas, according to wildlife experts. Bird feeders, trash and compost piles holding fruit bits, meat scraps and other foods can lure them, as can beehives.

Bird feeders should be removed from yards between April 1 and Dec.1, according to MassWildlife. Feeders promoted as "bear-proof" may pose a problem if spilled birdseed remains on the ground. Pet food and dirty pet food dishes should not be left outdoors, and garbage receptacles should be stored in interior areas until scheduled pick-up or transport to a landfill. Electric fencing can deter bears away from beehives.

MassWildlife advises that bears may "bluff-charge" humans if protecting a food source or if feeling cornered or threatened.

If non-hunters encounter a bear, the agency suggests, "Do not run or crouch down but stand your ground and then move slowly away."

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