New Jersey Bear Hunt, Monday December 5th thru Saturday, December 10, 2005

Finally, the political dust settled and the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife was able to follow thru with its second bear season in 35 years.  The Fish and Game Council, made up of independent representatives, who act in the best interest of the state’s fish and wildlife, had gained enough data from the states’ Biologists, that something had to be done with the exploding black bear population.  New Jersey, the most populated state in the nation per square mile, is not the first place one would expect to find so many bears.

I was born in, and live in New Jersey, and have been an active sportsman for my entire life.  Back in the early 70’s, bear sightings were unheard of.  Maybe an occasional bear would wander along the Delaware River in the Gap area and it would make the news.  In the 80’s, we might see a track or a pile of scat, but rarely actually see a bear.  The last 15 years has been an entirely different story.  Any time we enter the woods for any type of activity, be it bow hunting, turkey hunting, fishing, camping, or just hiking, bears are always a concern.  Although we haven’t had to use it yet, we generally carry bear repellent pepper spray, just in case.

Of the 4434 permits issued for the hunt, myself and my three sons all drew permits.  We had participated in the mandatory bear seminars instructed by the Division of Fish and Wildlife.  Since the year 2000, the Division has tried to pass a bear hunt each year, but the Political concerns and Anti-hunting pressures stopped the hunt each year except for 2003.  As a sportsman, we never knew if the hunt would actually take place until the last minute.  This year, we decided to be prepared for the hunt, if it were to take place.

We decided to hunt in an area of state land we were familiar with from previous bow and shotgun seasons.  Most people who are not from New Jersey picture Newark airport and the Jersey Turnpike as the typical terrain.  Keep this as a secret, but the northern portion of New Jersey is a vast and beautiful portion of the Appalachian Mountains.  The hemlock, oak and rhododendrons seem to go forever.  This area equals the Adirondacks, Catskills or the Smokeys.

Three weeks before the proposed hunt, we were joined by my hunting partner Alan Heimall, who also drew a permit.  Myself, my sons, Tim (12), Brian (15) and JP (18), and Alan, started two bait piles.  Being that we were hunting on state land, our first concern was not having our sites found by other hunters.  Our fist site, was ¾ of a mile from the road.  Our 2nd site was 1.3 miles from the road.  For the next three weeks, we religiously backpacked 50lb bags of sweet feed while carrying 5 gal buckets full of leftover donuts from the local bakeries.  Every two or three days we would pack up and start our walk.  The walk was not fun!  However, it was so exciting to get to our sites, and see every last donut crumb gone.  After Thanksgiving our bait included 4 turkey carcasses and 1 ham.  We also had two 50 lb bags of stale candy corn pumpkins donated to the cause.  The bears were there.  We never once saw a bear as we re-baited, but the sign was absolutely amazing.

Our opening day plan was for Alan and Brian to sit at the farther pile.   Brian, a sophomore in High School and on the Honor role had earned the right to hunt the entire week.  Tim and I would sit at the closer pile.  I was concerned that the cold 15 to 20 degree weather would shorten his hunt, and we wanted to be closer to the truck if necessary.  JP, a senior in High School, wasn’t sure when he would be able to hunt based on his Varsity Basketball Schedule and his Honors Physics test.

On Friday afternoon, the Anti’s had their last day in court, and they lost.  The hunt was on.  Saturday night we ended up with 3 to 4 inches of fresh powder snow.  Monday morning at 5:30 we loaded our packs with warm clothes and 5 gallons of donuts to rebait the piles, and started our long walk.  It seemed much shorter today.  JP  joined Tim and I, and planned on  hunting until 9:00, before heading to school.  JP broke off from us about 150 yards from our site, to sit on the ridge above the swamp leading to our bait.  We figured maybe he could intercept a bear heading to or from our bait.

It was still dark when Tim and I arrived at our nest in the rock ledge, and I went down to rebait the pile.  As I approached within 20 yards, bears started running in every direction.  Excited, but also nervous, I rebaited
the pile, and put out some Jelly Donut Bear Scent (, and headed back up the rocks to Tim.  He said,” Dad there is something climbing in the tree right there”.  I shinned my flashlight, and not 15 yards away were two bears in the hemlock right above us.

Too dark to shoot, and not legal shooting time yet, the two bears eventually climbed down and headed in JP’s direction. As morning finally began to break, we could see bear tracks everywhere around us in the snow.  The snow was only 1 day old, and the tracks were everywhere, every size.

Tim and I both jumped when JP shot.  We heard the bear roar.   Two more follow up shots from his 12gauge and all was quiet.  JP called me and confirmed he had shot about a 250lb. Bear.  The first shot at 20 yards had spined the bear and the others to finish it off.  He told us to come down by him that he had seen 4 bears.  We decided to stay right where we were based on the activity at the bait.

It was just after 7:00am and school hadn’t started yet.  JP called his friend, Doug Mulford, another senior (who does not hunt).  Doug insisted that if any of us got a bear, he wanted to help.  Doug arrived about an hour later and called JP exclaiming “ hey, there are two bears up here by the trucks, what should I do?  Eventually the bears wandered off, and Doug headed down the power lines to help JP.

We soon heard a shot over in Brian and Alan’s direction.  After a few minutes had passed, Alan called and confirmed that two other hunters had come in from the other direction, and set up about 50 yards on each side of their bait pile.  The other hunters had killed a big 500lb boar.  All our efforts, and they found our spot during the muzzleloader season a week earlier.  Unfortunately, they were not sportsman enough to give us our space. We had tried to avoid other hunters by going as far off the road as we could.  We did not realize that other hunters would access the same area from a different direction.  Unfortunately, that is the disadvantage of state land.

For opening day Buck and Bear season, we heard very little shooting.  We could hear a gang of hunters doing deer drives throughout the morning, first on one side of the power lines, then the other.  Their whooping and hollering confirmed why I love bow hunting so much.

At about 9:00 I saw movement in the hemlocks about 50 yards away.  A bear appeared and headed for our bait.  At about 15 yards from the bait, the bear stopped and started rolling in the scent I had put out earlier in the morning.  Tim got himself ready on a solid rest as the bear approached the bait.  It stopped directly in front of us, broadside at 35 yards.  Tim slowly squeezed the trigger on his 20 gauge 1100.  The bear let out a loud grunt as if being punched in the stomach and having the wind knocked out of it.  It hit the ground and never flinched or moved.  The lightfield slug from the 20 gauge entered directly behind the front shoulder, took out both lungs, and lodged in the far side skin.  Tim might have just become the youngest hunter in New Jersey to harvest a bear.

I quickly called JP and Doug to get their help to get Tim’s bear out of the woods along with JP’s.  I called Brian and Alan to let them know about Tim’s success.  They were excited and now sat with more enthusiazium that another bear might still approach their bait.

It was now a little after 10:00, and we had removed Tim’s bear from down below by the bait, and carried it up and around the ledge by our blind.  The four of us were just finishing taking pictures when Tim said” Dad, here comes a bear…it’s huge”.  As I look up, coming thru the hemlocks is an extremely large bear.  My gun was 15 yards away in our blind.  I whispered, “JP get me your gun”.  His gun was leaning against a tree next to him.  JP, Brian and I all shoot the same type Savage 12 gauge bolt action with a 2 x 7 Leupold scope.  I scurried about 10 yards up the rocks to get a better view.  As the bear entered an opening, he was broadside, about 45 yards out.  At the shot, the bear was instantly gone into the hemlocks.

I instructed Tim and Doug to stay at the blind while JP and I would go look for blood.  We followed tracks about 40 yards, no blood, then heard crashing about 30 yards ahead of us.  The bear ran directly into the thick cattails.  We could see the cattails swaying, and hear him splashing.  As we approached, he started growling and woofing at us, but we couldn’t see him.  Now I could hear wheezing as the big bear breathed.  That confirmed a lung hit, but no way were we going into the cattails.

The next few minutes seemed like an hour.  I feared that the big bear would go deeper into the cattail swamp.  If he did, not only would finding him seem impossible, but also the actual fear of looking for him where you are up over your knees in icy cold water, and can’t see your hand in front of your face, was not something I wanted to do.

JP said, “Dad, I am going to climb up one of the hemlocks and see if I can see him” Once up high in the tree, he confirmed that he could see the bear.  Initially, JP said all he could see was “big and black”.  Eventually he confirmed the head was to the right.  As I approached the edge, I could also see the black outline.  The big boar had gone about 15 yards in and turned to face us.  Weakened by the lung shot, his wheezing and growling became louder.  Identifying our target for certain, on the count of three, we both fired at the same time.  The bear roared.  The wheezing, growling and splashing stopped.

When we went back to Tim and Doug, we found that another bear had come close enough to Tim’s dead bear to investigate it.  They asked what had happened, and how big it was.  “It’s in the swamp, partially in water, it’s somewhere between 350 and 500 lbs” I guessed.

A good friend, Darren Crane, who was hunting a ½ hour away, had called to find out how we were doing.  Hearing of our success, he eagerly insisted on coming over to help.  The rest of the day was spent getting the three bears out of the woods and back to the truck.  It was just getting dark as we loaded the last bear onto the trailer.

It was almost 7:00pm when we arrived at the mandatory checking station.  We were met by several of the states wildlife officials, including bear Biologist Kelcey Burguess, as well as Martin McHugh, the Director of NJ Fish and Wildlife.  They were extremely excited with not only our success, but also the involvement and efforts of our family and friends.

As the bears were being weighed and tagged, Kelcey reported that he had trapped and tagged the bear I had shot, back in 2001.  This was evident by the tattoo # on the inside lip.  He looked up the information on his computer as the other biologist continued recording their research data.  In 2001, the bear was 210lbs.  Now at 8 years old, the bear weighed 566lbs.  JP’s bear weighed 260 lbs, and Tim’s bear weighed 115lbs.  After beetle cleaned and mandatory drying period, Kelcey Burguess, also an official Boone and Crockett scorer, measured my bear skull.  It scored 21-2/16” all time Boone and Crockett.

Brian and Alan continued to hunt for bear the remainder of the week.  Still hunting on Friday, in the new 10” of snow, Brian did walk up on a bear.  Unfortunately, he was unable to get a clear shot as the bear ran thru the hemlocks.  Darren did harvest a 240lb bear on Wednesday morning.  Both Darren and Alan had harvested bears in the 2003 NJ season.  With the 2005 season over, the total harvest was 298 bears.

If one can look past the politics, and just at the facts based on research, it can easily be seen that a bear hunt in New Jersey was necessary.  My family understands that wildlife is a manageable and renewable resource.  As a parent, I am proud that my kids are all aware of the role that hunting plays in conservation, and that we are able to participate in this together as family and with friends.





New Jersey Bear Hunt, Monday December 5th thru Saturday, December 10, 2011

This story actually begins two years earlier during the NJ archery season of 2009.  I was with my oldest son JP, bow hunting for deer on State land one afternoon in late October.  I was on a ridge, covered with oaks, while JP dropped down to hunt the end of the swamp along a natural funnel.  The acorn crop was fantastic.  It wasn’t long before I caught movement thru the leaf covered trees.  An average sized bear slowly moved towards me, munching loudly on the acorns, as he approached closer.  At approximately 15 yards from the tree I was perched in, he turned, and came straight to the base of the tree I was in.  He stopped at the base and was sniffing the ground beneath me.  I typically leave the shoulder straps to my portable stand at the base of the tree.  I do this so they don’t blow in the breeze, creating movement or noise.  I reached in my pocket and got my flip cell phone out, and took a few pictures of him beneath me.
Suddenly, he lifted his head, looked down the ridge where he came from, then bolted down the hill toward the swamp, where JP was a few hundred yards away.  I looked in the direction to see what had spooked him, when a huge bear came in on a trot.  He stopped directly below me and sniffed my straps.  With a quick and effortless stroke, he swatted my straps 10 feet from my stand.  Immediately he looked straight up at me.  His beady eyes burned right thru me.  My heart raced.  What if he started to climb up?  After what was probabally only a few seconds, but seemed like forever, he turned and swaggered back in the direction he came from.
Shaking, I sent JP a text, “just saw monster bear”, “ I’m going to climb down before dark”.  He replied, “it just past me”, “nice but no monster”.  I replied, “No, that’s the one he chased away, “this was 3 time bigger”.
Back at the truck at dark, I replayed to JP what had happened.  I told him that while the huge bear was staring at me, I could see that his nose was scarred and somewhat deformed.
After our bad experience of dealing with other hunters sitting on or close to our bait piles in 2005, we looked for a new place to hunt.  The next NJ bear hunt was in 2010, we left zone 3 and went 20 miles to zone 1.  Like most other Jersey hunters, we don’t have private land to hunt.  All of our bear hunts have taken place on state land.   Again we went thru weeks of effort baiting several sites.  On opening morning, at daybreak, one guy actually came in with a folding chair and sat 30 yards from where one of our guys was sitting by the bait pile we had worked for 4 weeks.  (Classy guy if you’re reading this.)  We had 6 hunters, and shot 3 bear during the week season of 2010.  I harvested a 260lb sow that was 18 years old, and untagged.
Fast forward to the fall 2011 bow season.  While scouting and bow hunting a new area, I found bear sign that was from a huge bear.  I found several trerritory markings on trees that were higher than I could reach.  The spread of the claw marks gouged into the bark of the big white oaks was intimidating.  I also found a chew tree that was just too high for an average bear.  Just as bucks “rub” trees, bears “chew” trees, or even telephone poles, to mark territory and leave scent.
Again, having been over run with other hunters in both 2005 and 2010, we knew we had to go where other hunters wouldn’t go.  With all this big bear sign, and well over a mile from the road, I felt we had a new location to set up a bait pile, and felt we wouldn’t have much competition from other hunters.
As the 2011 bear season approached, I loaded my backpack with bait, and took the long rugged walk in to the area I had previously found.  I Baited the spot I had chosen, and set up a trail camera.  Iwent back in 3 days later with my son Tim to rebait.  Tim was now a freshman, attending West Virginia University and was home for a break.  Brian, my middle son, tired of NJ, was a senior at Montana State University, spending his time chasing elk and mule deer. 
As Tim and I kept walking in with the bait, he asked “ are you sure you’re not lost”.  We kept going deeper and deeper.  “No, I replied, Just going where I don’t think anyone else will”.  Finally, upon arriving at the site, the bait was completely gone, and my camera was ripped to pieces.  No pictures.
Carrying my pack with 50lbs of sweets, I continued to re-bait the site, every other day for 3 weeks prior to the bear season.  The bait was gone every time I went in.  With the opening day Monday fast approaching,  I baited in the morning on Saturday December 3, and hung a new camera.  I went back in on Sunday morning, rebaited the empty pile, and pulled the camera.  Once home, I checked the sd card and was shocked.  I had a picture of a huge bear.  He was there on Saturd afternoon at 3:17.

 Monday morning I was in my spot half an hour before daylight.  JP was across the swamp about 400 yards from me at his bait pile.  He was now the JV and assistant Varsity coach for High Point High School Basketball, and could only hunt in the mornings.  As day broke, shots were ringing out and echoing all around.  I could only wonder if the big bear was at the end of any of the shots.
At 11:00 AM I heard noise fast approaching. A sow and two 100lb cubs snuck past me at 20 yards.  Though legal, I elected not to shoot, and videoed them with my phone as they past.  At 2:00 pm, two doe came from the opposite direction and past me at 15 yards.  I stayed put till dark without seeing anything else.
Being as avid a hunter as I am, it’s times like this that make it very difficult to run Noon’s taxidermy business.  I want to be in the woods!!  Once home from a long day in the woods, I had 4 deer and 2 bear waiting for me, that my very patient and understanding wife, Patti, had checked in while I was in the woods.  It was after 11:00 by time I had them all skinned.
Tuesday morning, I was back in my spot before light.  It poured all day.  I sat all day and saw nothing.  Again, at home, I had several deer and a bear waitng for me that required my attention.  It was the same routine on Wednesday.  Heavy rain all day, and no sightings of deer or bear.
At some point late Wednesday night, the rain changed to snow.  Thursday morning, there was approximately 2” of fresh snow on the ground.  As I approached my spot, I crossed the tracks of the huge bear.  I followed them right to my bait pile.  The pile was empty.  I figured the bear had a fully belly, and wouldn’t be returning soon, so I rebaited and decided to track the bear.  I took pictures of the tracks in the snow and my empty bait pile.
At times I tought I was crazy!  I followed his tracks, crawling on hands and knees at times, to get through some of the thickest cover imaginable.  I was very vunerable if the bear wanted me.  By now some of the snow was melting.  Following the tracks was difficult at times.  I circled a huge swamp, and his tracks never came out.  I figured he was hiding or bedded in the thick fragmites.  Soaking wet, I took a wide circle around the area and went home to get lunch and dry clothes.  I was back in my spot by 2:00pm for the afternoon sit.


At approx. 4:30, I caught movement about 100 yards out in front of me.  I picked up my binoculars and saw black.  Slowly, he approached.  Every 5 or 10 steps he would stop and check the wind.  It seemed to take forever for the bear to get to 40 yards and present a broadside shot.  I thought for sure the bear could hear my heart pounding.  He hesitated, and I squeezed the trigger of my Savage 12 ga slug gun.  He collapsed on the spot.  Without hesitating, I bolted and fired a second shot as he rolled over.  The third shot was right behind the second.  I didn’t want to chase another big bear through the swamp like we did in 2005. 
It was over in seconds.  As I cautiously approached him, he got bigger and bigger.  Some guys talk about ground shrinkage as they approach their downed buck.  This bear got bigger and bigger with each step I took towards him.  With darkness fast approaching, I took a picture with my cell phone and sent a message to several friends, “bear down, need help”.




I headed back out to go home and get my xlarge deer sled, thinking this would be a great way to drag him the mile plus back out to the road.  When I got home, I was met by JP, Dan G, Tom B, and Darran C.  JP asked, “is it the big one?”  I said “yes” as I was getting rope and tie downs together.  He rolled his eyes and shook his head.  He knew what job awaited us.  I called the Division of Wildlife and gave my license info, name and address and that I had harvested a bear but wouldn’t make it to the mandatory check station by 7PM.

As the temperature dropped into the teens, we were in high spirits as we headed in to the dark woods.  I thought the walk seemed to go fast.  I heard more than once, “ are you sure you’re not lost”.  Once back at the bear, we realized we had aproblem.  The bear wouldn’t fit in the sled.  Even with the rope and tie downs, not only did he not fit, we couldn’t budge him.
I was about to start the task of skinning the bear in the dark woods when Travis called to see if we were out yet.  I told him it was too big and we couldn’t move it, and I was about to skin it in the woods.  He said, “ don’t skin it, you won’t get an official weight.  We’re coming with reinforcements and we’re going to bring a boat”.  “A boat” I exclaimed, We’re not close to the river”.  “No, he said, it’s an old 12foot flat bottom john boat.  We can put him in it and drag it out.
Another mile plus hike out in the dark woods back to the road, we were met by Travis, his 3 month pregnant wife Stacy, Chris, Dan, Ashley, and Brianna.  At first they were all excited for the challenge.  After carrying a 12 foot boat thru the dark cold woods they started to question their offer.  Again I heard several comments about being lost and no one goes this far in.  Finally, back to the bear, someone said the famous line from Jaws, “I think were going to need a bigger boat”.
We struggled, but were able to roll the bear into the boat.  Two guys on each side, three in the front with tow straps, and one in the back.  Ready, one two three…we pulled and pushed….we got three feet. Again, one two three…..we got three more feet.  That’s when it really hit us hard what we were in for. 
In the dark, temps in the teens, wet, we managed to push and pull the boat three feet at a time.  Over boulders, stumps, downed trees, bogs, we headed towards the road where my wife Patti waited for us with the truck and trailer.  As it was getting later and later, she called a few times to ask if we were lost.  For the last time…..No,  I’m not lost! Exhausted is an understatement.  We hit the road at 1:15 in the morning.  Patti couldn’t believe were were still excited, joking, and carrying on like we just won the super bowl.  Obviously, I thank all of my friends and family for helping me with this, and being a part of such a special memory.
I had the bear at the checking station at 12 noon when they opened on Friday.  When the biologist hoisted the bear on the official scale, it settled at 658 lbs dressed weight.  The biologist used a formula multiplying by 18% for an estimated live weight of 776 lbs.  At this point they claimed it was the new state record.  The prior record was a 739 lbs bear shot in 2005.  Within minutes, the biologist said the newspapers had called and wanted to take pictures and interview.  I told them I was on my way to get started skinning the bear so the meat and hide wouldn’t spoil.
Before I started skinning, I began taking measurements for a lifesize mount.  As I was going over the bear, admiring its size and features taking key measurements, when I came to the head.  That’s when I noticed the deformed nose and scar. This was the same bear that swatted my stand straps two years ago!  I had shot him within a mile of our first encounter. 
Several hours past as I worked on the bear.  My wife Patti called me to say Kelcey Burguess, bear biologist for NJ, just called to say that a larger bear had been shot in Jefferson and just checked in.   The weight was 829 lbs and beat my record.  My reaction was “WOW!  That’s incredible”.  
Honestly, I am not disappointed.  Holding the state record was exciting, but not important to me.  I hunt the way I do for myself, because its who I am.  I run Noons Taxidermy because I love each and every animal I mount, mine, my kids, or every customers.  Every one has different ideas what constitutes a record or trophy.  A record or trophy should not be the only reason someone hunts.  It’s the experience with nature and the pursuit, and the people you share it with, not necessarily the size of the animal or antlers.  I feel the records are important just to see the size of what is average versus what is exceptional for each of the species. 
Once the skull was beetle cleaned and dried the mandatory 60 days, Kelcey, official scorer for Boone and Crockett measured the skull at 21-3/16” all time Boone and Crockett.  The bear was 12 years old, and had never been tagged by the state.  Kelcey later informed me that the larger bear and current state record from Jefferson was also 12 years old and had been tagged and caught several times.

Over the next few months, operating Noons Taxidermy, I skinned, prepped, and mounted over 100 deer and 35 bear for customers.  As I worked on and completed all my customers mounts, I kept trying to decide how to best display my bear.  As customers came in to pick up their mounts, they would ask if I started my bear.  By June, all customer mounts were done for the year.  Now was time to work on my bear.

Problem…..the largest black bear form is for a 500 lb bear.  I had mounted my last big bear standing, so I wanted to do something different with this one.  I had all the measurements I needed, and ordered the big form, knowing it wouldn’t be close to what I needed.  I cut the form into 8 pieces, added a jaw set, and started my alterations.  Lenghten by 6”, widen by 4-1/2”.  Build the shoulders, neck, legs and belly with liquid foam.  Take it outside, grind and rasp it.  Bring it in, fit the skin.  Doing this over and over and over until I was satisfied and it fit properly.  With the hide now fitting the form, it was time to begin sewing. 

Now I needed to make a base.  I built a frame with 2 x 4’s and ¾” plywood.  Platforms for the legs which were all at different heights had to be added.  I then pieced artificial rock together with over 70 pieces.  I filled the seams with a spackle and fiberglass mix.  Once dry, I painted  the rock and added the habitat.
Having operated Noons Taxidermy for over 30 years, mounting this bear proved to be an unbelievable challenge.  For those taxidermists who do alterations and custom work on lifesize mounts, I give you all the credit in the world. Most customers don’t understand the stress involved in dealing with a perishable unique trophy.















The affair I had with this bear is something that is so unique.  From the first encounter two years earlier, the scouting, the hiking and lugging bait, the hunt, the tracking, the dragging, the mounting….the hours can’ be measured.  I wouldn’t change this experience for anything, state record or not.
If at some time you would like to see this bear, or any of the other mounts on display at my shop, please do.  I suggest you call first to make sure I’m not “lost” out deep in the woods, doing what I love most



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Scroll down to read the stories and view the pictures from John Noon’s, of Noon’s Taxidermy, 2005 and 2011 New Jersey Bear hunts. Harvesting an amazing 556 pound and 776 pound New Jersey Black Bears.

Click on Pictures to view larger images








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