When Richard Paro headed to Great Pond Wilderness Lodge and Sporting Cabins for his first-ever bear hunt, the Monrovia, Ind., man had a simple plan: He just wanted to get away from it all.
“I wanted to get to a remote area,” Paro explained on Thursday. “I wanted to go out into the middle of nowhere. I grew up in the woods and hunting in upstate New York. I just love the woods.”
Paro got his wish at Great Pond Wilderness Lodge, and ended up hunting over bait in Township 39, which sits north of the Stud Mill Road, Great Pond, and Aurora.
After a single day in the woods, Paro knew he was in for an exciting hunt. And after spending the first two days of the season on stand last week, he had filled his tag and taken a bear that had even his veteran guides shaking their heads in amazement.
“I saw a big bear the first day out. I got a decent look at it,” Paro said. “I wasn’t sure if it had cubs or not, though.”
Paro had been warned by lodge owner Otis Godley that a big sow bear had been showing up on trail cameras set up at the bait, and was under strict orders to let the bear walk.
Unsure of the bear’s gender, Paro did just that. Godley also knew that there was a huge male lurking in the woods. The next evening, Paro saw that bear, too.
“The second day, another bear came in [without cubs], He definitely looked like a shooter, so I took him,” Paro said.
Paro said he knew the bear was big. But he didn’t know how big.
“I was figuring from 300 to 400 pounds, until I got down [from my stand] and looked at him,” Paro said. “I don’t know who was more excited: Me or [the guides].”
Matt Hurd was Paro’s guide on the hunt. Godley eventually got into the act, and thought he was prepared. The year before, he’d bought a scale with a 550-pound limit.
“Last year [the biggest bear our hunters shot weighed] 150 pounds,” Godley said. “I never thought that [I'd need a scale that went over 550 pounds].”
As it turns out, he did: The bear was enormous, and the scale broke.
Eventually, the bear was field-dressed and taken to butcher Bill Melgey in Greenfield Township. The gutted bear was weighed on a state-certified scale. And after doing a bit of bear-hunting math, the group decided that the burly bruin had weighed about 600 pounds when it was shot.
Randy Cross, a biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife who studies bears, said the bear’s 500-pound field-dressed weight may roughly equate to a 600-pound live bear.
“Almost all of Pennsylvania’s bears come out [of the woods] dressed,” Cross explained in an email. “They use a standard 18 percent factor to add on for live weight and announce all weights as live weights for the record book. I think this is generous for the largest of the bears but is probably a good average for all bears, including the bulk of the harvest, which are younger bears.”
At 600 pounds, the bear would certainly be a whopper, but not a record: The largest black bear taken in Maine was a 680-pounder shot by a hunter using hounds.
“We don’t have separate records for different means of take,” Cross said. “[But] many of the larger bears are taken with hounds and in traps. One of the reasons for this is that many of these bears [trapped or shot over hounds] are taken later in the season. Another reason is that many of these [larger, older] bears are not as vulnerable to harvest over bait because they have learned to visit baits after dark.”
Bait hunting can take place between Aug. 27 and Sept. 22 this year. Dogs can be used from Sept. 10 through Oct. 26. Bear trapping is allowed from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31.
And while food is still available, bears are still growing rapidly during the early part of the season, Cross said.
“One 14 1/2-year-old bear was weighed in mid-June [during snaring to add bears to the state's study group] at 366 [pounds] and was shot over hounds about 12 weeks later at 576,” Cross wrote. “This gives you an idea of how fast these really big-framed bears can put on weight. I once (in 1983) weighed a 12 1/2-year-old bear on Aug. 9 at 339 who weighed 404 on Aug 25 (16 days later).”
That bear had gained 65 pounds in 16 days.
Godley said Paro’s big bear has been taken to Appalachian Taxidermy in Greenbush, where Greg Barnes will create a full-body mount.
And Paro is still glowing after taking a huge bear during his second day on stand.
“It was definitely a thrill. It was a rush I’ll never forget,” Paro said. “[Being in camp] was definitely a treat. It was breathtaking, just the nature of things up there. We’ll definitely be back.”