Heath Smith of Easley is no stranger to big bears. He holds the state record with a 609-pound bruin he killed two years ago. Still, Smith was a little surprised at the size of the bear he killed on Oct. 17, the opening day of bear season, at the base of Hogback Mountain in Greenville County. The 502 1/2-pound bear was much bigger than the bears captured on all his trail cams leading up to opening day.
“Our cameras show our property is covered up with a pile of bears, but most of them are anywhere from 200 to 300-pounds, so when I saw this one, I was surprised at his size,” said Smith.
Smith used a Savage 30-06 to shoot the bear at 30-yards from his 18-foot tall ladder stand, but the hunt wasn’t as easy as that makes it sound. “We hunted all day long, from before sun up, took a break for lunch, then went back to it. The bear finally came out right around 7 o’clock that evening. It was such a close shot, I thought the bear only ran 20 or 30-yards, but I was way off,” he said.
For the next few hours, Smith and his hunting partner tracked the blood trail, and after they had walked over 1000-yards, they found the bear, still alive, in a briar thicket. “The bear jumped up in that thicket, and man, that got our hearts pumping at 10 o’clock in the dark,” said Smith. The duo finally found the bear the next morning, and with the help of two SCDNR employees, they got the bear out of the woods after 4-hours.
“We have to call the DNR to report a bear kill within 24-hours, and I’m glad we called sooner than that, because the two DNR folks who came out were a tremendous help. They came to get measurements and samples to analyze, but they also helped us get the bear out of the woods,” said Smith.
Smith is an avid deer hunter too, but said the stand he killed this bear from is one they no longer use for deer hunting. “We quit baiting this area for deer because the area is so plentiful with bears. If you’re baiting for deer here, you’re just feeding the bears,” he said.
Smith shot the bear on a logging trail that he said is a hotpoint of activity for wildlife. “It’s the easiest path for animals to come down the mountain, and bears are lazy, so they use this path along with deer, bobcats, and other wildlife, and on that day, I saw a number of different species, and the bear was the last one to come down the trail,” he said.
Other than hunting over a logging trail or some type of path that gives bears an easy method of travel, Smith said there is really no way to pattern a bear like you can with deer. “Bears are just going to wherever there is food, and once the food runs out, they move on to find more,” said Smith, “so finding a clear point of travel is a good tactic.”
Smith is having the bear's meat processed, and is having a rug made from its hide. Taxidermy duties are being handled by Brian Gunter of Easley.