Zeb Nichols, a 59-year-old Swannanoa native learned how to hunt bear and train hounds in North Carolina’s mountains But he and his friend’s soon discovered the state’s biggest bears live along the N.C. coast.
“We’ve been coming east since 1983 to hear bear,” he said.
The retired swimming-pool enclosure installer and liver cancer survivor now spends his time hunting bears with the North and South Dismal Hunt Clubs.
“I’d been trying to get a 500-pound bear for a long time,” he said.
He got his wish in mid November in Beaufort County when he dispatched a 500-pounder with a single shot from his 500 Smith&Wesson pistol, dispatching the bear at point-blank range.
“I’d gotten 450-, 460- and 476-pound bears and now this one,” he said.
After the hounds bayed the bear, Nichols shot it because a 250-pounder earlier killed one of Randy Wilson’s hounds and mauled others when trapped at a Beaufort County thicket.
“(Other) dogs had trailed a single bear and Randy (Wilson) asked me to turn out my two trail dogs,” Nichols said.
Tracking the dogs with GPS collars, signals showed the pack had split and was chasing two bruins.
“I wanted Frankie (Watson) to kill the bear because he’d never killed one,” Nichols said. “But he was kind of reluctant to go in there.”
Several hounds chased the bear into one of the 8-foot deep drainage ditches that criss-crossed the property. Nichols had no choice but to go to the melee to prevent more dog injuries.
With dogs roaring at the big male, a large Plott named Sam along with Nichols’ Walker hounds Slick and Thelma arrived, he said.
The hunter was standing above the bear in the ditch when it stood up, spun and clamped down on Slick’s ribs.
“When he grabbed Slick, I stuck the pistol up against his head and pulled the trigger,” Nichols said. “I was hoping somebody else would come and shoot him, but I had to (shoot) when he grabbed Slick.”
The hunters used a block-and-tackle and 2,000 feet of nylon strap tied to a truck at a logging road to pull the bear out of the thick woods.
Local deer hunter George Hardee witnessed the final stages of the fight.
“Can you imagine a bear on the ground with hounds around it baying and (Nichols) walking up close enough to shoot it in the head with a pistol?” he said. “Wow.”