Branson Long of Beaufort, N.C. turned 13 on Nov. 18, but the biggest birthday present he could have gotten didn’t arrive until Dec. 3: a 705-pound bear that’s the biggest ever taken in Carteret County.
Long told his father, Brandon Long, that he wanted to kill a bear, and a couple of weeks after his birthday, his father took him on the hunt to remember.
At daylight, Long was in a truck with his father and uncle, glassing fields on the Open Grounds Farms east of Beaufort. His father and uncle had scouted and knew there were bears using the area. After passing on several smaller bears they saw shortly after dawn, they were working deeper into the farm when they spotted a pair of larger bears well back in a field. When they began working their way toward them, the bears split up, and they picked the one that appeared to be larger for a better look.
"We stopped at a place in the corner of a field to look at these bears, and my dad looked to his left and saw this bear," Long said. "It had been hidden from us by the growth on the ditch bank, but at the corner of the field, the road crossed and we could see it. It was a really big bear, and my dad took a quick look and told me this was the bear we were looking for and to get out and shoot it."
Long eased out of the truck and braced the Browning .30-06 across the hood to take the shot, but he was too excited and had to calm himself down. Following his dad's advice, he took several deep breaths and let the last one out slowly as he aimed. The bear, apparently as surprised to see the Longs as they were to see it,stood watching them from about 220 yards away.
Long took the shot, which was true, and the bear went down hard. It moved a little, and Long's father told him to put a couple of insurance shots in the bear, which stayed down after being hit two more times. Later they discovered that the second and third shots really weren’t needed, as the first had pierced the bruin’s heart.
"I had told Branson to pass on the smaller bears we saw early, thinking there were bigger ones around and wanting him to get a trophy," Brandon Long said. "We hadn't seen this bear until just before he shot, and it surprised us. I only took a quick look to be sure it was a big bear before telling him to take the shot. I didn't realize just how big it was until we got to it. It was huge.”
"I thought my heart was beating like crazy when I was trying to aim and shoot, but it really went wild as we got close to my bear,” Branson Long said. "My dad said it looked like a Volkswagen laying there, and it did. Man, it was big.
"One funny thing happened too," Long said. "Its head was huge, and my dad asked me to see if I could raise its head for a picture. It had fallen and buried its nose in the dirt, and I had to tug hard. There must have been some air trapped in its lungs and as I tugged on its head it began a low growl. I wasn't expecting that and dropped its head and was ready to run. My dad got a good laugh out of that."
"Once we realized just how big this bear was, we knew there wasn't any way we were going to be able to load it, so I called for help," Brandon Long said. "It took them about an hour to get there and we had plenty of time to take pictures and let it sink in that this was not just a big bear, but a special bear."
Once the bear was loaded, the Longs stopped on the way home and weighed the bear on the scales at Open Grounds Farms. It pulled the scales to 705 pounds. Later, the weight was verified by Colleen Olfenbuttel, the bear biologist for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, who said it was the biggest bear on record from Carteret County.
"It was the fattest bear I have ever cleaned and had fat that was 5 inches thick right under its skin,” Brandon Long said. It took us six hours to get it dressed and bagged.
"Branson's grandparents are having a mount made so we caped the bear and left the head attached. It was all two men could do to lift the head and hide. We rolled the freezer to the truck and loaded the hide in it there and then rolled the freezer back into the garage. It was a lot easier."