Bear hunters are a very tight-knit group, and they don't invite just anyone to hunt with them. It's been said that, in South Carolina's Upstate, you have to be born into a bear-hunting family to be a bear hunter.

But the Bear Hunters Association of South Carolina made an exception and invited 15-year-old Derrick Wardlaw from Pickens County, along with his father, Henry, on a Game Zone 1 bear hunt in Pickens County in conjunction with the Outdoor Dream Foundation.

Wardlaw, who has severe kidney problems, really had a "dream come true" on Oct. 25, the second day of the season for party hunts with dogs, taking a nice bear.

Wardlaw and his father were hunting with approximately 35 hunters in the Wayne Newton or "Paynter" party. On opening day, the hunt started around the entrance to the Laurel Valley parking lot. The first bear was treed within 15 minutes of the dogs being released, but it was a sow with cubs and was unharmed.

 

About an hour later, the dogs treed another cub, and around 10:30, they treed a legal bear and asked for Wardlow to come to the tree.

 

After a short ride, they had to walk about 300 yards up an old logging road to the bear, and when they finally got to him, there was some discussion about whether or not the bear was above the 100-pound legal minimum size.

 

After much deliberation, Henry Wardlaw spoke up. "Son," he said, "I hope you're not going to be mad at me and make me sleep on the back porch if I say to let the bear go." 

 

Derrick's answer was, "Fine, let him go."

 

The action was much slower the next day, but at around noon, hunter radio'd in that a bear had been treed, and Wardlaw was called in.

 

After parking off the main road and hiking on an old road bed, Wardlaw had to cross two ridges, go across a hollow, and then climb 75 yards straight up a rock cliff to where the bear was treed.

 

When he finally arrived, the bear was still in the tree, and Wardlaw fired a single shot from his grandfather's single-shot 45/70 rifle, dispatching the bear.

 

"It was and exciting trip and a nice hunt," he said. "It was rough going through the mountains, but I knew I was going to get that bear."