Tom Hughes’ girlfriend, Tiffany Taylor, got a cool birthday present last Friday. There was no jewelry or flowers involved, and there probably wasn’t enough wrapping paper in Bertie County to cover the 600-pound black bear he “gave” her.

“All she wanted for her birthday was a bear,” said Hughes, who runs High Water Mark Adventures out of Merry Hill.

Hughes had been trying to kill the huge bear for about two weeks, but he admitted he hadn’t had much luck.

“I never figured him out. The bears have been doing so much walking around this fall,” Hughes said.

But the morning of Dec. 27, Hughes, Taylor, who hails from Roper, and about a dozen other hunters were back out in the woods near Merry Hill. Around 8 o’clock, Hughes came on the huge bear’s track – in the middle of the tire tracks his vehicle had made leaving the previous afternoon.

“We could tell his track; some of the other guys called him ‘Chubby Checker’ because he was so fat, when he walked, he sort of twisted,” Hughes said. “I called the other boys to tell them to look on the other side, and they found one little track in the rocks. We got there, and we got two dogs out – they were already pulling and barking on the truck. We put them out, and they went 75 yards and bayed the bear.”

Taylor usually handles dogs for the group of hunters, staying at the vehicles and releasing dogs as needed, but this time, Hughes had other plans.

“We put 13 more dogs out, but the bear never left a 10-foot circle. He just stopped when the dogs found him,” said Hughes, who took Taylor into the thick brush where the dogs were harrying the bear.

“My brother-in-law (Brandon Gurganis of Plymouth) got there first; he was in there, looking at the bear, and I called him and told him it was Tiffany’s birthday and she wanted to shoot him.”

Taylor and Hughes walked in close to the bear, perhaps 15 feet, but the cover was so thick she couldn’t see the animal’s head for a shot.

“I told her to squat down and look for his head,” Hughes said. “She shot him in the head with an old Winchester Model 94 (.30-30). I’ve got about 15 notches in that gun for bears that it’s killed, and she killed him dead.

“He was dead by 9 o’clock. That hunt went down just the way it’s supposed to.”

Taylor had never killed a bear before she found herself staring down the barrel and one several times her size.

“I go every day, but there’s always somebody else who gets there ahead of me,” Taylor said. “I’m handling the dogs most of the time, so it was pretty exciting for me to go in there with Tom.

“The bear looked like he was a thousand pounds, just standing there looking at me,” Taylor said. “It was so fast, I wasn’t really read for it.”