A 16-year-old Wilmington hunter took the second-largest bear in North Carolina history on Thursday in Hyde County on his first bear hunt.
David Honeycutt Jr. killed a 784-pound bruin with a .45-70 lever-action rifle borrowed from Phil Barker of Wilmington, one of the owners of the land Honeycutt was hunting.
“We were hunting a private farm in Hyde County,” Barker said. “We had been seeing this bear for a couple of months. We turned dogs on the track at 7:45 a.m., and David shot it by 8:30.”
The big bear came on a 7,500-acre farm adjacent to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge that Barker owns with four partners. Two other bears – weighing 581 and 480 pounds – were killed later on Thursday.
Honeycutt’s big bear was two pounds heavier than a 783-pound bear killed on Nov. 11 in Hyde County by Thomas Capps of Richmond, Va.
"We have taken 10 bears this week and a total of 16 for the season," Barker said. "We try to take 20 bears a year off the farm. I have been hunting up there for 30 years. We have leased it since the early 1990s before purchasing it nine years ago. We hunt ducks, bear and turkey and had taken David duck-hunting the previous afternoon."
The farm has 3,500 acres of cropland and 4,000 acres of timberland. The hunters began by looking for tracks the morning of the bear hunt.
"One of my partner's sons, Harris Shaw, and my daughter, Ann McBride Barker, were along," Barker said. "David is a friend of my daughter’s; they go to New Hanover High School. He said he would like to go bear hunting, so I invited him up. Keith Nations, who is from Sylva, came from the mountains with their dogs. He is the leader of the hound group."
"We got up early and went out at about 5 a.m.," Honeycutt said. "We were looking for bears and bear tracks. They ended up grabbing the dogs about 7:30 a.m., and right where we were sitting, they put the dogs on a big track. Keith went in there with me because I had never done it before. There is a big ditch, and the dogs crossed it and started barking. They were just lighting up.
“We went around the ditch to where there was an opening cut, and the dogs had the bear all bayed up. He was in the thick stuff in the woods. We heard this cracking in the woods, and I realized the bear was coming straight at me. He came out on my right side into an open cut. He came out 10 or 15 yards in front of me, then he turned. I shot him about 25 yards from me and hit him right front shoulder. He rolled after a couple of steps and he was dead right there. I had no idea what to expect. But when he came out, I didn't want him to run over me, and I was hoping he would turn."
Hunters caught the dogs and helped move the bear out of the woods with a Polaris ATV with a front-mounted winch. They winched the bear across a shallow ditch, then hoisted it with a tractor.
"It was so heavy, it almost pulled the Polaris into the ditch before the bear moved," Honeycutt said. "I didn't have anything to compare it to since it was my first bear, but everyone was telling me how big it was. When we put him on the scale, he weighed 784 pounds and that's when I realized how big he was."
Chris Turner, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, came to check the bear's weight and remove its premolar teeth for aging. The bear was weighed on the same certified scale that weighed the 782-pound bear last month.
"I'm getting a full-sized mount," Honeycutt said. "I just have to figure out a spot to put it."