SPARTANBURG — Avid hunter Heath Smith was taking advantage of the last hour or so of daylight Monday evening when he saw a black bear in the scope of his rifle.
From 170 yards away, Smith, 25, said he couldn’t tell how large the bear was. But he could tell – from the colors on the animal’s face and his black snout – that it was the same bear that had been captured on trail cameras on the property in the past.
“We’ve seen a lot of bears on the property, but I’ll just let them walk,” Smith said. “I could see the bear’s face clearly in my scope. I knew it was a legal bear, well over 100 pounds. I knew where I’d have to shoot, and when I pulled the trigger, it bolted.”
Smith, of Easley, fired one shot. He heard the bear growl, so he knew the bear had been hit, but still didn’t know exactly how big it was.
After waiting about an hour, Smith and his buddies went out to find the bear, which they spotted across a creek in the woods of Greenville County, near Landrum.
“It looked to us like a 400- or 500-pound bear,” Smith said. “I just thought, ‘Holy cow, this thing is huge.’ ”
After state Department of Natural Resources officers weighed the bear, it clocked in at 609 pounds, a state record.
The previous record was a 594-pound bear.
Smith said he has hunted for most of his life and hunts two to three times a week. Monday was the first time that he shot a bear — the bullet puncturing the bear’s heart and lungs.
It took four men, a Chevrolet truck and a winch to pull the bear out of the woods. Smith said he plans to have the bear mounted and the meat processed.
Tammy Wactor, a Natural Resources wildlife biologist, said it is unusual to have a black bear that weighs more than 600 pounds. An average male bear weighs about 350 pounds.
“We’re seeing more big bears,” Wactor said. “They’re eating trash, (eating) from deer feeders. All of that can jump the sizes up. It’s not common, though, to have a 600-pound bear.”
Wactor said researchers will be able to determine the age of the bear and nutritional information from a tooth that was taken from the animal.
Hunters are required to notify Natural Resources within 24 hours after killing a bear. Hunting bears is allowed for two weeks in Greenville County but is prohibited in Spartanburg County.
Bear hunting is allowed in some parts of the state to help control the bear population, Wactor said.
More than 50 bears have been killed in the state this year, Wactor said, adding there is one week left in the season.