A Maryland woman shot a 643-pound black bear on the opening day of the state’s short bear hunting season, and officials at Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) say it is the heaviest hunter-harvested bear on record.
The hunter, identified only by her first name, Melissa, shot the bear on October 23 near her home in Garrett County, according to an MDNR tweet posted October 25. “This Garrett Co. male bear is the largest bear ever harvested during Maryland black bear season and is a new state record,” MDNR reported. The previous record was a 615-pound Garrett County bear tagged in 2007.
NEW STATE RECORD: Melissa of Garrett County harvested a behemoth of a bear on the first day of the season. The bear weighed 643 lbs. This Garrett Co. male bear is the largest bear ever harvested during Maryland black bear season and is a new state record. Congratulations Melissa! pic.twitter.com/dLJzxYrxkS— Maryland DNR (@MarylandDNR) October 25, 2023
The bear was one of 24 taken on the opening day of Maryland’s six-day season, which allows hunting in the four western counties of Allegany, Frederick, Garrett, and Washington. The total take for the season, which ended October 28, was 103—the same as last year. The average estimated live weight of bears killed this year was 166 pounds, compared to 177 pounds last year.
“This is a bear that we’ve been getting reports about for the last year or two, a very large bear that local residents have been getting either photos on their trail cameras or they had been seeing,” Jonathan Trudeau, Game Mammal Section Leader for the MDNR told Field & Stream. “It’s a bear the locals knew was in the area, and she was just very fortunate to be out on the first morning of the hunt. She was able to get a really good shot, and it didn’t go very far.”
Maryland relaunched its bear season in two counties (Allegany and Garrett) in 2004 after a 51-year hiatus. In 2016 Frederick and Washington counties were added to the hunt. The number of permits and bears harvested has steadily increased from 200 and 20 that first year; this year 950 permits were granted in a lottery drawing that drew about 4,500 applicants.
The history of bears in Maryland follows a familiar pattern: The abundant population that existed when settlers arrived was nearly wiped out by unrestricted hunting and clearing of forest habitat for farming that began in the 1600s and 1700s and continued into the early 1900s. By 1954, when the state suspended bear hunting, only a small number of animals hung on in the western part of the state. Aided by forest recovery and strict conservation measures (including listing on the state endangered species list in 1972), bear numbers bounced back. In Garrett County, bear density numbers improved from 12 per 100 square miles in 1991 to 64.5 per 100 square miles in 2011. The state is now home to an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 black bears.
“The black bear hunt is just one index that we use to monitor our population,” Trudeau says. “We use a couple of other indices to monitor our population trends such as nuisance complaints and things of that nature, and what our hunt and those other indices suggest is that Maryland has a very healthy black bear population that appears to be expanding and growing, much like many other parts of the Mid-Atlantic region.”