A 28-year-old Iraq War vet set a state record on his first ever bear hunt--with the first bear that walked by. U.S. Army Capt. Matt Knox, a North Carolina native stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, made good on a promise to his guides, Steve Monroe and Jim Webber of
Grand Slam Guide Service
. "I told them I was going to shoot the first bear I saw, as long as it wasn't a cub or a sow with cubs," Knox said after downing the 699-pound black bear near Greenville, Maine, on Sept. 7. "Fortunately, this was the first bear I saw." The big bruin topped the old record by 19 pounds, almost 19 years to the day after it was set.
Knox, who lives in Waynesboro, Pa., served in Iraq and Kuwait with the Army signal corps. Injured in a training accident, he is now awaiting discharge. He booked the weeklong bear hunt at the urging of Steve Monroe’s son, Zachary Monroe. After four uneventful days, he admits, his optimism was beginning to wane. “On Monday there was a 15-year-old kid who’d seen seven bears in one day, so we were all pretty pumped,” Knox says. “By Thursday, when I hadn’t seen anything, I started to get down. The bait sites were hit, but the bears were coming at night. I was afraid I wasn’t going to see anything.”
Guide Steve Monroe knew he had Knox on a good bear; it was just a matter of getting the timing right. “We caught a big bear on camera the first week of baiting,” Monroe says, “but he was coming in at one or two o’clock in the morning, like most big bears do.” The Maine season for hunting with bait runs Aug. 27 through Sept. 22, but hunters were allowed to begin placing bait on July 28. “We knew he was big–maybe 600 pounds–but we didn’t know how big. I kept on working the bear with baits, trying to change him up so we could get him coming in during legal hunting time.”
Monroe uses a couple of secret scents he mixes himself and dips into a trick bag of tactics to “work” a bear into making daylight raids on a bait pile. “A lot of it is trying to convince the bear there’s competition on the bait,” Monroe says. “Because if he’s got competition, he’s got a tendency to visit more. He doesn’t want another bear in the area; he going to try to push him off.”
“Bears are also a little curious, so you play to that curiosity, too,” by changing baits from site to site and day to day, the guide says. If you want to know more than that, you’ll have to book a hunt: “All my sports see what I do,” Monroe laughs. Two of his go-to baits, though, are no secret: Donuts and grease.
It took about three weeks before Monroe finally got the bear to visit the bait site during shooting hours. But while Knox was sitting in a nearby tree stand during the first week of September, the big bruin was a no-show. “Toward the end of the week, other hunters were seeing bears and he wasn’t,” Monroe recalls. “I explained to him, ‘You’re sitting on a very big bear and they’re tougher to get out.’ I coached him a little bit to perk him up. To his credit, he paid good attention to everything I told him and didn’t do anything foolish.”
It helped that Monroe had about 300 trail cam shots of the bear to show to Knox. “I could tell he was big from the photos,” Knox says, “because he pretty much dwarfed a 55-gallon drum.”
On Friday, Sept. 7, Knox was nearing the end of another fruitless sit. “There was about 15 minutes of shooting light left, and I was pretty much waiting for the truck to pick me up. I knew Saturday was our last day. Then I heard movement behind me, and it didn’t sound like anything I’d heard all week.” Says Monroe, “These bears, their awareness of the woods is so unique and they are so quiet, they just show up and you wonder, ‘How did they do that?’ But this bear was so big Matt could hear him coming.”
Knox said the bear circled from right to left, burst into the clearing and headed straight for the barrel. “He gave me a perfect broadside shot. There was no waiting for him to turn. From the time I first saw him to the time I shot was maybe 10 seconds.”
Knox was shooting a Marlin 1895 .45-70 Guide Gun. At 20 yards, it was a chip shot. “I sat a minute or two, trying to get my breath back, try to slow my heart rate. I heard him fall and take a couple of deep breaths. I heard two moans. Then two more deep breaths.”
Monroe gives his hunters a radio and instructs them to call him from the stand when they think they have a bear down. Then he asks them to stay in the stand until he arrives. For 25 minutes, Knox was left alone with his thoughts while he waited for Monroe, left, and Jim Webber, right, to arrive. “I put my flashlight on him and he was just shaking, from all the adrenaline rush,” Monroe recalls. Knox remembers that it took the guide only a minute to pick up the blood trail. “He had his big Smith & Wesson 500 ready, just in case. When he found the bear he started hollering for joy, because it was a big one.”
“He looked pretty big from my tree,” Knox says. “But when I walked up to him, I don’t think I’d ever seen anything that big in the woods before. My first thought was, ‘How are we going to get him out of here?’ That was answered later: ‘Through a lot of pain.'”
After an epic recovery that took eight people and a chainsaw winch to drag the bear out, they packed the carcass on ice overnight to preserve the meat. The next morning they went to Indian Hill Trading Post to tag and weigh the kill.
“All of the guys in camp had their guesses on the weight,” says Knox, who was joined on his trip by Zach Monroe, left, Noah Weiland, right, and Richard Weiland, kneeling. Most of the estimates ranged from 550 to 580 pounds. “I thought it might make 600,” Knox says, “but not much more.”
When the scale hit 705, the 15 or 20 people who’d gathered to witness the weigh-in cheered. “I was elated,” Knox says. “They’d told me the night before the record was 680. I thought, ‘Wow, I just shot the biggest bear ever in Maine. On my first bear hunt. On the first bear I saw.'” Even Monroe was surprised. “We knew we had a big bear,” he says. “We knew we’d make it into the record book, but we had no idea that we’d actually break the record.”
Steve Monroe puts the bear’s size in perspective. “The average Maine bear is probably 140 pounds, maybe 170 pounds for a boar. When we shoot 200- and 250-pound bears, that’s a very good trophy bear. So a 699 pound bear is pretty impressive.” The bear’s skull will top 23 inches as measured by Boone & Crockett. Nose to tail it stretched 82 inches, and its girth also measured 82 inches, making him as big around as he is long. The bear’s head circumference was 35 inches, his neck was 38 inches around and his bicep was 23 inches. “The taxidermist has to get a grizzly form to do the full-body mount, because they don’t even make a black bear form big enough,” Monroe says.
Because the first scale was not certified, Knox and his guides found a second, certified scale to record an official weight. With a game warden from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife witnessing, the scales wobbled between 699 and 700 before settling on 699. “A 700-pound bear might be easier to say, but I’m not going to worry about a pound,” Knox jokes. “At least not until somebody else goes and shoots a 700-pound bear.”
“There’s probably a lot of hunters out there feeling a little cheated because they’ve been hunting 25 years and never saw a bear that big,” Knox says. “But there’s people who will be happy, because they’ll say, ‘Wow, that’s a big bear. I might get one too.'”
Steve Monroe will have no truck with any talk of beginner’s luck. “Matt has some injuries that made it tough for him to sit on stand, but he toughed it out and did and excellent job,” Monroe says. “The record is great. It’s something I can take to my grave, and he’ll be around a lot longer than that to share it with his grandchildren. But seeing that young man, with what he’s done for us, serving his country, to come up here and do something like this–it’s just awesome. I get chills when I think about it.”
Hunter and Army Captain, Matt Knox, spent four uneventful days in the woods on his first ever bear hunt. Finally, a monstrous black bear walked by and he tagged it. Little did he know a little beginner’s luck, and some good shooting, would yield a new state-record, 699-pound bear in Maine. Click through to see photos of the monster bruin and to read Knox’s story.