Stories about farmers, bears, bear hunters and dogs pepper the pages of this county’s history. Names and dates in the stories change, but the ways of the bears have pretty much remained the same.
There are several bear hunters in the county today who can assist farmers who are experiencing significant loss or damage at the paws of a bear.
Curtis Walker and Jamie Walker, owners of West Virginia Plotts Kennel at Mill Point, were called on a couple of weeks ago to deal with a bear that had found an acceptable corn and wheat buffet on a farm in Hillsboro.
The chase began near Droop Mountain and ended about a mile away on Caesar’s Mountain.
The Walkers used 10 dogs on the trail, and estimated the weight of the male bear to be 300 pounds.
Farmers who experience significant damage to crops can get a special bear permit from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources to have the bear put down.
Efforts to relocate bears may work sometimes, but rarely in the case where a bear has identified an easy and plentiful food source.
DNR Capt. Douglas Benson, of French Creek, said that as the number of bears increases, so, too, does the number of bear and human interaction. And that can sometimes lead to problems.
The DNR charges $10 for each bear stamp, and Benson said that money is used solely for bear damage – which, historically, involved loss of livestock.
Pocahontas, at one time, was a top sheep-producing county. With fewer sheep, bears have found other choice morsels on the farm, as well as in and around homes.
Benson said the primary purpose of the bear damage fund was to reimburse farmers for damage so they wouldn’t think they had to kill every bear that came on their property.
The law dealing with bear damage changed last year with regard to homeowner’s. Whereas in the past, monies from bear stamps was used to pay all damages, homeowners are now required to report their damage to their insurance company, rather than to the DNR.
Benson said they had formulas to calculate damage to a screen door or a grill, but calculating damage to a cornfield or loss of corn from a storage facility is more difficult.
Hunters often try to run a bear out of an area, but that is rarely successful.
“Deer are browsers,” Benson said. “Deer might get into your cornfield, but they will move on to meadows and apple trees. That is not so with bears. Bears are opportunistic.”
Added to that is the fact that corn is unique – it will draw a bear repeatedly, he said.
When a bear finds a food source, such as a cornfield or easy access to a storage facility, he will come back night after night and eat until he can’t eat anymore.
It is then that special permits are issued.
Benson said bear damage is down this year in Pocahontas, Nicholas Randolph, Braxton and Webster counties, but, as a rule, Pocahontas County reports the most damage every year.
August 18, 1966
The Three Bears
Arthur Friel lost a couple of sheep to a bear and called on Argile Arbogast and his dogs. So last Thursday enough men “to eat a bear” and seven dogs converged on the head of Clover Creek for what turned out to be the most exciting bear chase they had ever been on, according to several of the hunters, even allowing for the fact that, they didn’t kill a bear. They met at the top of Elk at the Wagon Wheel and started out. In a few minutes the dogs backed up with their hair bristling. Just over the brow of the hill they saw an old bear putting a cub up a tree so they turned the dogs loose and they took off after the big bear. When they reached the tree, there were two cubs, so Clarence Carpenter and Bill Ruckman stayed to watch them. The others followed the dogs about a half mile to where the mamma bear had spanked another cub and sent him up the tree. The dogs stayed at this tree and the big bear went on. The story may be a little garbled here, but it must have been a sight to see them getting those cubs out of the trees. They held a tarpaulin and shot a limb off the tree. The bear missed the canvas and ran off, with the dogs catching him. Fred Burns fell on the cub with Argile helping him and they wrapped him up and got him to the truck. Back to the first two, they shot another limb and the dogs held a cub while they caught it. For the third, they had to cut the tree and the cub ran up over the mountain and the dogs treed him again. They got him out of this tree but he missed the tarpaulin and took out over the hill. Larry Arbogast and Fred Burns outran the dogs and caught it under the canvas.
When they got to town the two female and one male cubs were looking submissive from the back of the truck. They were going to put them in a big closed van with lots to eat while arrangements are being made to take them to Fred Trainer at the French Creek Fame Farm. They figure the big bear will be killed for sheep killing and the three little ones couldn’t make it alone. This was a female bear and almost always the male bears are the sheep killers. However, there was very little around to eat. The tracks around the sheep matched hers, and they were surrounded by the small cub tracks. Argile says he has never killed a female sheep killer, and he didn’t think Oscar Sharp had. Bill Ruckman said one bear killed on Elk at the Hannah’s had been a female.
On the hunt, besides the two Arbogasts, Carpenter, Ruckman and Burns, were Arthur Friel, B. W. John, Bill Dilley, Ronnie and Larry Carpenter, Reid Moore, Walter McNeill, Hunter Williams and son, John Hunter, Jr., of Akron, Ohio, Kyle Hannah, Jim Cox, Raymond Townsend, Boyd Vandevender, Pat Vandevender, Wayne Mann, a Mr. Gum, of Ohio, Jake Smith and Walker Beverage.
July 1, 1982
An Exile Comes Home
A West Virginia bear may have set a new world’s record for homing capability, according to the Wildlife Resources Division. No one knows exactly how long the return trip took nor when he got back, but back he came.
In May 1978, an elusive bear that had been killing sheep in Randolph County was finally captured by the Wildlife Resources Division. This 320-pound male was marked with ear tags, a radio transmitter collar, and a lip tattoo. He was then transported to Mingo County and released on Laurel Lake Public Hunting and Fishing Area. The radio signal was heard twice shortly after the bear was released, but was not heard again.
In May 1982, a sheep killing bear was killed in Randolph County, identified by the number tattooed on his lip, this was the same bear that had been transported to Mingo County almost four years ago to the day. The ear tags and collar were gone. He died in his old home range, less than ten miles from the site of his capture and 160 air miles from where he was released.
How long this trip took is not known, but he must have found travel agreeable. His weight was up to 390 pounds. In addition to being the longest homing trip ever recorded in West Virginia, this was the heaviest bear ever officially weighed in the state.