Record bear taken in nearby Jersey community

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:39

Personal history read from tatoo inside bruin's mouth Franklin, N.J. — A 13-year-old bear that has been around the region and tagged back when it was youngster made the record books this year as the heaviest bruin ever taken by a hunter in New Jersey. Bruce Headley of Jefferson shot the 829-pound bear on his own property, Friday. One of the big surprises in this year's hunt was the heft of the bears "harvested" by hunters. The previous record for the heaviest bear taken was in 2005 with a bear estimated to weigh 739 pounds. However, a new record was set early on Friday, when a bear estimated at 776 pounds was killed in Montague and brought to Fish & Wildlife for check in. But that record did not hold for long. At 3:15 p.m. Friday afternoon Headley, 62, arrived at the Franklin check-in station in a large pickup truck with its cargo section covered with a retractable top. Apparently, authorities knew he was coming because after the truck pulled into the lot state troopers who had been sitting in their patrol cars each left their vehicles and began to approach the pickup. The pickup backed to the entrance of the check-in station and then stopped so that the retractable top could be drawn back. At first, the dozens of police and Fish & Game workers were quiet and a few gasps could be heard as the back of the truck was opened. Then a loud chatter started with sounds of exclamation, as those present could hardly believe what they saw. The pickup quietly backed into the garage to a waiting scale and a team of workers who were obviously awestruck. A digital scale with a maximum capacity of 1,000 pounds was used to weigh the bear. The first attempt failed and the bear had to be lowered so that the scale could be zeroed out. The workers tried again and the initial weight measurement of the field-dressed bear was 703.5 pounds, which was later revised to 703 pounds even. To calculate the approximate weight of the animal before its organs were removed, the standard calculation requires the addition of 18 percent, bringing the bruin’s weight to 829.5 pounds, an all-time New Jersey state record. Local bear According to Headley, the bear was taken on his family’s property off Weldon Road in Jefferson Township, about a half mile through the woods from Jefferson High School. Volunteer biology professor Tom Ombrello of Union County College and Fish & Wildlife worker Linda Morschauser examined the inside of the bear’s mouth and located a tattoo that was difficult to read. Coordinating with other workers who had access to the state’s database, they found a match that indicated that the massive bear was captured as a cub or yearling and was now 13 years old. Years later, the bear had also been captured at the dumpster at Portofino’s Restaurant on Berkshire Valley Road in Oak Ridge. Surprises and ironies Friday afternoon across Route 23 from the check-in station, only a handful of protesters came out, although the weather was pleasant. As only 17 hunters brought in bears that day in Franklin, the protesters were unaware that across the highway the heaviest black bear taken in New Jersey history was being processed by Fish & Wildlife. As the hunters and others came and left the facility, the protesters called out to them with insulting remarks and gestures. One of the protesters shouted threats across the highway including, “We know where you live” and “Be careful in dark alleys.” Protestors did keep up their vigil throughout the duration of the hunt, which began Dec. 5 and ended Dec. 10. Although the total number of bears taken was fewer than last year, some speculate that the cold rainy days during the middle of last week may have been a contributing factor. On Thursday, even with one inch of snow in the higher elevations, which in turn would have made tracking bears easier, the total count for the day was only 41. This was the only day in which the daily count was greater than in 2010. In Vernon, the areas immediately below Wawayanda Lake and on the west ridge of Wawayanda Mountain north of Breakneck Road and immediately above Vernon’s town center, yielded the greatest numbers of bears taken locally. The bear numbers Fewer bears were killed by hunters this year than last year: 469 this year; 592 in 2010. Last year was the first time the bear hunt had been held in New Jersey since 2005. Some attribute it to the weather, some to the decline in acorns and other greens.