HAYWOOD COUNTY, North Carolina (WLOS) -- It took 30 years, but this past bear hunting season, a new name was placed next to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission record for the largest bear harvested in the western region of North Carolina.
A hunting party in Haywood County led by Jeff Teague broke the previous western North Carolina record on Oct. 18, 2022, when they took down a 695-pound black bear. It was just the second day of North Carolina's open season.
The previous record was 688 pounds, killed by a bow hunter in the early '90s in Madison County.
"When we turned loose, we didn't realize exactly how big it was," Teague said. "I run down the trail and I saw the bear, and I could tell it was a big bear, but honestly, you couldn't tell that it was 700 pounds. So, I got on the radio and yelled at Lucas (Teague) and Caleb (Henry), 'Hey, the bear's coming to you.' It went up the mountain to them, and then Luke and Caleb was able to cut it off, and Caleb was able to get the kill shot on it."
Even though the bear was killed by a hunting party consisting of hunting dogs and Teague's family members, it's Caleb Henry’s name that's in the record books because he made the shot that took the bear down.
"Whenever it come off and up through there and I seen how big it was... I'd never been in the woods with something that big," Henry said. "I would've never dreamed that it would've weighed that much. When they told me it was going to be the record, I didn't know what to think." Hunting isn't just a sport for Henry, Teague and their families, but it also serves as a legitimate food source.
"We eat about every bit of the meat we can off of it," Henry said.
"Last year, I think we had 28 quarts of bear meat," Teague added. "We don't buy a whole lot of meat here; we rely on bear and deer, and we don't buy much meat out of the store."
Teague said that his family, like many in the mountains, has for generations relied on hunting and survived on the food it has provided.
"Whoever's hunting in the party, we'll divvy it up," Teague said of the bear meat.
He says the terrain in the Smoky Mountains is often unsuitable for farming, so people rely on what they have. In this case, that means bears.
"We are blessed with bears," Teague said.
Hunting also serves a purpose in keeping the black bear population from getting too high, Teague said.
"We're controlling the population, so to speak. We're not getting rid of the population, but we're helping control it, and that's just the way nature's supposed to be," Teague said.
"We enjoy doing it; it's part of our heritage," he continued, "and, good Lord willing, we're going to continue to do it."
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