EDGECOMBE COUNTY, NC (Mark Price/The Charlotte Observer) - A North Carolina man went into the backwoods of Edgecombe County looking for a bear. He almost got more than he bargained for when he came face to face with a 640-pound "monster."
That's about 140 pounds bigger than the average adult bear in North Carolina.
Michael Taylor of Wake County was out with a hunting party, including six men, a half-dozen dogs and hunting guide Ashley Wishall.
But the safety of numbers took an unexpected turn when the dogs dove into the woods after multiple bears, the other hunters fanned out, and Wishall went to get more dogs. That left Taylor alone, listening to the howls of dogs in the distance and the occasional (and unnerving) rustling of limbs off the trail.
"I heard something coming through the woods," Taylor told Carolina Sportsman in a Dec. 29 story. "After all of the commotion going on, I figured any of the bears had scattered and it must be a big buck slipping through. And since it was deer season, I was getting ready to get myself a big buck."
It wasn't a buck.
Instead, a 640-pound male black bear lumbered out of the bushes, 15 steps away. Taylor and the bear made eye contact, and it began to move on a parallel path.
"His head was the size of my Yeti cooler. It was the biggest bear I had ever seen in my life," Taylor told Carolina Sportsman.
It took only a brief moment for Taylor to shoulder a borrowed 30-30 rifle and fire a single shot.
Hunting guide Wishall said he was about 100 yards away when he heard the shot, and he wasn't sure what had happened.
"When I asked Mike on the radio what he had done, all he said was: 'It's big'," recalls Wishall, who runs Adventures Plus Outfitters out of Conetoe, N.C. "He didn't say anything else. He wasn't speaking in complete sentences. He just kept saying: 'Big, big, big'."
Taylor's single shot got the bear in the neck and dropped it so fast "the fat jiggled" when it hit the ground.
Wishall said it's the biggest bear he's ever seen, and that's coming from a man who has been bear hunting 20 years and guiding hunts for 10 years.
News of the bear's size has caused a commotion in a state where black bears are on the rise, numbering as many as 20,000. They have begun moving into populated areas like south Charlotte, where a bear was struck last summer by a car on Interstate 485 near Providence Road. South Carolina has also seen a jump in its bear population, including 30 killed on upstate roads in 2017.
The details of Taylor's kill are ominous. Its feet were each 10 inches across and the paws were the size of basketballs. It is 140 pounds bigger than the average adult bear living along the coast. They usually range from 300 to 500 pounds. In the mountains, they're even smaller, weighing 200-300 pounds.
Since 1969, N.C. has documented only 22 bears over 700 pounds, and only 250 bears over 600 pounds, state officials say. The largest ever killed in Edgecombe County was 375 pounds back in 2015, state officials say.
The bear Taylor shot was estimated to be 12 years old. (Bears are aged using their upper premolars).
Wishall, who leases 15,000 acres for hunting expeditions, said the bear had been showing up on his game trail cameras for three years. However, it always managed to elude hunters with sneaky tactics. Taylor killed it the week of Dec. 17, during a hunt three years in the planning.
"The bear was extremely smart, because he threw the dogs onto other bears that were in the same area," says Wishall. "Nobody knew what was going on for 10 minutes. There were four or five bears in the mix and we were trying to figure out which bear was being chased."
So what became of the bear?
A game meat processor transformed it into 300 pounds of hamburger, sausage, steaks and ribs, at a cost of $600, Wishall said. The ribs alone weighed 65 pounds. The meat was divided among four or five hunters, he said.
As for the rest of the beast, Taylor gave the hide to Wishall, who is having a taxidermist do a full-body mount. He hopes to display it during the Dixie Deer Classic in March, at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh. That event is an annual festival for sportsmen and women. The cost of mounting the full body could be as much as $7,000, Wishall said.