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Montague man bags a big one

Monday, December 12, 2005

Photo courtesy of Keith Utter Montague Committeeman-elect Mark Utter poses with the 740-pound bear he killed Saturday, the last day of New Jersey's six-day black bear hunt. It was the fourth bear he's bagged, his largest yet.

(newton, nj)Herald Staff Writer

In what could be the largest black bear ever harvested in New Jersey, a Montague committeeman-elect shot a male estimated to weigh 740 pounds Saturday.

The bear, which Mark Utter shot on his property behind High Point Country Club, was his fourth. He shot two in Canada and one last season in Sussex County.

"I got up pretty close to him and I couldn't see him good, so I backed out and got help to get him out of the thick part of the swamp," said Utter, 54.

He and other hunters made a lot of noise and ran toward it to get it to move to a lighter swamp to assure a good shot, he said. Utter said he shot the bear once from the broadside right through the lung.

"When you shoot a bear, you want to make sure you kill it," Mark Utter said. "They can be aggressive at times."

Robert McDowell, a Frankford resident who retired in 2002 after serving for 12 years as director of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, said Utter's 740-pounder sounds like the largest bear ever shot in New Jersey.

"That's an extremely big bear," said McDowell, who called Utter's take evidence of a healthy bear population in the state.

Utter's bear was 65 pounds heavier while alive than the 675-pound male recorded as the largest killed during the 2003 hunt.

"What you're dealing with here is the largest (black) bear(s) in the country," McDowell said. "They reproduce a year younger than the rest, they have more offspring(500-700 cubs are born annually) and a higher survival rate."

Mark Utter and his younger brother Keith have been hunting since age 10.

The two lifelong Sussex County residents have hunted everything from turkeys and squirrels to deer and bears.

They were together again on Saturday, the final day of New Jersey's 2005 black bear hunt.

"We came across its tracks in a swampy area and we basically stayed on foot until we came across him," Keith Utter, 50, said.

As with any bear, let alone what might be the heaviest one in New Jersey hunting history, it was an ordeal carrying it back to the truck, Mark Utter said. It took about 2 1/2 hours and the help of eight people to get it out of the swamp with a boat. He said neighbors congratulated him for getting the bear, which he said had been a nuisance to his property by scaring dogs and rummaging through the trash.

It took Mark Utter all day Sunday to butcher it and take it to a taxidermist. He plans to have a full mount made out of it.

"It will probably be the largest bear I ever shoot in my lifetime," he said.

After shooting a bear and experiencing the ordeal involved in harvesting it, some give up, Keith Utter said. That, he said, is why there are fewer and fewer bear hunters.

For this year's hunt, the state issued 4,434 black bear permits, about 1,200 fewer than for the 2003 hunt, the state's last.

The Utter brothers will continue hunting bears each season to keep the bear population in check, Keith Utter said. Mark Utter said he wants to help his brother get one next season.

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That thing is absolutely a monster.

And for the record, I don't think the reason why there were less bear permits had anything to do with hauling them out of the woods. I'm sure it had to do with hunters not wishing to buy the permit only to have it cancelled as it had been done previously.

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