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Using Guns and Honey, Hunters Take Aim at New Jersey's Bear Population

BYRAM TOWNSHIP, N.J., Dec. 5 - Toting a shotgun and a can of uneaten honey, Scott MacMillan walked out of Allamuchy Mountain State Park late Monday afternoon growling like a bear.

"Too many people in the damn woods today," said Mr. MacMillan, wearing an orange ski cap, army fatigues and a long frown that drooped over his red goatee.

"The bears sense that something is wrong," he said, "and they've scattered."

At 5:45 a.m., Mr. MacMillan, who lives near the woods on Fox Trail, where bears have been rummaging through his garbage in recent weeks, heated up his can of honey and left it at the base of a tree. As the sweet scent wafted through the frozen woods in Sussex County, he climbed a tree stand and waited for a bear to take the bait.

Mr. MacMillan was one of 4,434 hunters issued permits by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to participate in the state's second bear hunt in the past 35 years, six days of open season on a growing population of bears estimated at 2,000 to 3,000 animals that have been encountering humans at an increasingly alarming rate in the last several years.

Mr. MacMillan, 30, was hoping to catch and take his bear to a weigh station at Waywayanda State Park in Vernon, 40 miles northeast of Allamuchy, one of five checkpoints for the hunt in the northern part of the state. Hunters took their 200-pound-plus trophies there to be weighed, tagged and sampled by state biologists.

Environmental Protection officials said that 54 bears were killed as of 2:30 p.m. on Monday. The largest, a male black bear, weighed 606 pounds after being gutted, meaning that it probably weighed roughly 725 pounds when it was shot.

Compared with the last hunt, in 2003, when 328 bears were killed, animal rights advocates kept a low profile. Early in the morning about two dozen gathered in a parking lot near the weigh station wearing orange T-shirts with the words "Wounded Bear Rescue" in bold black letters across the front.

Park rangers prohibited the protesters from waving signs or shouting at hunters as they arrived with their kills.

The group was considerably smaller than anticipated. Protesters did not have a permit allowing them to have an organized gathering, said Elaine Makatura, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection. The protesters do, however, plan on returning in what they say will be greater numbers over the next few days and have a rally scheduled in the park for Saturday.

The hunters, clad in orange caps and vests, so as to not be mistaken for a moving target, and spread out over about 1,600 square miles of snow-covered woodlands, ranged in age and experience, and had varying degrees of success.

Mr. MacMillan, a seasoned hunter who has killed bears while hunting in Maine, waited in vain for nearly nine hours.

Then there was Nick Diamandas, 11, of Oak Ridge, who killed a bear only 15 minutes after entering the woods. "I shot it but we thought I missed," said Nick, who was accompanied by his father. "We walked up the hill and saw the bear at the bottom of a ravine."

For Nick and his father, the day lasted long beyond the boy's gunshot. After taking down the bear, they were joined by two other hunters who helped them gut its carcass, drag it through the woods and load it on a flatbed before taking it to the weigh station.

Ralph Mazzuca, 72, of Belleville, killed his first bear in 55 years of hunting and said it was a thrill. "I'll consume the meat so long as it's processed right and then I'll, of course, have it mounted," said a beaming Mr. Mazzuca, as the 300-pound sow he had shot in Vernon lay in the back of his nephew's pickup truck under a blue tarp.

Mr. Mazzuca was not concerned about running into protesters.

"To me, just like every other American citizen, they have the right to protest if they like," he said. "But don't interfere with those who like to hunt. That's our right, too."

John Rogalo, searching for bear tracks along Cranberry Lake in Allamuchy Mountain State Park with his son, John Matthew, 12, agreed that both hunters and those who oppose them have the right to express their beliefs. But Mr. Rogalo said that bears have no rights.

"The United States Constitution says 'we the people, by the people, for the people,' " said Mr. Rogalo, stopping behind frozen brush to load his gun and sip hot tea from a thermos. "The animals aren't the people. They don't vote, they don't pay taxes and they don't have any legal rights in this country."

But they do have support. Lynda Smith of the Bear Education and Resource Group, along with the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance, were unsuccessful in their 11th-hour bid to block the hunt in the New Jersey Supreme Court last Friday.

The groups contended that the state's comprehensive black bear management plan was not scientifically sound. They also argued that the state has not done enough to educate the public on avoiding bears and to implement a program to distribute bear-proof garbage cans.

"This is not about bears, this is about garbage," Ms. Smith said. "Until we get our garbage under control there will continue to be a rise in nuisance complaints with or without bear hunts."

From Jan. 1 to Nov. 1, there were 28 reports of bears breaking into homes and another 20 attempts, compared with 8 in 2004, according to Environmental Protection records. There were an additional 1,093 damage and nuisance complaints filed during the same time period compared with 777 during the same time period.

Ms. Smith said that volunteers would be going into the woods searching for wounded bears that had survived and managed to escape. She said the group hoped to catch the bears and nurse them back to health, but admitted that it would be a challenge.

"The snow will help as far as the tracks and blood trails," she said. "But that also helps the hunters."

It did not help Mr. Rogalo or Mr. MacMillan, who, along with other hunters that were unsuccessful on the first day of the hunt, will have until Saturday to earn his or her own prize.

"Since that first night I moved here from Randolph five years ago, bears have been knocking at my front door," said Mr. MacMillan, tugging at a hunting knife that dangled from his belt as he spoke. "I know they are out there hiding in the caves, and I plan on getting them tomorrow."

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Ms. Smith said that volunteers would be going into the woods searching for wounded bears that had survived and managed to escape. She said the group hoped to catch the bears and nurse them back to health, but admitted that it would be a challenge.
A challenge?! A great example of this ladies ignorance of bears. How does she and her fellow animal rights people plan on administering triage to a wounded bear? Is she a veterinarian skilled in emergency surgery with a medical team riding through the woods on ATV's equipped with the surgical tools to treat potentialy life threatening gunshot wounds? She probable thinks bears are soft, playful and cuddly like a puppy. And that the bear is willing and accepting to allow her to treat them. In my best bear voice, speaking to Lynda Smith, "Oh thank God you're here." "Please help me." "I can stop running and lie down while you stop the bleeding." "Give me something for the pain." "Thank you." "I love you." A puppy will let you pull a thorn from it's paw because he/she trusts you. I'd like to see her try getting that close to a wounded bear.

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They have in the past had their members illegaly tranquilize bears to get F&W snare traps off of them.

With that said, they are only there to har [no swearing please] the hunters. Nothing more.

For Lynda Smith it's just about her. She is a media whore.
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