250-pound bear trapped at Highway 3 hunting club|[7/18/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 18, 2005

Members of a Warren County hunting club off Mississippi 3 got a surprise Saturday when a Louisiana black bear wandered into a trap set for wild hogs.

T.J. Penick of Holly Bluff, a member of the Willow Break Hunt Club, said he was out checking traps around noon when at first he thought a really big pig had been snared.

“I thought it was a hog until he reared up on his hind legs,” Penick said. “We had a conversation, but it wasn’t a pleasant one. He wasn’t happy to be in there.”

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The 250-pound bear is one of an estimated 40 to 50 in Mississippi. Penick called a biologist who is also a member of the hunting club who, in turn, called U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Shauna Ginger and Mississippi black bear biologist Brad Young.

The bears are protected. Harming them can result in a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

Young, who has worked at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science for about three years, said he has had many calls of bears in Warren and Claiborne counties in recent months. The last was just more than a month ago when a small bear was pictured crossing U.S. 61 South just north of the Big Black River.

“We’ve been getting reports of bears in this area a lot lately,” Young said, adding he thinks about five or six black bears are in the Warren County area.

Male bears like the one accidentally trapped Saturday – and released unharmed after tagging – typically grow to be about 310 pounds and about 3 feet tall, while female bears are smaller at about 140 pounds and just more than 2 feet tall.

Other bears have been reported near Redbone Road, Mississippi 3 and several have been seen near Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant.

Ginger said tracking the bears using radio collars indicates that the animals tend to stay in one general area, but few bears in Mississippi are female.

“It’s breeding season right now so they’re really moving,” Ginger said.

To tag the bear Saturday, he was sedated and various measurements and samples were taken. Ginger said a Web site may lead to locals being able to follow bears the federal agency is tracking.

Penick said the camp has several hog traps – big enough for two to three grown men to sit in – set out. The hogs compete for food with the deer population and damage local farm land, he said.

Other members of the camp said they weren’t all that surprised when they captured the bear.

“It was just a matter of time before they migrated here,” said Jim Moss of Jackson.

Although once common in the Mississippi Delta, the Louisiana black bear was nearly eliminated by the early 20th century through hunting and harvesting its bottomland hardwood forest habitat.

Ginger said their research on the black bear depends on people reporting sightings and help from hunt clubs like Willow Break.

“Without them we are nothing,” she said.