Being a veteran myself I can appreciate the fact that most of the people in North Carolina hold veterans and active duty servicemen in high regard. After all, the veterans and active duty personnel account for a substantial part of North Carolina’s population and an estimated 25% if the State’s economy.
After having seen some of the “perks” that were offered to veterans across the area during this year’s Veteran’s Day activities, there’s no doubt that our citizens hold the veterans in high regard. This holds particularly true when it comes to veterans and active duty servicemen who have been wounded in battle.
The last few years’ wars have sent a great number of veterans home with battle scars that will last for the rest of their lives. Some were relatively minor injuries but many were severe. I’m made especially aware of this every time I visit the veteran’s hospital and see the long lines of veterans waiting to see the doctors.
There are several good organizations that cater to the wounded servicemen and veterans but none seem to capture the public’s attention more than the one called “Wounded Warriors.”
The Cypress Swamp Kennels hunting club is one of the most active in eastern North Carolina and has certainly done its part to honor the Wounded Warriors but this year’s bear hunt for three wounded warriors seemed especially important to the servicemen who were being honored.
If you watched the national news immediately following the Veterans Day celebrations, I’m sure you saw the item about the Veteran’s Day Parade in Midland, Texas where a float carrying wounded warriors was struck by a freight train and four of the veterans were killed in the crash. It turns out that they were friends of some of the Wounded Warriors who were involved in the Cypress Swamp Kennels hunting club and the Potash Corporation (Aurora) bear hunt. As one of the wounded warriors put it, “That was one Hell of a way to die; wounded in the wars only to come home and have a freight train hit you as you were being honored in a Veteran’s Day parade.”
There are many activities that are available to these veterans but there seems to be even more interest being shown by the hunting and fishing organizations who would like to invite these veterans on outings that offer something to take their minds off their everyday troubles. The Cypress Swamp Kennels hunting club specializes in hunting the black bears that eastern North Carolina seems to have in abundance.
When the Potash Corporation mine and processing plant near Aurora found out that the Cypress Swamp Kennels was offering a bear hunt to a small group of wounded warriors they joined in the planning phase by offering to allow the hunt to take place on some of their property. With the help of Earl Dail from the Sportsmen’s Toy Store in New Bern, three of the veterans were invited to join in on the hunt. It was to be a hunt in a thickly vegetated, 3000-acre tract of land where few are allowed to hunt.
The Cypress Swamp Kennel’s specialty is using highly trained hounds to drive the bears until they are either bayed (bear on the ground and surrounded by the dogs) or treed (bear chased up a tree by the dogs). After the dogs have chased the bear to this standstill then and only then do the hunters themselves close in on the scene and, if the bear is large enough, either shoot it or pull the dogs away and let the bear go on its way.
That may sound relatively simple but the chase that precedes the treeing or baying is as an exciting hunt in itself.
The wounded warriors hunt began at daybreak with several truckloads of hunters and hounds planning the day’s hunt. With dogs barking and howling and two-way radios crackling every phase of the anticipated hunt is planned out. Designated shooters are briefed on what to do after the bear is treed and the hunt begins.
The area where the hunt is taking place is heavily populated with bears and it doesn’t take long for the dogs to pick up the trail and the chase begins. As the hounds follow the fleeing bear the sound of their barking allows the hunters to follow the chase on a network of logging roads. If the hunters manage to catch a glimpse of the bear that’s being chased and the bear is judged to be a small one, the hunters will call off the dogs and proceed to another site to try and find a trophy bear. If a larger bear is spotted the hunt begins in earnest.
The climax of a bear hunt with hounds usually ends when the dogs have the bear on the ground and surrounded by frantically barking hounds. The bear is fighting the dogs and the dogs try and get their teeth into the bear’s backside. Make no mistake about it; a bayed or treed bear has become a very dangerous animal to both dogs and the approaching hunters.
If the bear is deemed to be a “shooter” the designated hunter tries to place a quick shot at the bear between the dogs that surround the bear. Since the shot will be at close range the hunter tries to make it a one shot kill to protect valuable dogs as well as excited hunters. Hunters other than the designated shooter are there to back up the first shot if needed. A wounded bear is not to be reckoned with.
Should the bear be treed when the hunters have finally fought their way through the often-thick underbrush the designated shooter again tries to make a quick kill to protect dogs as well as hunters. A wounded bear, on the ground, whirling and snapping at the frantically barking and biting dogs can be a difficult target and dogs can be accidentally shot in the process.
Since the bear that’s being chased knows to try and evade the dogs and hunters it nearly always seeks heavy cover. This isn’t a big problem to the hounds but to the hunters who are closing in on a treed bear, the thick brush presents a problem. If the bear is near one of the logging roads it’s just a short distance for the hunters to cut their way through in order to get at the bear. Even dressed in briar proof clothing and swinging machetes as they try to quickly close in on the bear, hunters often emerge from the chase in tattered clothing with bloody scratches on their bodies.
The early chase and kill is the exciting part of the hunt. After an over-500 pound bear is killed in thick cover, the real work begins for the hunters. Dragging a huge animal through the thick is work that calls for a real team effort.
Using heavy ropes the team pulls the dead bear as far as they can and then may call on an ATV to help. If needed a truck mounted winch might be used to pull the bear out to a road.
It the case of the recent bear hunt to honor three wounded warriors, all three men were fortunate enough to kill bears that weighed in excess of 500 pounds.
The Potash Corporation treated the successful hunters and the two game wardens that went along on the hunt to be sure that all game laws were observed to a much-appreciated lunch. The wounded warriors said a few words of thanks for the hunt and were made aware of another thing that meant a lot to the servicemen.
Rob Lynch, a member of the Cypress Swamp Kennels club had solicited several local businesses for money to help all three of the wounded warriors have a taxidermist mount their trophy bears. Rob Hydraulics, E.J. Recycling and Schavender Trucking were among the ones who gave money to help our servicemen to remember their bear hunt in North Carolina.