Bruce Headley, 62, was hunting for deer on his property when he took the New Jersey state record black bear back in 2011. Now that same bear stands guard inside the Pequest Hatchery, watching over the visitor center as both a memorial and tribute to New Jersey’s wildlife.
“I’m just glad it went to a good home,” Headley told nj.com.
The 829-pound bear measures six feet and 11 inches from nose to tail, making it easily the largest bear ever taken in New Jersey’s history. Headley dispatched the animal from his deer stand with a shotgun on December 5, 2011, but the true challenge came when the hunter climbed down to bring the animal home. It took Headley three hours and the help of friends to carry the bear out on an ATV.
“I would have traded getting two bucks instead of the bear,” Headley, who hunts for deer every year to feed his family, told The Daily Record.
The bear was eventually given to taxidermist George Dante, who worked alongside wildlife biologists to create the mount for Pequest Hatchery. Depicted with one paw on a stone and coming out of a swamp, Pequest officials said the bear will make an excellent addition to the hatchery’s animal displays. For Headley, the bear serves as a memorial for his late son. On the base of the mount a plaque reads “In memory of Joel Warren Headley. Forever young.”
“This is not just for Joel’s memory but for all the kids who get consumed by drugs,” Headley told the Record. “I also donated the bear because after 50 years of hunting and enjoying the outdoors, I wanted to give back. I thought Pequest would be the best place for him because so many people would see it and I want people to realize what kind of wildlife we have in New Jersey.”
The donation comes as a morale boost to the Pequest Hatchery, which last month lost about 114,000 trout to bacterial disease.
Image courtesy New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection