When you think of New Jersey, “black bear” is not the first thing that comes to mind. Newark, New Jersey is in the shadow of New York City. It’s a heavily-populated area where the population has spilled out onto the countryside; where small acreages and tiny hobby farms have covered up the landscape. People who want to get a little elbow room, to put a little distance between them and the concrete, live here.
Bears live here, too. They make a living surrounded by homes and small farms, mostly keeping to themselves in whatever habitat they can find. Occasionally, one of the bears becomes a troublemaker, knocking over garbage cans, digging up a garden, and maybe grabbing a calf or a lamb from time to time.
New Jersey doesn’t have much of a history with bear hunting, but an on-again, off-again bear hunt has allowed sportsmen to help keep the population in check and the bear conflicts to a minimum when the state government doesn’t cave in to the whining voices of the citified pseudo-animal-lovers.
Bears had kept the residents of this area on edge. A llama was attacked by a bear and the llama had to be put down. A donkey named Dominic had a huge hunk of flesh bit out of his hindquarters after a bear broke into its pen and dragged it off. One resident was backed into his garage by a large, aggressive bear. People in the neighborhood were always looking over their shoulder.
Will Jimeno hunts deer and bear in this area. He is a dedicated bowhunter, but bears in New Jersey must be hunted with a gun. His father-in-law was bedridden in the hospital, but asked Will if he would hunt with his 20 gauge shotgun for the 2015 season, and Will agreed.
The name Will Jimeno may ring a bell with you. He was one of the officers who were trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center when it was attacked on September 11, 2001. His story was featured in the 2006 Oliver Stone movie World Trade Center. When terrified people were running away from the falling towers, Will was one of the heroic men who ran toward the danger. After nearly losing his life while spending 13 hours partially buried in the rubble, and during his long recovery, his thoughts of bowhunting, of being in the outdoors breathing fresh air and enjoying the natural world around him, kept him sane and plodding forward.
His sometimes-celebrity status has given him an opportunity to speak positively of hunting in an area of the world where most people are utterly out of touch with nature and the proper management of wildlife.
“Hunting is a heritage I love,” He states. “And I talk about it all the time with no apologies.”
Will had three bear baits out, but had not seen a bear on any of his trail cameras for a month. The state of New Jersey has some crazy, nonsensical laws regarding bear hunting. The season doesn’t start until December 1, when most bears are already holed up for the winter. You cannot hunt over bait either from a treestand or a ground blind. That’s right, you must hunt bears at your bait on the ground, out in the open.
So when Will and his buddy Pat Cutter found a photo of a bear on his Covert scouting camera the morning of December 9, he got very excited.
“We only missed the bear by 45 minutes so I knew it was still close by.” Will decided to hunt the bear that day. He sprayed the area with Northwoods Bear Products Cinnamon spray, as he had done several times before. That afternoon, his partner and cameraman Pat settled into a ground blind to video the hunt while Will crouched out in the open near the blind.
Not long after they settled in, they heard some gunshots nearby. Rifle deer season was in full swing. Suddenly a number of deer ran into their area and surrounded them. Pat whispered that if a good buck would show up, Will should shoot it so he could get it on video. Soon a nice buck did show himself, but there was no way Will was going to pass up a chance to shoot a nearby bear by firing a gun so he let the buck pass.
Soon all the deer became noticeably agitated. They started to snort and stomp.
“We could hear the bear coming,” Will remembers. “He was making quite a bit of noise.” Pat could see the bear, but Will was blocked.
“He’s HUGE!” Pat said. Suddenly, the deer bolted, and so did the bear, crashing off through the trees. Will could hear the crashing, but he never saw the bear.
Will was crushed by his bad fortune, but he stayed put in case the bear would come back. And he did. He moved in and started sniffing the grass where they had sprayed the Northwoods Bear Products attractant. Will still couldn’t see the bear, but he was getting a play by play report from whispers in the blind beside him.
“When his head became visible to me, I was amazed. It was huge. It reminded me of the big bears of Newfoundland.” Will said. “When he stepped into the open, it felt unreal. I was so close, only 12 yards, and I was just enjoying the moment.” Will would have loved that adrenaline-charged moment to last longer but he knew if he didn’t get a shot off as soon as possible, this opportunity might be gone forever. The bear filled his father-in-law’s shotgun scope as he took the shot.
The bear let out a deafening roar, then ran 35 yards and crashed on an old rock wall. The death roars confirmed that the bear was expired.
The landowner came out with his ATV to help get the bear out and the word began to spread about the big bear. The excitement among the residents of the area began to pour out.
“It was like a party,” Will relates, “it was absolute jubilation. Everyone was very happy.”
The bear weighed 384 pounds and had a dazzling black shiny pelt. No nuisance bear reports have come in the first week since the bear was killed, so the residents are hopeful that this was a problem bear. Will says he knows of four other bears in that general vicinity, two of which are even bigger than the one he shot.
One of the most rewarding parts of this hunt, in addition to having a great story and a great bear to show for it, was the outpouring of support he has received from the residents of this area. He has received several cards and letters, but one stands out. A young boy sent him a note of thanks, stating that he was grateful because now his parents would again allow him to sleep with his bedroom window open.
There are many ways to be a hero.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.
Images courtesy of Bernie Barringer