The recent early West Virginia bear season took place in four different local counties, or in the case of Mineral County, just the western portion. This is not a new season, but it seems that the counties which are open for the hunt change some from year to year.
The September weather was fine, if maybe a little dry, and the kill was…well, I can’t tell you for sure what the kill was. West Virginia is still using the traditional check station style check-in, and those tags have not all been turned in to the DNR, so no one could give me any definite bear kill figures.
But that is OK because I really wanted to tell you about some bear season trophies of a different sort.
The opening day of season was a good one for the West Virginia Natural Resources Police officers working this area. Capt. Tom Stuckey of the NRP’s Romney office reports that District II officers made some pretty significant arrests for bear hunting violations in Hardy County that morning.
Stuckey said that officers issued citations to a group of seven hunters for a total of 23 violations to include hunting bear with the use of bait, hunting bear during illegal hours, feeding wildlife in a chronic wasting disease containment area and conspiracy to violate the game laws.
That is what old game wardens call hitting a good lick.
Now, I don’t want to put words into anyone’s mouth by calling these arrests trophies, those are my words alone. However I think that legal and ethical hunters everywhere should feel pretty smug and satisfied when the natural resources police hold these types of poachers accountable for their actions. It is a good day for all of us when the alleged bad guys get caught.
That is the dark side of the force when it comes to hunting, now wash your ears out with this next trophy.
My good friend Bill Armstrong of Franklin tells me of a Wounded Warrior bear hunt held in that area. That local group of volunteers hosted 12 Wounded Warriors from five different states.
Things started with a picnic at Brandywine Lake, with some 80 other volunteers and general well-wishers in attendance. These Warriors also had the opportunity to do some trout fishing on the South Fork, assisted by the Sugar Grove Trophy Trout Farm.
The bear hunt went well. Five of the Wounded Warrior hunters shot bruins. That alone made the hunt a huge success, and then Armstrong tells the rest of the story.
Last year during a similar hunt in Pendleton County there were two Afghanistan-wounded Marines, Mike Morris and Gary Stouffer, who came to the event as a team of sorts, and both were able to kill West Virginia black bears before returning to Camp Lejune.
Several months later Stouffer and his wife attended another Wounded Warrior event in Texas. They had a parade there to honor returning veterans, and while in that parade the truck that some of the veterans were riding in was hit by a train and Gary Stouffer was fatally injured, a shocking turn of events that stunned the local Wounded Warriors group and left Stouffer’s family without a husband and father.
Not long after this tragedy Mike Morris, Stouffer’s hunting buddy, contacted Armstrong in Franklin.
Morris advised that his friend had left behind a 12 year old son, and that he would like to bring the boy to West Virginia for a hunt to help him deal with his immense loss and to experience some of the good times that his father had enjoyed.
That is how young Shane Stouffer ended up enjoying the West Virginia hills in Pendleton County during the recent early bear season, and yes, he shot a bear as well.
Armstrong said that the other Warriors “wrapped their arms” around the youngster, both physically and emotionally, to help take away some of his hurt, at least for a while.
He also said that when the farewells were being spoken at the end of the event that there was not a dry eye in the house.
Bill Armstrong then posed this philosophical question; “Maybe at times we do accomplish something good?” Yes, you do my friend.
Woods, wildlife and fine people are what these mountains are all about. It’s always a good day to be a Mountaineer.
Dave Long is a retired West Virginia Natural Resources Police officer and a frequent contributor to the Outdoors page.