A $3,500 reward is now being offered to anyone with information on the hunting party. The incident took place on the Haywood County stretch of the Parkway near the junction with N.C. 215.
In addition to the eyewitness, park rangers gathered blood and hair at the scene that were positively identified as that of a black bear.
While hunting is illegal on the Parkway, it is bordered on both sides by national forest where hunting is allowed. Dogs used by bear hunters are oblivious to such boundaries, however. They often start tracking a bear in the national forest and follow it onto the Parkway. The hunters, who use radio collars to keep up with their dogs, should end the pursuit and call off their dogs when that happens.
“In this situation, the bear was bayed by several dogs against a rock face that abuts the Parkway,” said Tom Chisdock, an agent with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The hunters then showed up and shot the bear, clearly knowing they were on Parkway property.
“If your dogs come up on the Parkway like dogs do, they are required to pick up their dogs and get them off the Parkway as opposed to shooting the bear,” Chisdock said.
Ending a chase when a bear crosses onto protected property is nothing new to hunters, said Wallace Messer, a bear hunter who lives in Waynesville and a member of the N.C. Bear Hunters Association.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also off-limits to bear hunting, as are designated bear sanctuaries within the national forests. Guns aren’t even allowed in these protected areas, Messer said.
“If your dog goes into the park or a bear sanctuary, and you have to go in there and retrieve them, you leave your guns with somebody or you hide them and get them on your way back out,” Messer said.
Calling off the dogs is not always easy, however, Messer said.
If the dog can’t be called off verbally, the hunter has to get in there and grab it by the collar. That places the hunter within dangerously close quarters of the bear, since the dog is often just feet away from the bear.
Messer said it is a shame that these hunters did not obey the game laws of the Parkway. It is not representative of most bear hunters, he said.
“You’ll get a bad apple in any basket,” Messer said. “People that obey the game laws would not have shot it.”
The North Carolina Bear Hunter’s Association has contributed $500 toward the reward. The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation also pitched in $500, with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service putting up $2,500.
A tip is likely to come from within the bear hunting community. The bear hunting community is rather close-knit, and it is probable someone knows who was hunting that day in that area.
“We think there is knowledge out there in the hunting community and we would like those folks to step forward,” Chisdock said.
The incident took place on Nov. 2 near milepost 430. There were three pick-up trucks with dog boxes in back, according to the eyewitness. Hunters are supposed to register their kills. Investigators have checked into several bear kills registered on that day and have produced some leads.
Anyone with information should call Blue Ridge Parkway Ranger Chip Buchanan at 828.456.9530 ext. 112 or Chisdock at 828.258.2084. Callers may remain anonymous.