Hunt for 703-pound bear attracts amazement, criticism
When hunter Richard Kendall crawled into the darkness of a bear den in late November, he was prepared to face the largest black bear he had ever tracked.
What he wasn’t prepared for was the 703-pound bear waiting for him or the firestorm that erupted after he left that den.
Kendall, 55, of Craig, said he’s had years of experience hunting black bears in Colorado and after seeing the 8-inch-wide tracks left by this bear, knew he had a potential record on his hands.
“I’ve been hunting bears all my life and that’s the biggest track I’ve ever seen,” Kendall said earlier this week.
The black bear season, which begins in September and runs through the deer and elk season, was in its final weekend when Kendall tracked the bear to its den in the Danforth Hills near Wilson Creek north of Meeker.
Kendall and a friend rushed into Meeker for a license and the next morning they were at the den.
Not knowing exactly how big the as-yet unseen bear was, “I really didn’t want to go in there so I sat on the den for five hours, hoping he’d come out or maybe already was out,” Kendall said.
Finally, Kendall decided the bear was home and cautiously squeezed into the den.
“I went in about 6 feet, and I could just see the tip of his nose without a flashlight,” Kendall said. “He was growling and snapping his jaws at me.”
Kendall said that after he shined his flashlight on the bear, the bear laid back its ears.
“A buddy told me when they lay back their ears they’re usually going to charge, so I decided I better shoot while I have the chance,” said Kendall, who was carrying a .45-70 caliber lever-action rifle.
It took Kendall and several of his friends most of an hour to drag the bear out of its den and another 30 minutes to get it to Kendall’s truck.
The bear weighed 703 pounds. That is about 50 percent more than most large black bears, which usually top out at 450–500 pounds.
The bear’s skull, which is how official scorers from the Boone & Crockett Club determine record-worthy animals, measured prior to drying at 22 and 5/8 inches. The state record bear, killed in Mesa County in 2007, measured 22 and 9/16th inches.
Kendall’s bear, which stretched 9-foot, 6-inches from nose to toes, will be remeasured after a 60-day drying period.
Kendall said once the word got out about the immense bear, people stopped him on the street to congratulate him.
“People I don’t even know would stop and talk about that bear,” said Kendall, a native of Craig who teaches rifle and handgun shooting skills.
But Kendall soon discovered some reactions weren’t quite so positive.
After the Craig Daily Press ran a story on its website about the bear, most of the reader comments, nearly all of which were anonymous, were harshly critical of Kendall’s actions.
One anonymous reader said, “This article & mentality behind the hunter makes me truly sick. How is shooting a bear in a cave ‘hunting’ ... ?”
Another reader wrote, “My family has been hunting for generations in Colorado, and I can tell you that this is not sportsmanship, it is just a plain case of cowardness.”
One of the few signed letters came from James Mense (no hometown given), who wrote he was a lifelong hunter but “the idea of shooting a bear after it has entered its den to begin hibernation is repulsive to me.”
The killing “may be legal, but it is definitely not ethical,” Mense wrote.
Kendall’s actions, while a bit unusual, were legal, said Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton.
“Currently, there are no regulations prohibiting someone from crawling into a den after a hibernating bear,” Hampton said. “This is the first instance we are aware of a bear being taken in this manner.”
Hampton said no one from the Division of Wildlife, other than the local officer who checked the bear as required by regulations, has spoken to Kendall about the bear incident.
“We are aware the bear was taken and we have heard from a number of concerned people regarding the manner in which this bear was harvested,” Hampton said.
While Kendall’s actions were legal, “the idea of shooting a hibernating animal certainly raises some ethical issues,” Hampton said.
Emphasizing there now are no regulations regarding hunting a denned animal, Hampton said division officials “are discussing” possible changes to the current rules.
Kendall, for his part, is dismayed and a bit angry over the continued rain of criticism.
“I think these (critics) are just jealous of what I did,” Kendall said. “It was something that was positive at first but then you get all these e-mails and letters and stuff.”
Kendall said he wanted no more publicity about his bear.
“I’m tired of people coming up to me and saying things that aren’t true to me and my wife,” Kendall said. “People are making more of it than what it was and I’m tired of dealing with all the (stuff).”