The first bear killed in Maryland was small, certainly -- at 84 pounds, the smallest of all 20 bears killed by hunters during a hunt that began and ended Monday. She also was young, perhaps just 10 months old.
But was she a cub?
Yesterday that emotionally charged term, with associations of fairy tales and fuzzy helplessness, was at the center of the fallout over Maryland's first bear hunt in 51 years.
Anti-hunting groups, and some biologists, said this first bear was a cub. Angry callers referred to her as such yesterday when they called to complain about the hunt.
"Oh my God, they killed a bear cub!" went one typical comment, said Michael Markarian, president of the Fund for Animals.
But state officials said the term didn't apply.
Rather, they said, by their definitions the bear was not a cub, but rather a juvenile -- able to survive on its own and perfectly legal to hunt.
"That's an intentionally misleading reference by the opposition," said Paul Peditto, the Department of Natural Resources official who oversaw the hunt.
The hunt, which had been scheduled to last all week, was halted Monday night because officials decided that hunters had gotten too close to bagging the season-long limit of 30 bears.
Most of the 11 male and nine female black bears killed Monday were adults, more than a year old and averaging 178 pounds, according to state officials. The largest, a male bear killed in Garrett County, stood a whopping 8 feet tall and weighed nearly 500 pounds.
But the first bear -- the smallest one -- got the most attention from anti-hunting groups yesterday.
That bear was shot near the town of Friendsville, in Garrett, by David Ciekot, an outdoors writer from the Eastern Shore. When he brought the bear in to be weighed, the scale read 84 pounds.
In the neighboring states of Virginia and West Virginia, Ciekot might have been cited for shooting a bear that small.
Virginia prohibits hunters from taking any bear under 100 pounds, and West Virginia rules bar killing a "cub bear" under that weight -- although an adult bear of the same size would be legal.
Maryland does not have a "cub law" barring hunters from shooting small or young bears. Maryland officials said this is because it is nearly impossible for hunters to judge the actual size of a bear under difficult conditions in the woods.
That still left the question of whether the bear could be called a "cub" -- with no legal meaning in this case but a lot of emotional import.
Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said many angry callers to his organization had referred to the bear as a cub -- or sometimes as a "baby."
"People wonder what planet some of these people are from, that they could be so excited about the idea of killing a little 10-month-old," Pacelle said.
But natural resources officials said the bear was neither a cub nor a baby. In fact, they said, she actually might be a year old or more: The exact age won't be known until a lab tests growth rings inside one of the bear's teeth.
But even if the bear does turn out to be 10 months old, as state scientists estimated originally, they said she still was too old to be a cub.
"Our definition of a cub is a newly born bear that's in the den, still feeding with the adult female," Peditto said.
By that definition, he said, Ciekot's bear had stopped being a cub when she was two months old or so.
In interviews with bear experts from across the country, some disagreed with this definition. They said that a bear could be called a "cub" until it separated from its mother at a year to 18 months old.
"If it's 10 months old, you see, it should still be with momma," said Phil Doerr, a professor at North Carolina State University. "I would still consider it a cub."
"Momma" turns out to be another word that Maryland officials have a problem with, at least where it applies to bears. Peditto said that people should avoid thinking of bears in such human terms.
"They're not mothers and fathers," Peditto said. "They're adult males and adult females."