Patrick Coffey of Reva, Va., could tell the black bear was a big one as he watched it scrounge for acorns in the woods on a Fauquier County farm.
But it wasn’t until he shot it and got closer that he and his hunting buddies realized just how large the bear really was — roughly 650 pounds. Or so they think. Their scale went only to 550 pounds, and the arrow went well past that mark.
The black bear Coffey bagged is one of the largest ever killed by a hunter in Virginia, according to state wildlife officials.
“That’s a black bear of a lifetime for any hunter,” said Lee Walker, a spokesman for the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. He said black bears typically average between 300 and 400 pounds.
It wasn’t even a bear that Coffey, 45, was going after Dec. 13.
He was out with his 19-year-old son and some friends hunting deer. He and his friends have hunted on the large farm for years, he said.
“It was just a regular hunting day,” Coffey recalled Wednesday.
Then he spotted the bear.
He said he was able to clearly see the animal because there is little foliage at this time of year and “you can see a long distance.”
Not to mention, he said, that a black bear of that size is pretty easy to spot.
Coffey said he was about 300 yards from the bear. He quietly crept toward it. At 130 yards, he fired and shot the bear through the chest. He said he was able to get so close for two reasons: One, bears have poor eyesight and, two, he was downwind. Plus the bear was “busy foraging, looking for acorns.”
The bear, Coffey said, “went down easy.”
“I realized how big he was when I shot him,” he said. “He was obviously an older bear.”
At first, he and his hunting buddies estimated the bear weighed about 500 pounds. But they soon realized it was even heavier. The bear measured 8 feet from its nose to its tail, Coffey said.
After they dragged the bear through a field and loaded it onto a tractor and eventually into Coffey’s Ford F-350 pickup truck, they got it to a scale.
“It went past 550,” the scale’s maximum, Coffey said. “He is easy 650.”
His buddies’ reaction: “They were all pretty amazed,” Coffey said. “It is not an everyday occurrence that you run across a 650-pound bear in Virginia.”
Coffey said he and his hunting group took the bear to his home, “skinned it out and quartered up the meat.”
It yielded about 100 pounds of meat that Coffey cut for steaks, burgers and roasts. Coffey runs a taxidermy business on the side, in addition to his full-time job as a firearms instructor for a U.S. government agency that he said he’d “rather not name.”
Coffey’s favorite bear recipe is a roast cooked in a Crock-Pot with potatoes, carrots, onions and salt and pepper. And don’t forget the Worcestershire sauce.
“Tastes great,” Coffey said, “but it’s unique. Nothing like chicken.”
He also pronounced the loins cooked in a smoker to be “very good.”
It was the second time Coffey has bagged a bear. About 10 years ago, he said, he shot a 350-pound bear in Rappahannock County.
Coffey said he’s gotten plenty of comments on Facebook since the story about his big bear ran on Fauquier.com.
He said there’s a misconception about the number of black bears in Virginia.
“We have lots of black bears in Virginia,” he said. “We see bears on a regular basis throughout deer season.”
Wildlife officials agreed. They said Virginia has about 17,000 black bears — what they call a “very healthy and growing population.” Hunters bag about 2,000 bears a year.
Part of the reason the bear population is doing so well is that there’s been a good supply of acorns (a staple of a bear’s diet) and mild weather and their reproduction has “been excellent,” according to the wildlife department’s Walker.
Virginia records show a 740-pound bear was taken in the Suffolk area in December 2000. Recently, a bear that weighed in at 728 pounds and was 7 feet, 2 inches long was shot in the Keysville area.
For Coffey, the next question is figuring out where to put the taxidermy of his prized bear. The hide is being tanned by professionals, he said
Coffey said his home already has about 20 stuffed animals, including deer, antelope, elk and a bobcat. He’s trying to decide whether to display the black bear standing on four legs or make a rug.