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Fayette Co. bear turns out to be a new state record

If you're a hunter, there's a lot to be said for just getting out into the woods as often as possible. Andrew Seman of Dunbar can attest to that.

The Fayette County man has been hunting black bears for about 17 years now. He had seen bears prior to this past season, but admits that he wasn't sure he would ever get one.

"It's only ever been something that I do to figure out where I'm going buck hunting," Seman said of his commitment to chasing bears. "That's all it ever was."

Still, he kept at it, hunting bears ever year, and that persistence paid off in a big way this year. He killed a bear with an estimated live weight of 733 pounds on state game lands 51 in Fayette County on the second day of the 2005 season. That made it the heaviest bear killed last season, and the eighth heaviest in state history.

Even more impressively, on Wednesday, the bear was certified as a state record for the largest bear ever killed in Pennsylvania by a hunter. It's skull measured 14 and 916 inches long and 8 and 10/16 inches wide, for a total score of 23 and 316. The previous record for a hunter-killed bear in Pennsylvania scored 22 and 14/16.

What's more, pending a review by a Boone and Crockett Club judge's panel in April 2007, Seman's bear stands to be tied with one killed by a hunter in California as the third largest ever taken anywhere in the world, said Ryan Hatfield, assistant director of big game records for the Boone and Crockett Club in Montana.

The only two larger bears ever documented are the world record, an animal that was found dead in Utah in 1975, and a Pennsylvania bear that was confiscated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission in Lycoming County in 1987, Hatfield said.

"Who'd have ever thunk it• I know not me," Seman said.

It's not necessarily surprising that Seman's bear was as big as it was, or that two of the top four bears ever recorded have come from Pennsylvania, said Mark Ternent, the Game Commission's black bear biologist. The state routinely produces some of the largest bears in North America, with five weighing in excess of 800 pounds and 16 weighing in excess of 700 pounds recorded since 1986. It stands to reason that the skulls of those bears would be equally large, Ternent said.

"Still, even in our best years, our hunter success rate for bears is about 3 percent," Ternent said. "You have to hunt a lot of years to harvest a bear, and it's rare to get more than one in a lifetime. It's even more rare to get one that big, so it's quite an accomplishment."

Seman was hunting with his brothers Jim and Brian when he got his bear. They were taking turns, one walking and the others posting, when Brian wandered into a thicket. This big bear came loping out and Seman shot once, but missed. His second shot brought the bear down.

He and his brothers dressed the bear, then -- not yet realizing just how heavy it was -- tied its feet to a pole in an attempt to drag it out. They ultimately had to use a tractor to move it.

"When he called me to say he was bringing it in, I asked how big it was and he said 733 pounds. I was quiet for a second and then said, 'No seriously, how big is it?' I thought someone was pranking me," said Mike LaRosa, the Acme taxidermist who is mounting the bear for Seman.

Ironically enough, the largest bear to come out of Fayette County prior to last year, in terms of skull size, was a 488 pounder killed in 1996. It's skull measured 20 and 8/16 inches. It was killed by none other than LaRosa.

"He'll be first, and I'll be second for the county. That's pretty cool," LaRosa said.

Measuring the skull proved almost as challenging as moving the bear out of the woods. Michael Hardison, a certified Boone and Crockett scorer from Uniontown, measured Seman's bear Wednesday in the commission's southwest region office on Bolivar.

"I couldn't do it with my (measuring) box because it was too small for this skull," Hardison said. "It's a good thing the Game Commission had a little bigger one."

Game Commission officials have estimated the age of Seman's bear at 15 years. The skull certainly indicates the bear has been through a lot over that time. A look at it Wednesday, when it was being measured, revealed several broken teeth and one rough-edged hole caused by no one knows what.

A crowd of family and friends turned out Wednesday to see the skull measured. There were smiles all around, and plenty of pictures taken. it was a fitting end to an experience that's "been an adventure all around, from start to finish," said Jim Seman.

"It's the first bear I've ever gotten and probably the last, but that's OK," Andrew Seman said. "I don't think I'll ever beat this."

The biggest bears

Here's a look at the top three bears ever scored, all time, according to Boone and Crockett Club records, and a look at where Seman's bear will rank.

1. 23 and 10/16; a black bear that was found dead in Sanpete County, Utah, in 1975. It is currently owned by Cabela's.

2. 23 and 716; a black bear confiscated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission in Lycoming County in 1987 after hunters poached it, then tried to claim it as a bear legally killed in West Virginia. It is currently on loan to Cabela's and is on display in their Harrisburg-area store.

3. 23 and 3167; a black bear killed in Mendicino County, Calif., in 1983.

3. 23 and 316; a black bear killed by Andrew Seman on state game lands 51 in Fayette County in 2005.

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