By LARRY PHILLIPS
MANSFIELD, Ohio (AP) — Many Ohio hunters like to chase deer. Others enjoy targeting turkey, rabbits, squirrels and a variety of birds.
Then there are the few, the seemingly very few, who have their sights set on bear, with a bow.
"This is all real close-quarter stuff," said Bruce Bartlett, of Newark. "It's really fascinating. When you're hunting something that can eat you, it's a little bit more of a rush."
The 58-year-old, friends and family members have leased about 500 acres of land in southeastern West Virginia since 1960. About 10 of them make an event of tracking deer, turkeys and, more recently, bears.
Dave Myers, of Warsaw, also is part of the party. This year was the first time he bought a bear tag, and he came within a whisker of bringing home a black bear.
"(Hunting) bear is way more thrilling," Myers said. "It was quite an experience. I probably just need to shoot my bow more."
Bartlett has bought a bear tag the past seven years and is on a four-year streak of bringing home a trophy.
"My first three years, I was still figuring it out. My first couple of years I didn't even see one," Bartlett said. "People talk about how deer can smell. Bears have a sniffer that's five times more powerful.
"I shower in the morning and the evening, use scent block in outerwear and got an incense stick from Cabela's. I call that running interference."
His formula seems to be working. While many bear hunters use dogs, Bartlett doesn't have any canines, so he's adapted with scouting and trail cameras.
The first bear Bartlett bagged was a 200-pounder. Every year his critters have gotten bigger, to the point his Nov. 4, 2013, kill was a 350-pounder.
"Every one of them has been from the same tree stand," he said. "They've all been right around Halloween, right at the time change."
Bartlett said his tree stands are about 20 feet in the air, and just off a trail the bears seem to regularly patrol.
"That last hour of hunting is magical," he said. "When I finally saw one, it got to within 70 yards, and I was pumped. I was thinking 'I'm just an Ohio boy, and I'm going after a bear.'"
His first kill, using a Mathews Z7 compound bow, was a bear that surprised him from behind.
"I had to turn completely around on the stand to get a shot at this thing," he said. "When he got into the 25-yard lane, it flew true."
This year, the bear came off the mountain in front of Bartlett, and again he was on the mark.
He's hunted for elk in New Mexico but has no interest in going any further for even bigger bears.
"A guy who goes to Canada spends $1,500 or $2,000 for a week, and that doesn't include if he gets one," Bartlett said. "I don't know why you'd want to go anywhere else."
Myers follows that thinking, too. He has joined Bartlett and plans to again, but he takes a different tact.
"I'm not comfortable with the tree stands," Myers said. "We have a cabin with no roof, and I get in there."
That means Myers is on the ground, in the path of his quarry.
"(In) the sport of bear hunting with a bow or crossbow, probably 95 percent of it is done from tree stands," said retired Shelby biology teacher Dick Martin, who has written an outdoor column for more than 20 years. "Anyone who'd hunt them on the ground with archery gear has my admiration."
Myers has that, and just missed a bear skin, too.
His adventure began when he saw a deer come down the trail to within 10 feet of him.
"He came down the road and just got the jump on me," Myers said. "We had our scent lock suits and he wasn't smelling me. He didn't know what was going on and we had a stare down."
Then a bear appeared that startled the deer.
"I would guess by the way the deer reacted, he was on the menu," Myers said. "He bolted right then, just shot out of there, and the bear came through."
Myers said the bear ran past him and he pulled the string, but the arrow just grazed over his back.
"I rushed the shot," Myers said of the arrow that landed in a bank behind the bear.
He reached for a second shot, too, but the bear was 50 or 60 yards away and he couldn't get a good sight. Instead, he barked at the bear, but couldn't draw him closer.
"I won't be so overwhelmed by what I'm looking at (next time)," Myers said.
It's about a 6 1/2-hour drive for the Ohioans to reach their spot, yet they consider the drive a small price to pay for such a thrilling sport. There is no bear season in Ohio, although neighboring states Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all offer them.
John Windau, wildlife communications officer at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said there were 152 reported bear sightings in Ohio last season, with 60 of them verified. He estimates there are about 90 bears in the state, too few to have a bear hunting season.
"You can't say never, but you have to have a sustainable or growing population," Windau said. "(Black bears) are endangered and protected in Ohio.
"They're definitely here, in particular in the eastern half of the state. They're coming here from other states, mostly younger bears from West Virginia and sometimes Michigan. It's likely the population will continue to grow."
So at least for now, Bartlett, Myers and others have to go elsewhere. As for Bartlett, whatever he brings home, his wife, Rene Reinhard, will help him eat.
"(Bears) are kind of like pigs. They have about 3/4 inches of fat all around them," Bartlett said. "You have to cut that off before you cook it, and then it's fine."
Information from: News Journal, www.mansfieldnewsjournal.com