FRANKLIN, Maine — Around 11 p.m. Wednesday, Larry Scott, sitting on the metal roof of a goat shed at the property of his neighbors Becka and Jeff Gagne, heard a rustling in the trees on the far side of the paddock.
He turned on a flashlight and saw what he had been waiting for — a bear that apparently had killed two goats at the Gagnes’ small farm in separate incidents over the past few weeks. The bear had returned to the Hooper Road property for the carcass of its most recent victim, which the Gagnes had left out in the hope that it would lure the bear back.
Scott squeezed the trigger of his .306 rifle and killed the bear with one shot behind the shoulder.
The bear was a female without cubs, Scott said Thursday. He guessed it was about 5 years old and weighed between 200 and 300 pounds.
“It’s a good-sized bear for a female,” said Scott, who is an experienced hunter and trapper. “It was a really fat bear.”
But whether the bear’s death will bring peace and quiet back to the Gagnes’ farm and to the property of John Roscoe and Jenny Minard in neighboring Sullivan remains to be seen. Roscoe and Minard had one goat killed and another injured by a bear in a similar incident at their Track Road property last week, but it is not clear that the killings were the work of just one animal.
Jeff Gagne said Thursday morning that he was not happy that the apparent culprit was dead as much as he was relieved about the safety of his animals and his two small children. He said he was not sure why the bear seemed more interested in eating his goats than in finding another food source.
“I’m still grappling with the cause,” he said as the dead bear hung upside down from a nearby tree. “I wish I knew what was going on in that bear’s mind. It still seems pretty surreal.”
Gagne said that now that the bear is dead, he plans to make sure it doesn’t go to waste. He and his family plan to eat the meat and preserve the pelt, he said, and to give the paws and bones to a neighbor.
Roscoe said Thursday that he thinks the bear Scott shot is the same bear that walked into his barn last week and climbed over a wall before it killed one goat and seriously injured another. He said the bear also defecated in his barn, leaving behind material that he and Minard hope can be sent off to a lab to see if the DNA matches that of the one shot in Franklin.
If it matches, Roscoe said, he and Minard will feel better about the safety of their animals, which have been moved temporarily to a neighbor’s house to be out of harm’s way.
“That will be a huge relief, for sure,” he said.
According to Roscoe, he and Minard awoke early Oct. 14 when they heard a commotion in their barn. He went out to investigate, expecting to find a raccoon, but instead saw a bear climb out of the goat pen, first up into the rafters and then up a ladder into the barn loft.
He and Minard called the Maine Warden Service, and when Warden David Simmons showed up about 10 minutes later, it was still in the loft. Simmons drove the bear off by throwing pieces of lumber at it.
Gagne and Roscoe each said that the bear passed up an easy chance to eat grain at their properties and instead opted to go for the goats.
Simmons said Thursday that a female between 200 and 300 pounds is “a good-sized sow.”
Adult males can weigh between 250 and 600 pounds, with the average weighing in the 250-350-pound range, according to wildlife biologist Craig McLaughlin on IF&W’s Web page. Males can reach 6 feet in length from nose to tail and stand 40 inches at the shoulder. Adult females can weigh between 100 and 400 pounds, with the average weighing in the 150-200-pound range. They can reach 5 feet in length from nose to tail and stand 30 inches at the shoulder, according to McLaughlin.
Warden Simmons said it was legal to shoot the bear because it was threatening livestock and was on private property.
Simmons said he recently received a complaint from another nearby landowner that a bear had tried unsuccessfully to get into a barn where they kept horses. Because bears are frequently spotted in the area, he said, people should make sure their livestock animals are kept in protected enclosures at night.
It is uncommon, but not abnormal, for bears to go after such animals for food, according to the warden. He said that bears that live near humans frequently end up finding food at the residences.
“We feed them, whether we know it or not,” Simmons said. “When [the bear] learned how easy it was [to go after goats], she was going to keep doing it.”
It is not illegal for people to feed bears recreationally, Simmons said, but he strongly discourages it because it inevitably leads to conflicts between the fed bears and humans. People may end up with property damage or dead animals, he said, and when they do the bear frequently ends up dead.
“Let’s cross our fingers and hope [that the problem is resolved],” he said. “We’ll find out if we get any more goats killed.”
Scott said Thursday that he was happy to help the Gagnes when they approached him last week and asked for his help. Scott stood watch over their farm for a few hours Sunday, the day after their second goat was killed, and went back again Wednesday night to relieve Jeff Gagne at his post on the goat shed roof.
Scott said bears are intelligent and that he found it unusual for a bear to target livestock for food. The bear appeared to have been healthy, he said, and there have been plenty of other things for it to eat, such as apples and grubs.
“I’ve never seen that in my life — bears killing goats or sheep,” he said.
Roscoe said he and Minard are not sure what they will do about their animals, which include dogs, chickens and horses. Even if DNA tests prove that Scott shot the same bear that attacked their goats, they are loath to risk going through the experience again with another bear. There’s only so much they can do to make a barn bearproof, he said.
“It will rip a door off. It will dig under if it wants to,” Roscoe said.
In the meantime, Sully, their goat that was bitten through the neck but lived, seems to be on his way to a full recovery from the attack.
“He was jumpy and skittish for a couple of days, but he’s come back remarkably well,” Roscoe said.