June 17, 2018
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Bear was a big boy, but perhaps not the biggest

Contributed | BDN
Contributed | BDN
Dave Rizkallah, of Derry, N.H., poses with the black bear he shot while hunting out of Wilderness Escape Outfitters in T8, R4 near Danforth on Sept. 7. The bear was weighed on three scales after being field-dressed with its weight ranging from 490 to 497 3/4 pounds. Guide Randy Flannery estimates that the bear's live weight would have been between 602 and 622 pounds. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Flannery) w/HOLYOKE STORY, 2 col max
By John Holyoke, BDN Staff

The bear that Dave Rizkallah shot on Sept. 7 may be the second largest ever taken by a hunter in Maine. It may be the largest ever killed by a bow hunter in this state. But like many great hunting stories, there’s plenty of room for interpretation — and debate — in this tale.

Rizkallah, who lives in Derry, N.H., shot the bear while hunting out of Wilderness Escape Outfitters. The lodge is just outside of Danforth on Upper Hot Brook Lake.

Randy Flannery, who owns Wilderness Escape Outfitters with his wife, Sharon, said he has a good idea how big the bear was. But to get to that number, you’ve got to trust some math formulas that Flannery said have been very accurate in the past.

The problem: The bear was field-dressed before it was weighed. Record Maine bears are typically judged based on their live weights, before field-dressing.

“I was always taught that for a bear under 200 pounds, the live weight is 18 to 20 percent higher [than the field-dressed weight],” Flannery said. “For a bear between 200 and 400 pounds, it’s 20 to 22 percent [higher]. And I was taught that over 400 it could be from 20 to 25 percent.”

Thus, the math.

“We weighed it in three different places. One weight was 490. One weight was 493. And one was 497¾, field-dressed,” Flannery said. “We came up with a round figure of 612 [for a live weight], but it could be 10 pounds either side of that.”

Many of the state’s biggest bears are taken while hunting behind dogs each year, but Rizkallah shot the bear over bait. Flannery doesn’t offer hound hunts at his lodge.

“We knew there was a big bear in the area. To be honest, the bear messed up. Usually the big bears wait until dark. He made a mistake,” Flannery said.

Randy Cross, a biologist who serves as the field crew leader for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife’s ongoing bear study, said at 612 pounds, the bear would be 2 pounds heavier than the existing bow record. The overall state record is a 680-pounder that was shot over hounds, he wrote in response to a recent e-mail.

Adding to the confusion: The DIF&W doesn’t maintain actual record books for bear or deer. The DIF&W lets the folks at The Maine Sportsman, an outdoor publication, take care of that, Cross wrote.

“We have better records for moose since we actually weighed most of them ourselves for so many years,” Cross wrote.

Flannery said he has seen a number of big bears over the past few years, and Rizkallah’s bear posed some retrieval problems for him and his crew.

“This one here was really, really big,” Flannery said. “It took eight of us until 4 in the morning to get it out of the woods, and we had it strapped to a hand cart.”

A year ago, a handgun hunter shot a 407-pounder out of Wilderness Escape Outfitters and Flannery’s hunters took a total of seven bears that weighed more than 300 pounds. A few years back, he said, a hunter shot a bear that was 8½ feet tall. By comparison, Rizkallah’s bear was 6½ feet tall.

Flannery and his wife began work on Wilderness Escape Outfitters in 1996 and opened for business in 1997.

“We built the lodge ourselves — lived in a camper, bathed in the lake, cooked on a gas grill,” Flannery said. “It was quite an experience.”

Flannery said he has nine guides working for him. The guide in charge of Rizkallah’s hunt was Jeff Leach.

And Flannery said the lucky hunter may have been spoiled by his success on the hunt.

“This was his first bear hunt. And to be honest with you, I don’t think he still realizes what he has,” Flannery said.

The guides who tracked the bear and wheeled it out of the woods, however, knew exactly what they were seeing.

“I found it and said, ‘Look at the size of that bear,’” Flannery said. “There were four of us guides that were tracking it. We were all amazed.”

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