Discover the Largest Bear Ever Caught in South Carolina

Black Bear Population by State
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Written by Patrick Sather

Updated: June 15, 2023

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Named in honor of King Charles I of England, South Carolina is a coastal state in the southeastern United States. Prior to statehood, South Carolina was one of the first colonies in the Americas. Over the next two hundred years, the state played an important role in numerous events, including the Revolutionary War and Civil War. Today, South Carolina features numerous important industries, including manufacturing, tourism, aerospace engineering, and agriculture.

South Carolina also contains a high level of geographic diversity. Three distinct geographic regions exist within the state, including the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Atlantic coastal plain, and the Piedmont plateau region. Salt marshes, estuaries, and floodplains cover much of the lowland parts of the state, while mixed hardwood and pine forests cover most of the upland portions. Fun fact, the state’s nickname, the Palmetto State, comes from the sabal palmetto, a native palm species, and the official state tree. Many animals make their homes within these various regions, including rare animals like the red wolf and loggerhead turtle. 

The state also supports a small but stable black bear population. Black bears rank as the largest land mammal within the state and, as such, garner a great deal of media attention. Every year, hunters compete to try and harvest a record-setting bear during the state’s designated hunting season. While most of these bears are of average size, every once in a while, a hunter will stumble upon a truly giant specimen. Keep on reading to discover the largest bear ever caught in South Carolina. We’ll also delve into the history of bears in the state, where you can find them, and population trends. 

Sassafras Mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains, South Carolina

South Carolina contains a high level of geographic diversity such as the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Largest Bear Ever Caught in South Carolina 

The state record for the largest bear ever caught in South Carolina belongs to Heath Smith, a hunter from Easley, South Carolina. Smith harvested the state’s record-setting bear back in 2013 while hunting near the town of Landrum in Greenville County. On Monday, October 21, Smith went out hunting with some friends on a private 360-acre tract of land. While Smith knew that bears roamed the area, he had his eyes set on bagging a deer that morning. So, he got set up in his deer stand with his .30-06 rifle and waited for some action. Eventually, four does entered a nearby food plot. However, Smith knew something must be up when the does start to act strange. Shortly thereafter, the does moved away and a large black bear wandered into Smith’s shooting lane. Smith got a clean shot that hit the bear near the lungs. The bear wandered a short way before it collapsed and expired. 

To Smith’s surprise, the bear he killed wound up earning him a state record. The giant bruin weighed 609 pounds, shattering the previous state record of 594 pounds set in 2007. Given that bears weighing over 500 pounds rarely occur in South Carolina, a bear weighing upwards of 600 pounds was truly historic. Still, Smith’s bear measures far below the largest black bear in history. That giant bear from New Brunswick, Canada, weighed more than 1,100 pounds and stood nearly 8 feet tall.  

The largest bear ever caught in South Carolina weighed 609 pounds.

The state record for the largest bear ever caught in South Carolina weighed 609 pounds.

Bears in South Carolina: Types and Appearance

You can find three different bear species in North America. However, South Carolina is home to only one bear species, Ursus americanus, or the American black bear. The other two species, Ursus arctos (grizzly bear) and Ursus martitmus (polar bear), do not live (and have never lived) in South Carolina. 

Despite their name, American black bear fur can range from blonde to blue-gray or even cinnamon. That said, nearly all black bears feature a light brown muzzle. Specimens can also vary greatly in terms of size. Many factors can affect the size of a bear, including sex, season, and age. Generally speaking, the average American black bear falls within the range of 90 and 500 pounds. However, as Smith’s giant South Carolina bear demonstrates, outliers weighing over 500 pounds do exist. For reference, any black bear over 700 pounds would make the record books in most states. As for length, black bears typically measure between 3 and 5 feet long but can stand up to 7 feet tall or more. 

American black bears have several other characteristic physical traits. They have relatively small heads with straight, narrow features and rounded ears. Like canines, they possess non-retractable claws, which normally measure around 1.5 inches long. Additionally, unlike grizzly bears, American black bears lack a distinct shoulder hump. 

American black bear is the only bear species in South Carolina

South Carolina is home to only one bear species,

Ursus americanus

, or the

American black bear

.

Bears in South Carolina: Habitat

Black bears rank among the most common large land predators in North America. Prior to the arrival of European settlers, black bears ranged throughout the continent. However, aggressive hunting policies and habitat loss combined to reduce black bear populations in many areas, particularly in the Great Plains region. Today, the greatest concentrations of black bears live in Canada, Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, the Great Lakes region, and parts of the southern United States and central Mexico. Black bears require a minimum territory of 15 square miles, but some bears can control territories of several hundred square miles. They occur most commonly in mixed hardwood and pine forests with plenty of shrub vegetation. However, you can also find them in wetlands and swamps, coastal areas, and along near trails or campgrounds. 

Although you can find black bears throughout most of South Carolina, the state contains two major bear regions. Around 800 resident bears live in the upper Piedmont region in the northwest part of the state. The other resident population consists of 300 or so bears in the eastern coastal plains. The vast majority of bears in the coastal plains live in Georgetown or Horry counties. However, sightings continue to increase in Charleston and Berkeley counties. Bears found in the middle part of the state are typically transient bears that wander between these two regions or neighboring states. 

How Many Bears Are There in South Carolina?

Black bears have lived in South Carolina for thousands of years. However, during the 1600s and 1700s, authorities in South Carolina issued decrees to try and wipe out large predators in the state, including bears, bobcats, and wolves. These initiatives led to the widespread eradication of bears to the point where few bears remained in the state. During the 20th century, state regulators reversed track and put in regulations to protect black bears. Today, South Carolina lists the American black as a vulnerable species. It limits the hunting of black bears to a single hunting season and places quotas on the number of bears that can be harvested. Presently, experts estimate that around 1,100 bears live in the state at any point in time. 

Black bear hunting is limited in South Carolina

South Carolina limits the hunting of black bears to a single hunting season and enforces quotas to protect the bear population.

South Carolina officially legalized bear hunting in 1970. The state operates four different Game Zones, two of which allow bear hunting: Zone 1 and Zone 4. The bear hunting season in South Carolina typically runs throughout the month of October. In order to hunt a bear in the state, hunters must acquire a hunting license and a big game permit. Bear tags cost $25 for residents and $100 for non-residents. However, hunters under the age of 16 can acquire a tag without paying a fee. South Carolina does not allow the use of bait when hunting bears, except on private land in Game Zone 4. Additionally, on these private lands, hunters may only use unprocessed bait, such as nuts, grains, fruits, or vegetables. Meanwhile, Zone 4 prohibits the use of dogs when bear hunting, while Zone 1 only allows bear hunting with dogs during a limited window during the hunting season.  

Hunters face penalties if they harvest a bear without a permit or outside of the designated hunting season. Penalties include fines up to but not exceeding $2,500 and imprisonment for not more than 2 years or both. Penalized hunters can also face revocation of their hunting and fishing privileges within the state. Under South Carolina law, it is illegal to buy, sell, or exchange black bears or bear parts. Additionally, South Carolina forbids the hunting of cubs or the killing of mothers with cubs. 

Are Bears Dangerous?

According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, most black bear encounters occur near unsecured food sources. In particular, trash accounts for 33% of encounters, 29% for bird feeders, 15% is attributed to agriculture, and pet food or animal feed account for 11%. This means that a select few encounters occur as a result of public safety or home invasions. By this logic, securing food sources represents the number one thing you can do to avoid a bear encounter. You can accomplish this by removing bird feeders, installing bear-proof trash cans, and bringing pet food indoors. 

Generally speaking, American black bears do not actively hunt humans. On the contrary, they are rather timid by nature and prefer to avoid human encounters. While grizzly bear sows may attack people that get near their cubs, black bear mothers rarely engage in this behavior. However, exceptions do exist. Over time, some bears may grow accustomed to humans and not avoid human interaction. When this happens, these bears disproportionately appear in the list of fatal bear attacks. 

Here’s what you should do if you encounter a bear in South Carolina. First, don’t try to run away. Instead, remain facing the bear and slowly try to back away. If the bear comes toward you, try to scare the bear by making loud noises and making yourself appear larger. You can accomplish this by standing up, yelling, clapping your hands, or raising your arms above your head. In the event that a black bear attacks you, defend yourself. Don’t just lie down and play dead. As an added precaution, always carry an air horn or bear spray with you when hiking or camping in areas with bears.  

Using a bear-proof trash can help prevent access to food sources
Trash accounts for 33% of black bear encounters so using a bear-proof trash can help prevent access to food sources.

Conclusion

South Carolina maintains a population of around 1,100 American black bears year-round. Most of these bears live in the northwest Piedmont plateau or in the southeastern coastal plains. The state operates a black bear hunting season every year in October. Given the thriving hunting culture in the state, only time will tell when the record for the largest bear ever caught in South Carolina will once again be broken.

Where Is Landrum Located on a Map?

Landrum is a city located just west of Interstate 26 between Spartanburg and Asheville, North Carolina. It was founded in 1880 and has just over 2,000 residents. It is actually in Spartanburg County, so Heath Smith hunted just over the border in Greenville County, S.C.


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