Larry Case: Many work together to make bear hunt special

Squirrel hunting requires patience and diligence, and those skills are valuable as building blocks for going after bigger game like deer and turkey, writes outdoors columnist Larry Case.
photo FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2013, file photo, a grizzly bear cub forages for food a few miles from the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Mont. American Indians across the Western US have stepped into the debate over plans to remove federal protections for grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies, saying they oppose trophy hunting of an animal that many tribes consider sacred. (Alan Rogers/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP, File) MANDATORY CREDIT
Is there any hope for us? Guess I better let you know right from the start that I have been a little down about my fellow man lately. I mean, folks, it's Christmas time, the time of year I personally think should be one of the most joyous. But I look around and see how we treat each other. Hardly a week goes by without some new atrocity, some new outrage of man's inhumanity to man all over the news.

Even if we don't dwell on the massive evil displayed around the world, there seems to be plenty of minor league discontent right in our own back yard. If you tarry for five seconds in a lane at Wally World, you may find yourself trampled by another shopper not exactly filled with a Christmas spirit.

Is there any hope for us? I don't know.

In the midst of all my cheerfulness the other day I got an invitation to join a bear hunt in Monroe County, W.Va. The hunt was sponsored and organized by the United Special Sportsman's Alliance ( The USSA is a nonprofit "dream-wish" granting charity that specializes in sending children and veterans with life-threatening illnesses and disabilities on the outdoor adventures of their dreams.

"USSA is composed of a 100 percent volunteer staff from all walks of life, bonded together by a common love for our fellow man and a deep respect and appreciation of our world's natural resources," Brigid O'Donoghue, founder and CEO of USSA, told me.

By working cooperatively with caring donors such as land owners, preserve owners, ranches, outfitters, fishing lodges, boat owners and campground owners, USSA is able to coordinate a true life adventure for everyone.

Generous corporate and individual sponsors help pay the expenses incurred by the recipient while attending the dream-wish adventure. Together this strong team structure has allowed USSA to grant more than 10,000 dream adventures in 43 states to these special people since September 2000, and the number keeps growing rapidly each year.

The two young men hoping to fill a bear tag this day were Josh Svejda from Spencer, Wis., and Colton Moore from Columbus, Ga. Both came filled with anticipation for what it might be like to go on a bear hunt with hounds in the mountains of West Virginia.

If you have ever been on a bear hunt with dogs, you probably know that this type of hunt takes quite a bit of work and organization. The guys who put this outing together were more than up to the task. The bear hunter support and dog power were handled by Kish Justice from White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Kish is a longtime bear hunter, and this type of hunting is his passion.

The general organization of this endeavor was handled by West Virginia Natural Resources Police Officers, and taking the lead for them was officer Andrew Lyons, no stranger to bear hunting himself.

After arriving at the property to be hunted - owned by Lewisburg, W.Va., native Jim Justice - Officer Lyons and Kish Justice lost no time in directing a couple of parties of bear hunters to cast their hounds in search of a bear. In what seemed only a matter of minutes, the loud bawling of the hounds told us they were on a hot track.

As the entire party stood listening to the chase, the bear swerved down the mountain and crossed the jeep trail within 50 yards of us. A pack of baying hounds chasing a very large bear in such close proximity to us was what you might call stimulating.

Twelve-year-old Colton Moore told me later how exciting it was for him when that big bear exploded out of the brush right in front of us.

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Colton said. "I was just overwhelmed that all of these people came together and did this for me. All the bear hunters bringing their dogs, the DNR officers making sure everyone was safe and Mr. Justice allowing us to hunt on his land, it was amazing."

Colton's mother, Kristi, was equally astonished at the welcome that she and her husband Scott received in the West Virginia hills.

"I was amazed at how helpful and sweet everyone was to us. At first I was a little worried about being the only female in the crowd, but they all made me feel right at home. I loved it!" she said.

She told me she decided to come on the hunt to see for herself how Colton reacted. He had just been released from the hospital, and she was concerned about him climbing up the mountain once the bear had been treed by the hounds.

"I saw the look on his face, and he was very determined to get that bear!" she said.

I climbed up that hill with Colton myself, and I can tell you it was no walk in the park. Once he had made the shot (aptly assisted by officer Ritchie Miller) and the bear was his, Kristi said the look on her son's face was "pure joy." She clearly was very happy that she was there to see it.

Colton's father told me as we huffed and puffed our way up the hill to where the bear was treed that this hunt, this whole endeavor, was a lesson in cancer survivorship.

"As a parent, when you hear that your child has cancer, it is devastating. All that you can think about is death," Scott Moore admitted. "But I want people to know that with many of today's treatments, the chance of surviving is high. We had some rough times with Colton, and now he is here walking up this mountain. People need to know there is hope!"

Svejda certainly earned his bear. The next chase left the area we started from, and the bear finally treed close to the top of nearby Peters Mountain. A group of hunters led by Officer Lyons started up the mountain to get Josh to the tree, and to be perfectly honest I was kind of glad I was not with them. Rough, rocky and straight up is the best way to describe it.

This party was out of radio contact for a long time, and I was getting a little worried. When they finally got close to the tree, the bear bailed out, crossed the top of the mountain and disappeared into Virginia. He may still be running.

Josh needn't have worried about his chance for success. Justice wisely had taken another group of hounds and hunters in search of a bear track and soon had a lively chase going. When this bear finally treed, Josh made an excellent shot with his .280 Remington and had his bear.

I marveled as I watched this young man grin ear to ear over his trophy. Here was a guy who has battled cancer in one form or another since he was 2 years old! Not once through the whole ordeal did I hear him complain. Every time I saw him he would have a big smile and the thumbs-up sign.

USSA, West Virginia DNR officers, Kish Justice and the bear hunters (and your dogs) and property owner James Justice, take a bow. You made it possible for two very special young men to realize a dream, and I got to be there to see it. How cool is that?

Is there any hope for us? You had better believe there is!

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