Nick Harnden had to make some adjustments to the treestand he was going to share with his son, Noah, during their recent bear hunt in Aroostook County.

For most hunters, the shooting rail that swings down in front provides a place to rest the rifle in preparation for taking a shot. For Noah, that wasn’t an option. He’s not your average bear hunter.

“He’s too short for the rail. It’s over his head,” said Nick Harnden, who lives in Cadyville, New York, in the Adirondacks.

So they draped some burlap around the front of the stand, adjusted it with zip ties and improvised by leaving a space through which Noah could see and on which he could rest the barrel of his rifle.

“It was an interesting situation but the stand was perfect,” Nick said, praising the efforts of Bob Lento at Aroostook Guide Services. “Bob set it up and he didn’t mind us changing things around so Noah could shoot.”

Noah Harnden is 6 years old. On Monday, he experienced a thrill for even the most seasoned big-game hunter when he shot a black bear hunting on a bait site maintained by Lento in the Mars Hill area.

Noah Harnden (left) and his dad, Nick Harnden, give a thumbs up after the 6-year-old hunter shot his first Maine black bear on Monday while hunting in Aroostook County. Credit: Courtesy of Bob Lento, Aroostook Guide Services

“When he got up in the stand, you couldn’t even see him,” Lento said.

Noah Harnden joined what has to be some select company in harvesting a Maine bear at 6 years old. What he lacked in age he made up for with comfort in the outdoors, time spent honing his shooting skills, the guidance of his father and the support of a willing Registered Maine Guide.

“Bob truly cares and wants people to hunt,” Nick said. “He’s going to get you on a bear. He makes Maine look really good.”

In hunting, nothing is more important than being able to take an ethical and accurate shot. Noah waited for the right moment — even waiting until the bear had come back to all fours after rising up on its hind legs. His shot with a .223 rifle was right on target and the bear only went 20 yards.

“I was the first one to shoot a bear,” Noah said of earning bragging rights among fellow hunters guided by Lento during the week.

The sow, or female bear, weighed 120 pounds.

“He got excited after the shot, but during he was calmer than me,” Nick said. “I was really proud of him.”

“I’m just as thrilled as can be for them; the smile on their faces,” Lento said. “That’s the best part of me being a guide.”

Noah’s favorite part of the sit? Watching the raccoons that visited the bait site.

Later Monday, Nick Harnden and John Downey, who Harnden described as being like a father to him, each harvested boars — male bears — that weighed more than 200 pounds.

For Nick, who hadn’t even planned to hunt while on the trip, that paled in comparison to the experience of being with Noah for his first bear.

“I get more joy out of watching him do it,” he said.

When it comes to spending time outdoors, Noah is not your average youngster. Since he was born, Nick and Melissa Harnden have taken their son along on virtually all of their adventures hiking, hunting, trapping, shooting and fishing.

“He learned to talk and learned to count in a backpack,” said Nick, an avid lifelong outdoorsman who works for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

He is also a volunteer firefighter, a nuisance animal control officer and a wild game butcher.

For Noah’s parents, there has been no real need for a babysitter.

“We just involve him. Instead of finding reasons to get rid of him, we find reasons to bring him,” Nick said.

Noah’s ties to the outdoors start with his name. Noah Trapper Harnden is named after Noah John Rondeau, a survivalist who was a hermit in the Adirondacks.

Noah started out shooting a BB gun and also can use a bow and arrow. Since last fall, he has been practicing using the .223 and previously shot a turkey.

Noah Harnden of Cadyville, New York, poses with a turkey he harvested. Credit: Courtesy of Nick Harnden

Nick was confident in Noah’s ability to make a good shot when the time came because of how much he had practiced.

“By the time we headed up, we weren’t worried about the shot. As long as he could see it, he could hit it,” Nick said.

Nick Harnden and Bob Lento knew each other from a previous bear hunting trip, but Harnden had to do a little convincing for Lento to agree to having a 6-year-old in one of his stands.

“I told Nick, I’ve never heard tell of a 6-year-old shooting a bear in my life. I was kind of skeptical,” said Lento, who ultimately trusted that Nick had taught his son well.

The Harndens chose Maine for one important reason. The state does not have a minimum age requirement for hunters, whereas New York requires a hunter to be at least 12 years old.

Lento was further encouraged about Noah in part because of the success of another client, a young girl, who had twice successfully shot a bear using a .223 rifle with a modified round. And in his experience with hunters using smaller caliber rifles, all of those bears were recovered.

Noah, a left-handed shot, also was shooting a bonded bullet, a round loaded specifically for bears. The bullets were provided by fellow New Yorker Keith Rabideau, whose daughter previously had used them with excellent results.

“That was a big help,” Nick said. “Noah shoots a .223 perfect. There’s no real recoil. He’s comfortable with it. I didn’t really want to jump up in caliber.”

Nick admitted that once he and Noah are in the stand, the setup, aim and trigger pull are all squarely in the youngster’s hands.

“I can’t really help him,” Nick said. “He’s got different eyes. It’s not like you can put him on your lap and hold the gun up and he can lean over and shoot.”

Spending hours in a treestand with a 6-year-old does come with a few challenges. Noah is well versed in remaining quiet and mostly still.

“You’re gonna need a snack. You’re gonna need a drink,” Nick said. “He likes to take a nap in the treestand.”

When Noah Harnden heads back to school this week to start first grade, he’s going to have an incredible story to tell. He’ll also likely relate some other fun things he and his dad did while they were in Maine, including a visit to Acadia National Park.

His favorite part of the whole trip?

“The swimming,” he said of an impromptu visit to cool off in a County river.

And there was a non-hunting highlight for dad, also.

“The other big feat was, he learned to tie his shoes,” Nick said.

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...