Jamie Lambert of Ellsworth has spent years pursuing a large black bear that has been roaming around property owned by his friend, hunting companion and neighbor, Mike Clough.
Clough, who operates Green Lake Guide Service, has encountered the bear in his backyard and has captured it on camera hundreds of times over the past seven years, as long as he has been a Registered Maine Guide.
“That bear terrorized my neighborhood, actually,” Clough said. “He was a bird feeder ripper. He was around houses.”
This season, Clough has been busy maintaining numerous bait sites and taking clients on hunts. Again, he has let his buddy hunt on his land to pursue the big one.
It is a tribute to Lambert’s experience hunting bears.
“A bear of that caliber is so smart that it takes a certain type of hunter to actually kill a bear like that,” said Clough, who had estimated its weight at more than 400 pounds. “There’s very few people that I know who are as good as Jamie.”
Despite visits to the bait by a 250- to 300-pound bear, the bruiser almost always arrived shortly after the end of legal shooting and sometimes later at night.
Two previous sits hadn’t produced a sighting for Lambert, but last week the veteran hunters threw in a couple of wrinkles in an attempt to trip up the bear they call “Zodiac.”
“I actually cut the bait off from him for just one day,” Clough said, “trying to make him think that possibly another bear had got in there ahead of him and cleaned it out.”
That wasn’t all. They decided that when Lambert, who lives down the road from Clough, walked into the stand last Saturday afternoon, he would deviate from his normal path and take a different trail to the stand.
“Mike was optimistic, but I had my doubts about [the bear] being tricked,” Lambert said.
Conditions were good — not too warm, with only a slight breeze — as Lambert sat in the stand. But things were predictably quiet. He was prepared to concede that this was a nocturnal bear.
“A lot of those big bears, they don’t feel comfortable until it’s dark,” Clough said.
About 20 minutes before the end of legal shooting at 7:12 p.m., Lambert trained his scope on the barrel to gauge the lighting. There wasn’t a lot of time or light left but, moments later, the silence was shattered.
“All of a sudden I heard spruce limbs breaking, something coming through the woods,” Lambert said.
Realizing that bears — sometimes referred to as the ghosts of the woods — are usually pretty stealthy, he couldn’t help but wonder if Zodiac had arrived.
“I knew it was a big animal. My first instinct was, it’s him,” he said, admitting he wasn’t sure.
He saw a patch of black approaching from his right. He repositioned himself, but the bear closed the distance too quickly and went behind the bait.
As Lambert focused on the horizontal 55-gallon barrel, the bear made its way around. He backed his scope off just a hair, then squeezed the trigger.
Still unsure of whether it was the big bear, Lambert enlisted the help of a friend, Mark Hellum, to come help him track it while Clough finished up with his clients.
They discovered the bear some 100 yards away.
“My biggest bear before that probably was 205,” Lambert said. “I’d seen big bears on camera, but to see that one on the ground is just a surreal thing.”
The boar later tipped the scales at a whopping 516 pounds, live weight.
That’s when the real work began.
“They were both like, what are we gonna do now?” joked Clough.
He arrived and was thrilled for his friend because both of them had enjoyed such a long history of pursuing Zodiac. Clough had seen one other bear on camera several years ago that might have been larger, but this one was now right in front of him.
“The pictures don’t do it justice, to be honest. Seeing it in person, it’s just humongous,” Clough said.
They wrestled the animal into a jumbo-sized plastic Jet Sled and began pulling it the 150 yards or so back to Clough’s house, 4 feet of rope at a time.
“It wasn’t a very long drag, which was great,” Lambert said. “Then getting it in the truck, the three of us, it took everything we had.”
Both men admitted they don’t know whether either of their tactical changes had played a role in the outcome of the hunt.
In the end, the experience was somewhat bittersweet for Lambert.
“It’s a quest and when those quests end, as a hunter, you thank the animal and appreciate everything it did for you and move on and remember the memory,” he said.
Lambert and Clough have built a deep connection through their hunting exploits and that is what made harvesting this bear so special.
“He treats me the way he treats his clients. He does the work and that’s what he loves,” Lambert said. “He makes that connection with his hunters.”
Lambert took the head and hide to North Rhodes Taxidermy in Searsport, where they will prepare a half-body mount to commemorate the hunt.
In the meantime, the men are hoping the bear’s skull may challenge the Maine Antler and Skull Trophy Club record.