Taking down biggest bear in annual hunt makes 12-year-old a celebrity, hero in small Western Maryland town

Before this year's Maryland bear hunt, Colton Lucas was considered a typical 12-year-old living in the Western Maryland town of Kitzmiller. He loved to hunt and fish with his father, Joe, and play football with his friends. His priorities haven't changed in the past two weeks, but the seventh-grader has become a local celebrity. And a hero.

He's received the acclaim for killing a bear — a 376-pound male, which according to Mayor Mike Brady had been terrorizing the residents of Kitzmiller for several years.

It was the largest bear killed of the 65 taken during the four-day controlled hunt that ended Oct. 27.

Karen Lucas, who grew up in the town of about 300 on the Potomac River's northern neck near the West Virginia border, could sense the civic pride after the family had loaded the bear her son killed on the bed of their pickup to take it the local taxidermist to get it mounted.

"We didn't realize there was this many people in Kitzmiller. When we were riding down the street, everybody was stopping him and taking pictures and congratulating him," Karen Lucas, who works as an in-home nurse for the Garrett County Health Department, recalled in a telephone interview last week. "It's been a pretty big deal. Everywhere I've went, everyone has heard."

Jason Shank, the principal at Southern Middle School in Oakland, where Colton is a student, said hunting "is certainly a big part of our culture here" and that pictures of students with the deer or other animals they have killed often adorn a prominent wall in the hallway of the 550-student school. One with Colton and his bear is expected up there soon.

"We try to celebrate that because if that's a choice a student makes, we certainly want to support that. A lot of students and a lot of families I'm sure use their hunting and fishing to support their diet," said Shank, who grew up in the area.

Many of Colton's classmates knew about it the next day.

"By me telling 'em about it," said Colton, who brought a picture of himself with the dead bear for proof.

It was a big deal also for members of the Lucas family, who have lived for decades in the town that Brady said "is 20 miles from anywhere." More than 30 family members still live there or nearby at Deep Creek Lake. A few went along when the Lucases had Colton's bear tagged and weighed near Oakland.

Said Joe Lucas, who works across the West Virginia state line as a coal miner: "It's a day we'll never forget. We can't afford to go out West to hunt; it's a memory in our own backyard."

Even Karen Lucas' grandmother got caught up in the excitement.

"It was the actually the first bear she got to see up close in [her] 87 years," Karen Lucas said.

Said Harry Spiker, the state's bear biologist who manages the hunt and was at the weigh station when the family arrived, "You could tell it was a special moment for them."

It was also the first time Joe Lucas had his number chosen in the lottery since the bear hunt was reinstituted in 2004. According to his father, the younger Lucas has been hunting since "he was 8 or 9" and had killed a four-point buck whose head is now mounted in the family's home next to the eight-pointer his father shot a few years before.

Lucas had taken his son out hunting on the opening day of the bear hunt, and they saw the bear that Colton would eventually kill. They went back after Colton returned home from school the next afternoon and went to the tree stand they had set up. Joe Lucas looked for bears while his son did math homework.

"Fractions," Colton said.

"He just got it completed when it [the bear] came out," Joe Lucas said.

Using his father's hunting riflle, Colton needed one shot to bring down the bear.

The bear Colton killed was himself a bit of a local celebrity — albeit an infamous one. He was the town's wooly bully.

Easily recognizable for what looked like a white V carved into his black chest, the bear had been spotted on countless occasions in the area rummaging through trash cans, turning over bird feeders and seeing no problem with plopping himself down for a meal on someone's porch.

"I had about two hours of video from a trail camera where it had been on my mother and father's porch and it had destroyed all her bird feeders," said Brady, who has lived in Kitzmiller most of his life. "There were several other incidents in the town limits where that bear had terrorized the community. … It was not afraid of people, not at all."

Even Brady's own 19-year-old daughter had a close encounter with it last fall.

"We had a family gathering around Thanksgiving at my parents' home and she was opening the porch door and getting into her vehicle. It was around 9:30 at night, so it was dark. The bear was standing right there coming up on the porch," Brady recalled. "Incidents like that happened at my mother and father's house a lot."

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources had even set traps in the past year to catch it but was unsuccessful. Familiar with the bear's history, Spiker called it a "chronic nuisance." Spiker said he had talked with one particular family — it turned out to be Brady's parents — and asked them not to leave a large can of birdseed on the porch.

"I hate to demonize this animal, but there's no doubt that it had come in contact with humans on numerous occasions," Spiker said.

Spiker was unaware that the mayor's parents were the same people he had talked to about leaving a large tub of birdseed on their porch.

"It's definitely a small world in that area," Spiker said with a laugh.

The night Colton took out the bear, Brady said he heard a shot echoing through the woods around 6:30 p.m.

Sensing that it was coming from near his parents' home, "I knew it was probably that bear," Brady said.

When Brady went down to the taxidermist's office the next day, "there was no mistake that it was that bear."

Brady's parents even gave Colton a thank-you card, Karen Lucas said.

That such a person so young could kill a bear so big does not come as a surprise. A handful of other youngsters, ranging in age from 9 to 14, reported their bear kills to the DNR this year, one of the largest numbers for that age group, according to Spiker.

Spiker thought it was more of a "fluke" than a trend, given that there has been a steady decline in the number of children getting into hunting during the past couple of decades.

The youngest of this year's group, 9-year-old Evan Paugh of Sharpsburg, killed a 102-pound bear. The only girl, 11-year-old Emily Abromowich of Somerset, Pa., took down a 118-pound bear.

Brady, who works as a site superintendent for the Western Maryland 4-H for the University of Maryland, said the DNR conducts a two-day hunter safety course in Oakland. About "85 to 90 percent" of those taking the course are under 16, Brady said.

"We've had to turn people away the last couple of years," Brady said. "I think hunting is making a comeback."

It is certainly big in one Western Maryland household, about a half a mile from the West Virginia border. Joe Lucas can't wait until next year when he tries for the lottery again. He plans to make it a family affair, taking his 17-year-old daughter, Paige, with him, too.

He'll have to find a new gun.

"When Colton shot it, he said, 'Daddy, the gun's mine now,' " Joe Lucas said.


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