Like other septuagenarians who still like to whack an ace down the line in tennis or sink a long birdie putt in golf, Bonnie Kelley still enjoys the rewards of hunting.
It's in her blood, having been raised in Western Maryland and having returned there, from Anne Arundel County, to rear her three children after her first marriage ended in divorce. Kelley said she started to hunt again after meeting her second husband, Lee, an avid outdoorsman.
Slowed by knee replacement surgeries she had a decade ago, the now 71-year-old Kelley had entered Maryland's black-bear-hunt lottery every year since the annual hunt was re-established in 2004. Kelley had played her part as a member of the Maryland Wildlife Advisory Commission.
Until this year, she never had been picked in the lottery.
Talk about good timing. Kelley wound up taking the first of the 69 bears that were killed in this year's four-day hunt, which ended Thursday. It gave her every bit the thrill — and maybe more — of the hunting trip she took to the Arctic Ocean near Hudson Bay with her husband, Lee Kelly, a few years ago, when they shot four caribou.
"It's so exciting. Your adrenaline pumps; it's just important that you make a clean shot," she said.
This year's bear hunt was over pretty quickly for Kelley. Early Monday morning, some two hours after she settled into a ground blind on Charlie Powell's farm on Rock Lodge Road in Garrett County, an adult male bear found his way into the cornfield about 75 yards from where Kelley was waiting.
"I was there, just fiddling around, watching the edge of the cornfield," she said. "I saw the bear come, and he didn't even know I was there. He just meandered into the weeds. I just raised my rifle, took an aim and made a clean shot on him. That's not a hard shot."
The 219-pound male bear Kelley shot was one of six that had ravaged Powell's farm in recent months.
"If you could see the bear damage on this man's farm, you would shudder," she said. "There are places that are as big as a house that have been knocked down, and I don't mean just one of them. He had 200 or so acres of corn planted, and it's just incredible what damage those six bears can do."
A few years ago, all 75 of the ring-necked pheasants Lee and Bonnie Kelley were raising were killed by a bear, or bears, in a covered backyard pen of their home in Accident.
"They didn't leave any. They didn't eat them all. They just killed them," Bonnie Kelley said. "This happens up here all the time. There's always a nuisance bear. When they come out in the spring, they are hungry and they will eat anything. Someone told me they spend 20 hours a day eating in the fall."
Because of her accuracy, Bonnie Kelley didn't get to enjoy much of the scheduled four-day, quota-less hunt that was implemented this year after last year's hunt fell a bear short of the 95-bear quota, even with two extra days added.
Harry Spiker, a bear biologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who manages the hunt, said Friday that a combination of wet, cold weather and concentrated areas of acorns and blackberries — two favorite foods of bears — kept the number for the hunt down this year.
It certainly wasn't a deterrent for Kelley, who would love to get a second chance next year.
"I hope I get another permit" in 2015, she said. "It's not easy for me to get out and hunt anymore. I just can't get out and walk and hunt and climb over logs like I used to do."
Having hunted and fished around the world, the Kelleys can't get to the exotic places they did when they were younger. Lee Kelley, 70, called his trip to Alaska for a brown bear hunt five years ago, in which he walked 7 miles in snowshoes, "his last hurrah."
Bonnie Kelley said her 10-year-old grandson "was thrilled" about her taking a bear, but she knows that some will look at her accomplishment a little cockeyed.
"I know you have people who don't like hunters, but we are not trophy hunters," she said. "We enjoy a big animal if we can get it. But everything we kill, we eat. We've flown meat home from Alaska, the Arctic, Texas. We'll have a nice roast to do on Sunday."