By Rob Gratson
AJ Seman Jr.'s brothers, Jim and Brian, drew the short straws in November of 2005. AJ happened to be in the right place at the right time to collect his first-ever black bear in 15 years of hunting them. Photo by: Rob Gratson
Fayette County, Pa., especially Game Land 51, is noted for its plentiful game and variety of hunting opportunities. In 2005, it gained yet another distinction: yielder of the new Keystone State record black bear. (The bruin also ranks No. 3 in the Boone and Crockett Club's record book.)
The incredible bear's noggin scored 23 3/16 inches. Its estimated live weight was 733 pounds - not bad for a 15-year-old animal.
The name that'll forever be associated with the bruin is Andrew Seman Jr. - or, as known by friends, "AJ."
AJ and brothers Jim and Brian hunted together for 28 years, from Pennsylvania to Idaho and Colorado. On Nov. 21, 2005, AJ and Jim were at their cabin in the hills of Fayette County, scouting nearby a couple of days prior to the bear opener. They found lots of bear sign and were optimistic.
When the three-day season opened on a Monday, the brothers developed a game plan after breakfast. Both decided to sit that entire first day in very promising spots.
The first day ended up proving how tough bear hunting can be. There were shots nearby and a lot of game seen ... but no bears. So a Plan B was hatched.
When AJ and Jim returned to camp, Brian had arrived from Colorado. The trio decided to put on small drives in thick areas the following morning.
They began their pushes near the Glade Run and Zebley Flats area, honing in on small woodlots and thickets near Dunbar Creek - prime black bear and whitetail habitat.
Photo by: Rob Gratson
The entire area - thousands of acres - had been clear-cut years ago due to moth damage. Today, it's some of the best wildlife habitat in the state. It's not an area for the faint of heart to hunt. It is rugged, steep and thick, a place any self-respecting beagle would avoid.
AJ and Brian worked the area in small sections, circling Jim and still-hunting along the ridges, rather than mounting an all-out drive. They moved very slowly, in turn. One would go a short distance and then stop, and then the other caught up. This went on for miles.
They jumped bears a couple of times, but they never saw them. Many folks would have called it an unsuccessful morning, but not the Seman brothers.
They understand that not killing an animal doesn't make or break a hunt.
That afternoon, they opted to hunt nearer the cabin in the Dunbar Mountains.
The weather was great, and the wind was right. AJ said there was an overwhelming feeling of impending success.
Afield again, the brothers performed their leapfrog still-hunting along the ridgetops. They saw bear sign and even jumped a bear or two. But no shots were fired.
Frustrations surfaced as the afternoon progressed. Around 2:30, they discussed scouting the area near camp for the upcoming deer season, which would start the following week. But Jim convinced the others to try still-hunting near the cabin, where AJ had found a lot of good bear sign earlier in the day. AJ and Brian volunteered to make a huge circle, while Jim headed for an open area to hopefully catch a bear crossing the clearing.
AJ and Brian, meanwhile, walked up to the ridge and began still-hunting in rotation toward Jim. They were only 50 yards apart, but still out of each other's sight within the thick cover. AJ said he could see only 35 yards in any direction.
At one point, he zeroed in on two giant rocks in front of him. They covered a spot about 15 square feet, obstructing his view of anything beyond them. But he knew that it was Brian's turn to move. If AJ moved, he might upset the rotation. So he waited.
At 3 p.m., AJ heard a faint crack and looked up into the rocks just in time to see a bear loping.
"Not running," he said. "More like jogging."
The bruin passed between the rocks, moving from AJ's right to left at 25 yards.
On instinct, AJ raised his rifle and fired, and he missed. The second shot dropped the bear.
A couple minutes later, Brian joined him. And since the bear was still breathing, he suggested that AJ administer the coup de grâce, just to be sure.
AJ was going to shoot the bear in the head, but Brian stopped him.
"NO, that is your trophy!" he pleaded.
The last shot was into the bruin's chest. Eight minutes later, the brothers approached the bear. It wasn't until they tried to move the animal that they quickly realized it was "better than your average bear."
It took all three brothers to simply roll it over for field-dressing.
Other bear hunters in the area had heard the Semans' radio conversations and called to ask if they needed assistance, which was much appreciated. A whole group of guys soon showed up, and the lot of them managed to move the bear 100 yards out to a clearing. From there, it was a nightmare. After getting it across the clearing and up a hillside, they stopped to wait for a tractor with a bucket.
Once the bear was back at camp, hunters from all over flocked to see it. The trip to the Southwest Region Office and check station looked like a convoy of orange. And the bear completely filled the bed of AJ's truck.
Once at the check station, the animal's status - at least in weight - was confirmed. It's the eighth-heaviest bear ever recorded from Pennsylvania.
The skull needed to dry for 60 days before it could be officially measured, so it wasn't taped until February. And at 23 3/16 inches, it's the largest black bear ever taken legally by a hunter in Pennsylvania, and ties a California bruin that now holds the world hunter-taken record. (That score will have to be corroborated by a panel of measurers during the B&C Club's 2007 awards program.)
Turns out, the Pennsylvania Game Commission captured the Seman bear in October 1997, while handling a cornfield damage complaint in Wharton Township in Fayette County. It was tagged and relocated to SGL 111 in Somerset County, but it obviously found its way back to Fayette. When relocated, the bear weighed 605 pounds and was estimated to be 7 years old.
Editor's Note: According to Pennsylvania wildlife officials, only two other black bears in the world have higher scores. One is a skull that was found in Utah that tallies 23 10/16 inches. The other is the 23 7/16-inch skull from a Pennsylvania bear that was poached in 1987.
-- Reprinted from the July 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine