Tradesville farmer spots black bear near turkey barns

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“I can tell you one thing – he wasn’t botherin’ me and I wasn’t about to bother him.” – Billy Catoe, on the black bear he saw July 11

By Greg Summers

Could a black bear’s recent search for love have taken him near two Tradesville turkey barns? 

Local farmer Billy Catoe isn’t sure.

However, the one thing Catoe does know is what he saw just before lunchtime Thursday, July 18, when a more than 200-pound bear ambled down the fence line next to Catoe’s 95-acre farm in the 6100 block of Shiloh Unity Road.

With almost 18,000 turkeys within two weeks of going to market, Catoe said this bear could’ve enjoyed an early Thanksgiving meal, if he chose to do so. But Catoe said the bear showed no interest in stopping for lunch.

“He was just walkin’ at the same pace,” Catoe said. “I was a little surprised to see him, but not enough to be stunned, so to speak. I can tell you one thing – he wasn’t botherin’ me and I wasn’t about to bother him.”

Catoe’s neighbor, Gary Small, saw the bear, too, though neither man was able to get photos.

“Gary said he was glad I saw it, because nobody would believe him. Funny thing, though. That bear had grown about 200 pounds walking by that fence by the time Gary told about it in his living room,” Catoe said, laughing.

The Thursday sighting is the second bear encounter in Lancaster County in the last four weeks. One was seen in a tree on Sumter Street in Kershaw on June 28.

In that incident, deputies, along with town employees and S.C. Department of Natural Resources agents, backed everyone away and the male bear climb down and ran off.

That week, four bears were spotted in the region – here, as well as in Cabarrus and Union counties, N.C.

But Brett Witt, spokesman for S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said there has been no uptick in bear sightings in the state.

“Black bears have been reliably sighted in 45 of the 46 counties,” Whitt said. “Yes, the populations are primarily in the Pee Dee and Upstate, but bears wander in the warmer months, typically during mating season.”

This time of year, yearling male bears can be driven from their territories by mature male bears.

Given the size of the bear Catoe saw, he isn’t sure if that’s the case. He believes it could be a matter of looking for love in Tradesville. As a general rule, the peak mating season for bears is June and July.

“Males are territorial and will mate with as many females as they can,” he said.

Whitt found it interesting this bear wasn’t interested in a turkey dinner and believes that can be attributed to variety of factors. While bears are omnivores that will eat anything, Whitt said the smell and noise made by the turkeys could have turned him off or he just wasn’t hungry.

“That’s a tough one to sketch out. One thing to remember is a bear is going to go after the easiest pickings he can. 

“He’ll go after your garbage can or outdoor grill before he breaks in and raids your refrigerator,” Whitt said.

Contact copy editor Greg Summers at (803) 283-1155