Longbow hunter describes his encounter with massive black bear in Bedford County

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoors Columnist

Imagine being alone in the woods, hunting with a primitive longbow when a nearly 700-pound black bear walks toward you.

That happened to a Bedford County archer on Oct. 28 who was hoping he would see a trophy bear or buck.

Cole Schnably, 34, of Bedford with a 681–pound black bear he bagged with a primitive long bow on Oct. 28, 2022.

Cole Schnably, 34, of Bedford killed a 681–pound male black bear while hunting in the Buchanan State Forest in Bedford County.

“I was sitting there (in his treestand), and just happened to hear something coming through the laurel. I thought it was a person at first because it was making so much noise. It took forever for it to feed in toward me,” he said in a telephone interview about the morning hunt.

2022 Black bear hunting:Hunters find three bears weighing more than 700 pounds as rifle seasons soon get underway

The encounter spanned 10 to 15 minutes as he watched the massive bear walk into his effective shooting range. His first shot at about 20 yards fell short of its target. The bear turned and investigated the arrow sticking in the ground. Schnably’s second arrow flew true into the bruin’s vital organs and the bear bounded off.

“I packed up my stuff and got out,” he said about giving it time to die. He went home and changed clothes and got a few friends to help recover the bear.

The hunters found the trophy animal less than 100 yards away from where he shot it.

The public state forest has been a good place for Schnably to hunt. He saw bears in the woods where he was hunting in the past but never one this big. “There’s usually a lot of big bucks in there. I know there’s a pile of bears in there, too.” He likes to hunt in a treestand between 15 and 20 feet off the ground during the overlapping of bear and deer archery seasons.

When it finally happened, he was filled with excitement and adrenaline. “I got more worked up over him coming in real slow than a big buck, almost,” he said. “I never killed one before.”

Two hours to move the bear 80 yards

“I knew it was big. I thought it was close to 500 pounds. They’re hard to judge, but I definitely knew he was big. He (the bear) just climbed the back side of a steep mountain and when he came over the top I could hear him breathing heavy,” he said.

It took about two hours to move the beast about 80 yards until they could get it to an old logging road and load it on a truck. “It was horrible in the rocks and laurel and it was getting stuck on everything,” he said about trying to drag the animal that is the weight equivalent of more than three trophy whitetail bucks.

New check station schedule:Hunters bagging bears over 4 months leads to changes for public bear checking stations

Fortunately, Jeremy Elliott, a deputy state game warden with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, was able to get his vehicle back to the logging road to prevent the sportsmen from having to drag it a half-mile further to a roadway.

Cole Schnably holds the large paw of a 681–pound black bear he shot in Bedford County.

'Incredibile feat'

Schnably was using a 50-pound draw-weight longbow that doesn’t have sights and is effective out to about 25 yards. “It’s more of challenge. I missed a big 8-point,” he said about a Nov. 10 hunt. “If it was a compound (bow that has sights and a longer effective range), he would have been dead.” 

“That’s an incredible feat,” Elliott said about Schnably getting the bear with a longbow. “To have that type of accomplishment with his drive and passion, he’s very in tune.”

Cole Schnably of Bedford and Jeremy Elliott, deputy state game warden with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, sit with Schnably's trophy bear.

Last year he had passed on an opportunity when four bears walked within 30 yards, but he said it was too far for an ethical shot with a longbow. “I’ve been trying to kill one up here for a couple years with it, but never sealed the deal.”

In Elliott’s seven years of working for the Game Commission, he said it’s the largest black bear in Bedford County that was taken with a traditional longbow. The Game Commission inspects every bear that is killed by a hunter, including its size and weight.   

“It’s one of the largest bears to come out of the county.”

2022 Hunting guide:Pennsylvania Hunting: What you need to know about the 2022-23 rules and dates

Bear was feeding on corn

The bear’s digestive tract was full of corn and Elliott said the nearest cornfields are more than a mile away from where Schnably encountered it. “They are actually gorging themselves with as much food as they can to potentially get them through the denning season.”

Elliott said they have had complaints from farmers about bears damaging crops and eating a lot of corn. While inspecting the dead bear and seeing the corn, he remembers telling Schnably, “There’s a county farmer here that’s very happy at the moment.”

Trapping bears

Elliott said they have trapped bears in the 500-pound range in the area before. “I was aware of a bear 600 to 800 pounds in that area that was actually a troublesome bear every spring for about three or four years. There are some folks here who live nearby me that have pictures of that bear on game cameras. They have pictures of it in a vehicle one night, it actually got into a bed of a pickup.”  

Because of the bear’s size, Elliott has a specially made trap that’s big enough to hold grizzly bears which are larger than most black bears. “When they get this size they’re very difficult to trap in a swing door, drop door application. I was aware of a very large bear in that area. That particular bear had no identifiers (ear tags or mouth tattoo) that we have had interactions with it.”

Unusual find:Loggers discover cubs; PGC able to place bears with new mothers

A tractor lifts the massive bear shot by Cole Schnably of Bedford with a short-range bow.

2021 bear season recap:Pa.’s top two heaviest bears taken with shotgun, bow

Schnably, who stands 5’10”, said the bear would have been able to stand taller than him. He’s having a rug made out of the hide. “I don’t know where I would put it if I had a full-body mount.”

Upcoming opportunities

While the early bear seasons have ended, the regular firearms bear season begins this weekend. It runs Nov. 19-22, and the extended season overlapping with rifle deer hunting in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D is Nov. 26-Dec. 10.  

In WMUs, 1B, 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A,4B,4C,4D,4E and 5A, the extended season runs Nov. 26-Dec. 3.

Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.