Bears Are Bulletproof

By Peyton Smith

When you move to northern New Jersey and plug into the scarce but passionate outdoor scene lurking in the shadows of the Manhattan skyline, you realize the ignorance of your previous viewpoint on black bears. The fuzzy teddy bear you grew up sharing a bed with as a kid, has a well-earned reputation for wreaking havoc in the Garden State. There is no shortage of first-hand encounters of bluff charges, mauling pets, and even attacks on people. Then, there is the 2014 case everyone is familiar with, when a Rutgers University student was mauled to death on a hike.

As I have interacted with the bears on their turf in the timber, I have amassed great respect and love for them. Nevertheless, with that said, they need to be respected and caution taken. Regardless of what the New Jersey bear lady will tell you, they are a powerful predator and not your Labrador retriever. They can and will fuck you up if you choose to be stupid.

2023 brought the reinstatement of the black bear archery season to New Jersey. On the second day of the season my arrow flew true to the target and I killed my first bear. The visual of him piled up in his thorny final resting place is just as vibrant in my mind as it was as I stood over him. A 300 lb boar with a perfect jet-black coat, monster paws, a big block head, and a round lump right between his eyes.

It was a long process—dragging him out, field dressing him, and checking him in. Throughout, everyone took note of the noticeable blemish at the top of his snout, offering a poke and a puzzled shrug. I assumed the ping pong ball-sized welt was an infection earned through a sparring session with another boar, writing it off as basic bear stuff. However, once my veterinary student girlfriend and taxidermist had both gotten ahold of the hide, the peculiarity of his acne hit me. The animal experts took turns firing off every foreign body it could be before ultimately settling on a stray air rifle pellet—perhaps punishment for digging in the wrong local garbage can.

Several months passed, and my phone finally rang. My euro mount was ready for pickup. The Pope and Young qualifier was handed over, with a ziplock bag dangling from the jaw bone. Contained therein was a perfectly intact 9mm slug, copper jacket and all.

Some deadeye had pegged this bear right between the eyes with a 115-grain slug moving at 1200 fps and watched him take it on the chin, keeping on with his day. As far as the skull was concerned, it was unscathed. It was free of chips and cracks. I am sure he lumbered off with a headache, though.

The moral of the story, bears are amazing animals that are a great addition to the landscape and your freezer. But they are also badasses that can run down a deer, rip a stump from the ground, and, caliber depending, might be bulletproof. So, if you live in bear country, carry a sidearm and look into a 10mm.

Editor’s note: The lead image was created using AI but the embedded image shows the projectile and skull from the story.




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