WESLEY – Tommy Henley has spent close to $3,000 each year for the past six years coming to Maine’s Downeast woodland from Tennessee to hunt bear. And Henley, a traditional bowhunter, has never bagged a bruin. But the southern firefighter keeps returning to Maine because the silent, dark woods draw him back.

Charles Garzilli, on the other hand, took his first black bear last year after buying a Downeast bear hunt in a charity fundraiser in Pennsylvania. And after bagging a 100-pound bear, Garzilli and his hunting buddy found themselves booking another bear hunt this year and driving 12 hours to Maine.

“I thought it would just be about the bear, and once I got one that would be it. But it’s so much more,” Garzilli said.

The two out-of-state hunters have shared different bear-hunting experiences, but they would tell you their time in eastern Maine amounts to the exact same meaningful, life-changing memories.

“I’m a fireman. I am a team leader of search and rescue. This is where I decompress. And I love the people. The locals in the stores now remember my name,” said Henley, 42.

Each fall, out-of-state hunters make up the lion’s share of bear hunters in Maine, accounting for more than half of the harvest year in and year out. In recent years, out-of-state hunters have taken between 60 to 70 percent of the bruins bagged, or between 1,863 and 2,208 for a total harvest that was between 2,700 and 3,500.

As it is, state biologists say it’s not enough. With the number of bear conflicts with humans nearly double what it was the past two years — more than 700 through August — state biologists will be considering new ways to take more bears out of the population, said Maine bear biologist Jennifer Vashon.

At Bear Lane Guiding Service in Wesley, out-of-state hunters who come from as far away as Ohio and Illinois won’t mind helping.

Owner and Master Maine Guide Frank Perkowsky has been running the lodge since 1990 and used to fill it with as many as 40 hunters over the September season. Now some weeks he has half as many. The economy and the soaring price of gas has made affording a hunt tough on everyone, Perkowsky said.

But he calls the business a labor of love. “I first came up here to bear hunt as a snot-nosed high school kid in New Jersey in 1970. And here I am,” Perkowsky jokes to a roar of laughter in the lodge’s dining room.

And it’s the jokes, camaraderie, team mentality and support that draws the out-of-staters back. They’re spending as much as $2,000 at Bear Lane Lodge and another $1,000 on gas, rental cars, restaurants and gifts.

Henley says it’s worth it.

“If I came another 10 years and didn’t get a bear, I’d still come back. It’s worth every penny,” he said.

John Tosco of Clinton, N.J., has been coming to Washington County to hunt bear for nearly a decade. Photos of his past hunts are all over the dining wall at Bear Lane lodge. Last week was Tosco’s ninth trip. And he was hunting for his eighth Maine black bear.

That’s a lot of pot roast and rugs.

But Tosco, who lives in a rural part of New Jersey, says the allure in the Maine black bear hunt is unique.

“It’s just different here. If you hunt in New Jersey, when you walk out of the woods, you’re in someone’s back yard. You try to walk out of the woods here, and you’ll be walking through the woods for days. It takes some courage to hunt here,” Tosco said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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