Editor’s note: David Whitmire, a local hunter and owner of Headwaters Outfitters, wrote the following story.
At 11 years old, Bascom Hooper moved to Transylvania County in 1942 from Jackson County when his father took a job at the Ecusta Paper Plant in Brevard. The Hoopers had lived in Caney Fork in the Tuckasegee watershed and had deep roots in the area, where hunting was a large part of their life. Many stories of great dogs and hunts, along with the adventures and misadventures that go along with the hunting lifestyle, were passed along. Bascom has enjoyed many aspects of hunting, but bear hunting with his prized dogs has been his life’s passion, one that he hopes to see continue for many Hooper generations to come.
Looking back, Bascom believes, as far as bear hunting and bear populations, these are the good old days. When he first started out on his own in the 1950s and ’60s, bear hunting was tough. With smaller populations, the amount of time to get your dogs on a bear and then to be able to harvest the bear was much more difficult than today. He credits the N.C. Wildlife Commission with creating bear sanctuaries in the 1970s. The ability to provide food sources on private land has also boosted bear populations in recent years. Today, it is not uncommon to see a sow bear with three to five cubs. In the past that was very rare. Since retiring from Ecusta in 1993, Bascom has spent every fall not only bear hunting in Transylvania County but in eastern North Carolina, the South Carolina mountains and as far away as Maine. He believes some of largest bears are in eastern North Carolina. The largest bear in Transylvania County his hunting party has harvested was 575 pounds.
As Bascom recalls past hunts, it becomes evident that maybe his love of bear hunting may be closely tied to the love he has for his dogs. His pack today consists of eight dogs. His favorite breed is Treeing Walkers, but he notes that the hound that constantly gets the job done is the one he will always pick. He remembers long before the modern tracking collars, cell phones or even telephones in the county, if you lost a dog hunting, it could take weeks before you might get a penny postcard from someone who had your dog
Your name and address was on the dog’s collar, and mailing you the postcard letting you know they had your dog was the norm. Today, with modern satellite and GPS, one can keep close tabs on the dogs down to the exact location. Bascom has had folks remove his tracking collars from his dogs thinking it was a shock collar, but, in reality, it is the lifeline that connects the dogs and owners together after a long hunt. He also believes in working his dogs year around, keeping them in shape physically and training them to be in top form fo
Now 83 years old, Bascom is proud to see his grandsons take to the sport that has been an important part of his life. With 18 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he knew a couple of them would take over the reins. Luke Hooper, his 17-year-old grandson, has definitely been bitten by the sport. Luke harvested his first bear when he was 13 while hunting with the family. He helps with daily dog chores and with working the dogs. But, to Bascom, like many of the older hunters, it’s all about seeing and teaching the younger hunters and helping them be successful.
A long custom of his hunting party is for someone who hasn’t taken a bear to get a chance, including using an old .30-06 rifle that has been passed down and that many hunters have taken their first bear with.
As Bascom has passed down his stories from past hunts, it is those stories that carry the culture of the bear hunters forward. Luke will have new stories and adventures that are yet to be made and then handed down. Bear hunting and hunting with hounds is a popular sport in Transylvania County, thanks to men such as Bascom Hooper who worked hard to pass this heritage along and leave the sport better than they found it.