On the opening day of archery season, Tony "Jay'' Formicola told his friends his goal was to take a black bear this year, not just a whitetail deer.

His tone was serious.
For the first time, the area he hunts 10 miles south of Naples, Ontario County, was ruled open to bear hunting. And though he had never seen a bear in 25 years of hunting big game, he knew that the heavily forested land was prime habitat for this mystical mammal.
"There are a bunch of bears around that land," he said. "The neighbors have numerous pictures."

At 7:30 a.m., Formicola, hunting from his tree stand stationed in a cedar swamp, killed a fine 6-point buck. With plenty of morning left and a doe and bear tag yet to fill, he stayed out.
Then it happened.

Within the hour, a herd of deer came crashing through the woods, snapping branches and kicking up brush. What followed was the black swoosh of a bear on the run.
Formicola knew his opportunity had arrived. But the bear suddenly turned and headed toward Formicola's downed deer 50 yards away.

"That's when I heard wild growling and thrashing around where I thought the deer was laying," the 47-year-old Xerox engineer from Webster said. "I'm thinking, 'He's eating my deer, now what? At least I've got a great story.' For some reason, I wasn't scared. I just was thinking how to make a nice shot on it."
Eventually, the bear came back toward him and that shot arrived. Formicola took the 200-pound bear with a well-placed arrow fired from 10 yards. Relocating his whitetail where the bear had been, Formicola found that its belly had been opened, exposing the intestines, but the meat was untouched.
Black bears are curious creatures and always hungry as they fatten up for their winter den, but they are not carnivores. Formicola is having his bear preserved in a life-sized mount. He got the bear, the deer — and the story.
"I definitely wanted to get a bear," he said. "I couldn't believe it was happening as it played out."

Indeed, with the state's bear population at an estimated 7,000 and its whitetail deer population at more than 800,000, there are a lot more successful deer hunters than bear hunters.
But the times are changing in western and central New York.

With an increase in bear-human incidences, bear-car collisions, factual confirmation of a growing bear range and an extensive body of biological study that shows bears in this area are breeding younger and having larger litters, the Department of Environmental Conservation in September expanded the legal bear hunting zone in this region of the state to twice its previous size.
The addition of 13 wildlife management units (WMUs) affects 22 counties, including Monroe, Livingston, Wayne, Ontario, Yates and Steuben. In southern Monroe County, villages such as Mumford, Rush, Honeoye Falls and Mendon are now officially part of "bear country," a WMU known as 8H.
"I think we're just hitting the tip of the iceberg," said Formicola, who bagged his bear in WMU 8P.

"Getting one with a bow is rare but in five to 10 years, it's going to be common and I'm glad the state has opened this area up, ahead of the curve, so we're not like New Jersey. That state is overrun with bears but everyone is (politically) afraid to open up a hunting season. We're ahead of the curve before it becomes a problem."
For the DEC's Region 8 staff, maintaining a healthy bear population of about 500 in the 11 counties around Rochester is its goal. As with deer, hunting is the DEC's most effective wildlife management tool.
The new bear range is so large, it fills in the gap between the traditional Alleghany and Catskill ranges, creating new "southern" and "northern" zones.
"It's good timing," said Greg Fuerst, DEC wildlife technician and bear expert. "It's a little proactive, but we're a little late in northern Steuben County. We're proactive and it's sort of creating a buffer zone to the north now where bears and people meet."
A healthy local bear population is reflected in recent harvest numbers. From 2005 to 2007, the Allegany Range take was 352, by far the greatest three-year total in history. Statewide, the bear harvest has topped 1,000 five times this decade.
Meanwhile, bears killed annually regionwide by vehicles have unfortunately averaged about 15 to 20 in recent years. Five have been hit just since last month.
The black bear's burgeoning population growth regionally the past 30 years is tied to the same reason the wild turkey rebounded: the reforestation of the state. Ideal woodland habitat has been recreated from abandoned farmlands first cleared of trees in the 1800s when the state paid a $10 bounty on black bears.
From the air and satellite imagery, Fuerst can see this transition vividly.

"You can see exactly the types of habitat bears need and where it is. It's a lot farther north than it's ever been," he said of areas thick with acorns, apples, nuts, insects, grasses, water and den cover. "The farmland that reverted in the Southern Tier encroaches right through Livingston, Ontario and into Monroe counties."
It means that areas in the Finger Lakes once considered "peripheral" bear range are now "primary'' range — areas containing breeding females. This primary range in the southern zone has grown by an astounding 14,000 square miles since 1975.
Once habitat is established, bear societal factors take over.

Bears are solitary animals and don't tolerate other bears, except sows with cubs. Young males are usually chased out of their birth range and roam great distances — up to 100 miles — and migrate in and out of neighboring states.
"Picture it like a hotel," Fuerst said. "As our land changed, the rooms became full. It literally pushed the bears northward to here we are, 25 years later, with bears all the way to Lake Ontario."
While a rogue male made western Monroe County his home in the summer of 2007, becoming a celebrity of sorts in Parma until trapped and relocated, prime bear habitat still remains south of Rochester.
Livingston County's newly opened 8M unit is where Ron Perham, 43, a construction worker from Nunda was hunting deer on the edge of Letchworth Park on Oct. 19 when a massive bruin walked under his tree stand.
"The squirrels were going crazy, just making all kinds of noise, and I thought it was a deer approaching," Perham said. "I look over to my right, and that's no deer. He was huge."
Perham arrowed a perfect shot at the bear, which weighed close to 500 pounds. It could challenge the state record skull size when verified after 60 days. It was Perham's first bear and his luck is indicative of the ever-expanding range.
"They're out there," he said. "When Greg Fuerst showed up (to confirm the kill and take data), he showed me a map of bears that have radio collars on them, and there are a bunch more around here."
The DEC provides extensive literature and conducts public programs on living with black bears.

Bears become a nuisance and a potential danger only when humans feed them intentionally — or unintentionally — leaving out pet food, garbage, not cleaning the barbecue grill, or keeping bird feeders too low and not cleaning up seed spillage.
"Things are changing and bears are adapting," Fuerst said. "They're doing just as well feeding on pet food and bird feeders than tree mast. And the habitat allows them to reproduce more favorably than they used to."
The average litter is one to two cubs but more are numbering three, four and five. And good habitat means black bears just grow big.

Adult females average 170 pounds, males 300. In April, the DEC trapped a bear to attach a radio collar that tipped the scales at 520.
"He's 600 pounds easy now," Fuerst said. "They're so secretive, though. Bears disappear in the fall when food is abundant. It's amazing. Six-hundred pounds is a big animal to hide."