February 13, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
There are a number of places likely to enter a conversation when bowhunters start a discussion about future Pope and Young Club world record big-game animals.
Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, and Saskatchewan will likely be mentioned for whitetails. Ditto for Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Utah and perhaps even New Mexico for elk. Mule deer — how about Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona? And who can forget Alaska when the conversation turns to moose, caribou, Dall sheep and dangerous bears?
But in all of those conversations, it’s doubtful that the state of New Jersey will be brought up in a future world-record discussion. But as longtime Garden State resident Jeff Melillo proved last fall, it should be.
In fact, it now will be thanks to a new world record black bear that Melillo arrowed with his bow on Oct. 14, 2019 while hunting there. And believe it or not, he wasn’t all that surprised that a state better known for casinos and the reality TV show "Jersey Shore" is now at the top of the Pope and Young Club’s bowhunting record book.
"It has been an inspiring journey, to say the least,” said Melillo in a P&Y news release about his massive bear. “New Jersey, my home state, has its first-ever world record animal! Many years ago, I read an article stating that the new world record black bear will most likely come from New Jersey. They were spot on, and I never doubted it for one second.”
Following the 60-day drying period, an official entry score of more than 23 inches was recorded. That set the stage for the Melillo bear to be scored days ago in a special panel-measuring session convened by P&Y at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa. on Saturday, February 8, 2020.
With a panel composed of Pennsylvania measurers Dan Lynch and Terry Mollett, New Jersey measurer Timothy Walsh, and P&Y Director of Records Eli Randall, the group scored the huge bear’s skull at an astounding 23 5/16 inches.
That was good enough to surpass the previous bowhunting benchmark of 23 3/16 inches, a black bear arrowed by Robert J. Shuttleworth, Jr. more than a quarter century ago in Mendocino County, Calif. on Sept. 4, 1993.
It should be noted that the Melillo record is also among the largest black bears to ever be recorded anywhere in North America. At a score of 23 5/16 inches, the New Jersey archer’s bruin will apparently tie for fourth place all-time among Boone and Crockett Club black bear listings should Melillo choose to enter the bear.
The B&C Club, which accepts pick-up entries and big-game animals legally harvested with any type of weapon, currently lists a small handful of black bears as being in the same category as Melillo’s bruin. In fact, it appears to actually be the second largest black bear ever taken by a hunter regardless of weapon used.
Those B&C black bear entries include the current world record, a 23 10/16-inch bruin whose skull was picked up from Sanpete County, Utah in 1975. Second on the B&C list is a 23 9/16-inch bruin taken in Monroe County, Pa. in 2011 by hunter Robert T. Christian. Incidentally, the Christian black bear is the so-called “hunter harvested” world record.
Notching third place on the B&C list is a 23 7/16-inch black bear picked up in Lycoming County, Pa. in 1987 by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. And fourth on the B&C list is another pick-up entry at 23 5/16 inches, a skull picked up in Monroe County, Wis. by Wade Brockman in 2010.
What does all of this number crunching mean? Simply this — that the Melillo black bear is not only the new bowhunting world record, it’s also among the greatest bruins ever recorded anywhere in North America!
"I knew I was going to be looking at an impressive black bear skull, as it was officially measured at over 23 inches and weighed in at 700 pounds,” said Randall. “I was not prepared for the amount of mass the skull possessed. Not only was the skull huge, but the bone structure was the heaviest I had ever seen.”
After successfully tagging the new world-record bruin, Melillo was humble and thankful for the bowhunter’s blessing that came his way last fall in the New Jersey woods.
“I'm very grateful that I get to be a part of all this,” he said. “Pursuing bears with bow and arrow is a passion of mine.
“I’d also like to recognize the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife for the outstanding effort they put into the management of New Jersey black bears,” he continued. “The dedication from our biologists, technicians, and conservation officers make(s) this all possible.
“I'd also like to give a big thanks to United Bow Hunters of New Jersey. Their organization had a lot to do with getting a bowhunting season for New Jersey black bears. Without their efforts, I would not be writing this."
With the special panel measuring session now behind him, the life-size mount of Melillo’s incredible bruin will be on display March 26-29, 2020 at the P&Y Convention in Virginia. A part of the Bass Pro/Cabela’s Trophy Tower, the New Jersey black bear will be a part of the largest display of bow-harvested big-game animals ever put together.
According to the P&Y news release, Melillo’s new world record black bear is now entered in the Club’s 32nd recording period, a timeframe representing entries accepted into the P&Y Records Program from Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2020.
“Congratulations to Jeff Melillo on harvesting this outstanding black bear,” said Randall. “This is a true testament to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and a shining beacon of what can be accomplished with efforts and funds being dedicated to wildlife."