Wacky weather wakes up critters early

During the brief January thaw a few weeks ago, there were several reports of bears showing up in someone’s backyard.

It isn’t unusual for bears to get up from their winter’s sleep and wander about for a bit but early January is early for bears to be foraging in backyards. The snowstorms we’ve had since that January thaw put us all back in the doldrums and hopefully sent bears back to their lairs to sleep awhile longer. But rest assured they will be on the prowl as soon as the weather warms the slightest bit.

Pennsylvania has a huge population of black bears. And in many areas the bears went to their winter dens hungry. They will be fine, however, but in about a month they will emerge from their dens and they will start trying to fatten up in your backyard.

The bear season of 2012 resulted in 2,639 bears harvested, the third highest in our history. The top two harvest was in our immediate history: 2,815 bears harvested in 2010 and 3,154 in 2011.

Several bears were harvested that were in the 500- to 600-pound category. A couple notable exceptions were a bear taken in Pike County that weighed 706 pounds and a 699 pounder taken in McKean County.

Our management unit 4D had a harvest of 233 bears. That breaks down into 35 bears taken in Blair County, 76 in Bedford County, 92 taken in Huntingdon County and 11 taken in Cambria County.

It’s amazing to think of nearly 3000 bears being harvested and yet it makes barely a dent in the population. Within a short time, bears will be showing up on the streets of many towns, chased up trees by excited residents, and tranquilized and moved by Game Officials. It’s become a regular spring ritual anymore.

Many spring gobbler hunters are treated to glimpses of black bears as they skulk about woods and fields. It’s a particular thrill to have a black bear show up when you have been sitting and wafting turkey calls into the air and he shows up thinking he’s going to have turkey for breakfast.

It’s also exciting to have foxes and/or coyotes stalk your calling and even hawks swooping overhead when they respond to turkey calls. One of the closest calls I have had in the woods occurred a few years ago when I was sitting just before dawn, offering soft tree calls to a tom that was already gobbling about a hundred yards away. It was an unusually quiet morning and suddenly I got a strange feeling, goose pimples really, that something or someone was near me. Then I heard just a faint rustle in the leaves behind me and so I slowly turned my head to look. There, just a couple feet \away, a big gray fox was squatted in the pounce position. Our eyes met and in that instant we were both terrified of the other and he whirled and din one huge bound disappeared into the darkness.

I’m not afraid of foxes. I see plenty of them in my jaunts into the woods. But I am afraid of one jumping on me. Had it happened it’s hard to say what my reaction would have been but no doubt I would have jumped up, flailed my arms and probably been scratched or bitten. That would no doubt have doomed me to taking the series of rabies shots. So my Guardian angels once again got me out of a tight spot.

This weekend of course is the big Jaffa Outdoor show that will help in many ways to relieve our cabin fever. I’m so looking forward to it. Lots of highlights to this year’s show and I outlined many of them last week in this column. The seminar on trapping will be quite informative and Game Commission biologist Mary Jo Casalena’s presentation on the facts and information that her years-long research project of the state’s will turkey population will be extremely interesting.

Here’s something you may find as interesting as I did. A while ago I got hold of a beautiful ball point pen that is made of natural wood, the point is shaped like a bullet, the clip is a likeness of a rifle and to work the mechanism to put the point in or out, you actually have to work a bolt! It’s a choice item, crafted by former Game Commission deputy, Gerald Stombaugh. He will be helping out at the Blair County Conservation Officers Association booth so if you stop by there, he will show it to you. It is a little late for Valentine’s Day but boy what a gift for birthday, Father’s Day, Christmas or whatever. I love mine.

See you this week at the show.