Bear hunting looks promising

Commentary

This year could be the best black bear season in Pennsylvania’s history. The weather has not been bad so far this year, so probably few bears have headed for winter dens. There is so much food available this year that bears, like turkeys, are spread out over the terrain. All hunters have to do is find them.

Regular Bear season statewide opens Saturday and closes Nov. 22. A short regular season but then all sorts of extended firearms seasons open according to the Wildlife Management Unit if you wish to hunt. The extended firearms season for WMU 4D is Nov. 29 to Dec. 2.

The Game Commission reports the state’s bear population is about 15,000 animals. Also there are large bears in the state and again, the Game Commission reports that bears of 600 to 800 pounds are a real possibility. All of this adds up to great anticipation for opening day.

According to Mark Ternent, Game commission biologist, taking a bear of 800 pounds or more is likely this season. Well, with all this potential, how does one go about bagging a bear?

Those who did no homework before the season probably have little to go on beside luck. Many hunters simply believe that bear season is little more than a time to take the rifle for a walk while they look for deer sign. Dedicated bear hunters, however, watched for bear sign as they hunted small game and deer in archery season.

Bears, like all wildlife, leave behind evidences of their passing. Bears mark their passing by scratching trees, usually smooth barked ones like beech. The higher the scratches, the larger the bear. Telephone poles in rural areas are favorite scratching posts.

Bear foods are abundant and widespread this year; acorns, beech nuts, wild grapes, apples etc., the same things deer and turkeys like, are some of what bears eat. But if you haven’t located pretty fresh bear sign in a place, keep looking until you find one that does.

That’s what I had to do with turkeys this fall. There was so much food everywhere that the birds could live for weeks in a very small area and you didn’t have much luck until you found one the birds were using. So it will be with bears.

Bears seldom stroll around in the open woods in the fall. They have a marvelous sense of smell, and when the woods fills with human scent, they know something is up. So, like deer, they head for heavy cover and stay there until it’s quite dark. Then they venture out. So hunters who know of a horrid thicket or two that bears favor and have a gang that cooperates together to drive these thickets out have the best chance.

When I hunted with a gang that drove out the thickets, standers were posted along obvious bear trails (bear trails are wider than deer trails and will have little or no deer sign on them) just inside the thickets.

Drivers often had to push through the thick underbrush backward, and it is not a chore for the faint of heart or the out of shape. Driving almost impenetrable laurel and rhododendron thickets that lie close to acorn ridges or cornfields is the heart of successful black bear hunting.

For those of us, however, who are not part of a bear hunting gang who must go it alone, all is not hopeless. Dick Hevner of Renovo, the best bear hunter I ever knew, gave me some tips for the solo bear hunter. “If you are hunting mountains, get to the first bench down from the top and you’ll be in the place to see a bear. They like to travel, especially if someone has pushed them from their beds, on the first bench down. I think it is because with a few bounds they can be up and over the other side. So a lone hunter can often catch them coming or going from this position,” Hevner said.

“If you can find a narrow funnel of woods between two patches of laurel, look for a trail leading out of one of the thickets and post along it. Even better is to get just inside a thicket and post on a trail that laces through the laurel,” Hevner continued. “You have to remember that bears will run for miles when pushed. Deer don’t. Deer will circle around inside what they use as their home range but a bear will just take off and not look back. They do like to hug thick stuff as much as possible however, so rather than sit around in open woods, I’d be close to a thicket to watch.

“Even when I find a feeding area with fresh sign, remember that during season, bears are not likely to just hang around there during the day. They lie up to escape the presence of the enemy and if they come out to feed, it will be toward dark. I try to find a lie-up spot rather than a feeding area during the heart of the season. One thing is for sure, you’ll never see a bear during the season, from your lounge chair,” Hevner said.

How many times have I had a back bear run close to me in deer season, especially on the first day, that was pushed out by other hunters? Enough that I could have quite a collection of bear rugs had I been able to bag a bear on opening day of deer season. It’s because deer and bear eat the same things and lie up in generally the same type of thickets. I, for one, wonder if I can keep from going bonkers should I actually a see a 600 pound bear approaching me. I dream about such things.

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