Things you need to know about bears

Would you sit in a tree stand 15 feet off the ground to attempt to bag a Pennsylvania black bear with a bow and arrow? Starting Saturday, that is the opportunity given to properly licensed hunters.

For a number of reasons, I no longer hunt bears. I’ve bagged four of the creatures and that’s enough for me. But mostly, since I must do most of my hunting alone, I no longer have the strength to drag a bear out of the woods.

Pennsylvania black bears are plenty busy this time of year. Their cubs are nearly as big as their mother and they are learning from her how to forage for acorns and other mast, fruit and your garbage, in order to pack on as much weight as possible.

Since a black bear sow generally only bears cubs every other year, she and her cubs will spend a cozy winter season snoozing together.

The cubs, when they emerge from the den with their mother next spring will soon experience a surprise: the mother bear will kick and chase her cubs away from herself so they can establish their own territories and she can breed again.

These are the confused bears that make their way into town come late summer. They are wandering around looking for someplace to call home. They will be drawn to bird feeders and garbage parked curbside on certain days and folks will get panicked if they see a bear on their property.

Breeding take place from June to August, at which time bears can be spotted almost anywhere in rural areas especially.

One reason many people are terrified by bears is because they simply do not know that there are several categories of bears and each subspecies has its own habits. Black bears are the most docile of all the bears so we are lucky that it is that species that inhabits our forests.

Pennsylvania black bears are as afraid of us as we are of them. They possess an incredibly sharp sense of smell, better than deer have. A whiff of human scent and they usually scram.

It is people and/or dogs who get them terrified by chasing them around if one shows up in the backyard. If you see a bear in the woods or on the sidewalk, your best bet is to freeze. He will pass by, possibly not seeing you at all if you don’t make a lot of movement.

Bears do not have good eyesight. They operate mainly by smelling. So if you see a bear in the woods or in your yard, just stay still. The worst course of action on seeing a bear is to run. It has been proved that you cannot outrun a bear. Running often triggers his sense of chase because that is what the prey he looks for often does. You run, he will chase you and he will catch you.

Entwined in my years of outdoor experiences has been quite a few encounters with bears. I’ve often told about the bear that circled out of the woods and came and sat on the ground, his back against the very tree in which I was sitting. He did not know I was up over his head so I stayed quiet and sill. I made a plan about what I would do if he started to climb my tree but thankfully, he didn’t.

But he stayed parked against my tree for several hours so I also had to wait. It was way after dark when he finally padded away. I then jumped out of the tree, walked the mile and a half to my truck, fully expecting the game warden to be waiting there to arrest an overtime hunter. I’m sure my squadron of guardian angels were with me that day.

There were many times when I was set up in my hunting blind and would hear some scratching and huffing coming from the back of the blind. I would stick my head out of the blind and yell “Get out of here” in unpleasant tones and a bear would run away. There was no doubt they smelled my egg salad or peanut butter sandwich.

Once I actually had a rural mail carrier stop and ask me if she was in danger by getting out of her truck to deposit mail in the box.

Despite all this, many people do really stupid things like trying to hand feed bears, see if they can get a photo of a bear taking a marshmallow from their toddler’s hand or trying to ride a bear. Makes a great video for YouTube, I guess.

If you do anything that makes a sow bear think you are threatening her cubs, if you surprise a bear at close range, if you act as though you are going to take a bear’s food away, she may not react in a friendly manner.

There are various regulations for bear seasons this year so be sure to consult your “Hunting Digest” you received with your purchase of a hunting license and bear tag.

And for all those who have already asked me, I will offer the most tasty recipe for bear stew later after the general firearms season.


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