Whenever the subject of Dangerous Game (DG) comes up, whether in a magazine article, a post on an Internet forum, or in a conversation, black bears are only rarely mentioned. The FACT that bears are potentially dangerous whatever their color, is nonetheless mostly reserved in the thinking of gunwriters, wealthy sportsmen, and many outdoor magazines, to the browns and whites, including grizzly whatever shades of brown their fur may reflect.
That’s unfortunate for a couple of reasons:
1) The uninformed and misinformed could well be in a state of naiveté in a surprise encounter with a black species of bear!
2) Even many potential hunters may assume their’s little danger involved in their pursuit!
My goal is to inform at least some of the uninformed, and lay to rest false assumptions by presenting facts concerning black bears, their nature, habitat, and all-around capabilities.
But, are they dangerous?
A wild animal that can weigh up to 600 lbs/272 kg, or more, with over-size dentures and long, sharp-pointed claws isn’t your everyday pet, even if some still nestle up to their Teddy Bears prior to entering Slumber Land!
The tragic truth is that some experienced campers, woodsmen and, yes, even hunters have been caught off guard by a sudden-surprise attack by a predatory bear with malicious intent, or a female with cubs hidden in the bush.
Having spent I don’t know how many thousand hours in “the bush”, I’m certain that many bears didn’t let me know of their presence hidden by thick brush within a handful of yards/meters from me. But there also were many occasions when I knew of their nearness while having not seen them.
One specific incident happened when I was on a familiar narrow and twisty trail that usually had sections where I needed watertight boots. As well, there were parts where visibility was limited to a few yards in tight quarters. I was carrying a Marlin lever-action in .45-70 loaded for bear. At about the halfway point of where I was headed, I heard off to my left, at about thirty yards, a somewhat familiar sound coming from near the tops of some mixed mature trees. I stopped in my tracks, looked in the direction of the tree tops but still no sign of the cause of the almost inaudible noise. Then, very quickly I discerned the faint cries of bear cubs! Momma bear knew exactly where I was and sent her cubs up trees not more than thirty paces from me! I never saw her but knew it was a matter of seconds before I would be dealing with an unwanted, very bad situation! I quietly but quickly backtracked. I have serious doubts that the average “Joe” or “Jane” would have recognized what was going on before Momma bear was on them!
Yes, that trail was used by deer and moose hunters in season, and there was a familiar bear bait setup (not mine) not more than fifty yards from the entrance to the trail off the main dirt road. I was about 1/2 mile beyond that. But also that trail was occasionally used by “nature” observers and sport fisherman as it bordered a small lake.
I was not fearful of my safety, but I didn’t want to have to make an appearance in court for having shot in self-defence a sow bear protecting her cubs! That could be very depressing.
I’ve both watched on tree-cams and in person from tree-stands, mother bears’ activities when approaching, feeding at and leaving bear bait sites when her cubs were with her or nearby.
In reading some author’s hunting stories in magazines, you might recognize from time to time that some of the stories bear resemblance to what you had previously read from the same author. The fact is, you are indeed reading a first-hand account of the same hunt but with a different emphasis and slant. It is likely that the purpose of the second piece is distinct from the first. Example: The focus of the first part might be the game and area, while the second account appearing even years later could be on the rifle and load as well as other equipment.
I mention the above because some of my hunting adventures are like that — I’ve told the following in a previous account but from another perspective: that of the firearm used. This time the main purpose will be on the behaviour of the bears involved, especially that of the female.
My estimate is that she was no more than 140 lbs. She was very wary and alert to any possible danger with a single cub in tow. I was in a tree-stand (as pictured) on the side of a ridge with the bait barrel 65 yards downhill from me. The pair had been attending the bait site for at least several days prior to my first stint as a hunter in the stand. This was Crown Land (public land) in thick forest bordering a large marsh surrounding a small lake. I also knew from ample sign that a large boar bear was also hitting the bait site after hours, which was also known to the sow with her cub. She was very watchful and on guard due to that fact, knowing he might kill (and eat) her offspring.
I first saw her with the cub a few days before opening day while putting up my tree-stand. They came to the bait at noon but the barrel was empty, so they moved back into the thick bush without seeming to notice my presence. The next time was, as mentioned, my first time hunting from that location, a few days after opening day. She did several circles of the area coming closer to my stand each time as the cub plunged headlong into the barrel for a morsel. She came within thirty-five yards of me but, again, never seemed to notice my presence. After ten or so minutes she left the scene with baby bear following back into dense undercover. Of course, the barrel was replenished with bait each time I went to the location. The last time I saw them, the big boar bear was about forty yards up behind me in thick cover waiting for me to leave. In the meanwhile, the mother bear with her young’un revisited the site around 6:30 – 7:00 pm. She was obviously nervous and very agitated, knowing full well that the big bear she feared was nearby. They both grabbed something from the barrel and made a hurried departure like they had just robbed a jewellery store! Later still, as I was preparing to leave in near darkness (too dark to hunt) the big male came in to the bait. Honestly, I was wary of running into him on the trail in darkness! But he knew exactly where I was at any moment, yet he fearlessly came to the bait on his time!
“What’s the point?”, you may ask. Actually, there were several germane issues involved that I took from those incidents:
1) The element of surprise:
2) Being at risk:
3) Pertinent lessons related to the social behaviour of bears:
4) Other lessons of the dynamics of their emotional reactions:
5) The individual personalities of bears:
6) Understanding their comfort zones, and when it might be intruded upon, consciously or unconsciously:
7) Their knowledge and understanding of their own situation, and how they might interpret that: