Previously, I’ve outlined five matters of concern — in P1, P2 and P3 — that I’ve learned from observation and experience in thirty seasons of black bear hunts.
In P4 (the final part), there remains two more areas of concern that I deem important for both safety and success in black bear hunting:
6 > Understanding their comfort zones, and when it might be intruded upon:
In P1, I referred to an incident involving a small sow and her cub that regularly visited my bait setup both before and during the first week of hunting season. I made mention that the young sow never seemed to be aware of my presence when putting up the stand when she and the cub paid a visit to the bait site, and later again when I was in the stand on the second day of the legal season. But she was VERY aware of the presence of the big male in hiding nearby.
On reflection, I realized she was also aware of my presence on both occasions, knowing my whereabouts, but ignored me because she perceived I wasn’t a threat, and provided food for her and her offspring. So, in a sense, her perception was that I was sort of a protector – ally! That was at 35 yards. On the other hand, had I come down from the stand in an aggressive stance making a move toward her and/or her cub, that mood would have swiftly changed! Why? Because bears have something like a sixth sense and read body language and focus of the eyes very quickly and accurately! They normally do that with each other as well as with humans. They can readily detect intention of other bears and humans by mannerisms, body stance, eye contact and vocalisations. Unless a mature male bear has become a predator of lesser bears, and humans, it will usually stop at a safe distance to evaluate the situation, and may even stand on hind legs like a human to get a better look, then move off quietly from a possible confrontation.
On the other hand, if they are on a source of food such as a berry patch, or a recent kill, their mood may very well be one of protecting “THEIR” food or territory… they might show aggression by clacking their teeth, huffing, false charges, etc. Unless you are hunting black bears it’s wise to back off (not run off!) slowly and quietly. If you run, that encourages them to chase.
In a case of physical contact, if you’re NOT hunting (no weapon), hit or kick them where the sun doesn’t shine – it works like with a man – or punch them in the snout, thumbs in eyes, and so on. Because any man, no matter his strength or size, is no match in a “fair” fight with a bruin, you must counter attack with max force using boots, fists, rocks, big sticks, and so on — it’s NO time for mercy, because the bear will show NO compassion regardless of whoever you might be!
The following is a first-hand account: When I was into bear hunts big time in Haliburton Highlands, I used to stop at a coffee shop/deli on route. It wasn’t far from my destination on the main paved road. There’s an interesting history involved in that shop that I’ll not go into at this time, but it had just recently been taken over by a young married man who was born and raised in the area. The shop had also been just a coffee shop/small restaurant that had burnt down, then rebuilt once insurance matters were settled. Included was a butcher shop that also handled wild game. The new owner decided the gain was not worth the pain so the “young man” bought it. It was, as mentioned, on a main highway highly travelled during the summer months by cottagers on their way to and from their homes away from home. The young man’s house was on a dirt side road about ten kilometres (6 miles) in somewhat isolated conditions removed from his shop. His young wife lived in this remote area, surrounded by wilderness, with their young baby. He was the “brave heart” and she the “not-so-brave heart”.
One morning en route to check my baits, I stopped for a chat with “Peter”, I’ll call him, at the coffee shop/deli. Usually he was an optimistic, cheerful type. This day, however, he was semi-angry and somewhat depressed. Then he told me his story of the night before coming to work:
The night was hot and humid. Living in a small house half-built with no AC, the front door was left open with just a screen door closed to keep out mosquitoes, small varmints, etc. The screen-door was held closed by a spring. The couple lay on the outside of the bed sheets, he in only his shorts. There was the usual tossing and turning trying to get comfortable in the stifling heat and humidity. Then it happened, without warnings of any kind, a ruckus in the kitchen next to their improvised bedroom broke out at 3 A.M.! Now fully awake from a foggy slumberland, the couple realized there was a bear in their kitchen; and it sounded like he was part of a demolition squad!
Instinct and emotion took over and in a flash “Peter” was headed for the kitchen in only his shorts — no time for decorum! The bear — about 300 to 350 lbs estimated by reflection after the fact — had the garbage bag in its mouth and headed for the front screen door that had closed behind him on entry. Peter grabbed the first long-handled tool available and was onto the bear beating it with a broom! The bear didn’t bother opening the door, but took the screen with him, bounded across the deck with the garbage bag still clenched in its teeth, with Peter still pounding him with the broom, plunged through the railing taking out a couple of spokes, landing in the flower patch below the deck! The garbage bag burst open leaving a mess in the flower bed — with young Peter still in the chase beating the big bruin with now the broom handle — all that’s left of it! In the pitch darkness, Peter stops and realizes his situation standing there in only his underpants with only a broom handle in his hands as the bear disappears into the blackness of the night!
Lesson? A fearless big mature black bear that breaks into a home at 3 a.m. can be intimidated by a brave, fearless, enraged human that conveys his wrath by body language and vocalizations! He was screaming at the top of his lungs at the bear, calling it by names the bear would have to check with Webster! The bear got the message, but the young man wasn’t finished with that bear just yet! That bear and its mess would be very costly to Peter: He would have to sell his shop, find other employment, and move his wife and baby closer to civilization.
About two days later, as I was making another trek to the Haliburton Highlands to check my baits, I stopped for a visit with Peter. He said he’d got his revenge: Coming to work that morning, that same bear was “making out” with a female in the middle of the remote dirt road; once reality dawned, he tramped on the gas and his old pickup hit the pair driving them bodily into the ditch! He never stopped to wish them well!
There were several lessons involved for the bear in the above account:
That bear had been accustomed to breaking in homes and/or cottages when humans were asleep or away. And he had become somewhat of a bully because no one, including other bears, had stood up to him! That was a rude awakening, not only literally for the couple, but for the black bruin himself! Someone, or thing, was fearless in its counterattack!
I’ve seen that with cats and dogs: My mother was a “cat person” — we always had cats around our place, and I took a liking to them as well. It seemed the dogs of the community were always on the loose and causing trouble. My next oldest brother brought home one day, in the basket of his bike, a kitten which he got from his cousin. That black and white kitten became a mother cat in two or three years and was small in stature, but not in spirit. One of my uncles had two dogs which we surreptitiously named “Mutt and Jeff” — Mutt was the big one and Jeff a rather small sub-species. They travelled together, and always managed to get into fights with other dogs. Mutt did most of the fighting and Jeff was the cheer leader!
Anyway, one day, without invitation, they showed up in our front yard sniffing things out! That was their unlucky day! My brother’s black and white was in the yard and had some kittens thereabouts. She took after those dogs with screams and flashes of claws that would cause the devil himself to retreat — you would have had to witness it to believe it. Those two flea-bitten rascals left the yard with afterburners aglow — and NEVER returned!
That black and white momma cat weighed, maybe, 1 and 1/2 lbs, and put the skedaddle to two mutts that together weighed about 50 lbs!
Can bears be intimidated? You betcha, especially if you qualify as a bear psychologist! But you gotta know “when to fold ’em”.
Bears have shown up at baits with three legs, or missing an eye or battered and scratched noses and an ear chewed off! Sometimes in emaciated conditions as the result of wounds from rifle or shotgun shots! They can be intimidated when they don’t understand the situation, but when they learn they “are none the worse off” they might seek revenge at the first opportune time. They ARE crafty and cagey!
7> How bears understand their situations, and how they might interpret them:
This is another sow and cubs account: A number of years ago I was hunting on private land with Ken as a partner. We assisted in putting up a home-built tree stand for a lady hunter. She was an Olympic champion with a bow and won a number of medals and trophies. Her husband is a well known wealthy cattle farmer from our district. She wanted to shoot a bear using a bow. The rancher was known to my friend, Ken, so we assisted with the tree stand that would allow for bow hunting of bear. It was a platform about 5′ x 6′ at 15′ above ground. Access was via an old TV antenna tripod tower with ladder-like spokes. From there access to the platform was through a trap-door about 2-feet square. There was a skirt around the top of the platform about 3-feet high that served as a rest for the weapon and to partially hide the hunter. She harvested a 165 lb male bear the first week with one shot. The following week was our turn.
Talk about bears galore! And whitetails! Once in crossing an open area in our vehicle, toting bait for the barrel, a huge buck trotted (not “bounded”) ahead of us. It was the largest I’ve ever seen, and was for Ken as well — he was a CO who spent much of his life in “the woods”. It went 400+lbs easily! Then, a moment later another buck crossed in front of us. It was only a “normal” buck whitetail around 275 lbs.
We had selected an area for the stand enclosed by large trees and bush, but not crowded with such — it was fairly open in certain directions. Bear tracks of variable sizes were abundant in the mud. I chose the tree stand as Ken prefers feet on the ground. We made a blind for him about thirty yards behind my location. This gave two very distinct perspectives of the area. One day when we arrived, and I got into the stand through the 2′ square floor opening, I found a pile of bear scat on the floor not far from the opening! A good size bear (according to the size of the scat!) had climbed the TV antenna, made his way through the floor hole, and pooped there claiming it as his territory! We saw lots of bears in total over a week of hunting — but never shot one.
But one intrigued me for a few minutes. Late one afternoon/early evening, I saw a couple of siblings crossing an open area en route toward the bait barrel. They looked like yearlings, but I wondered where momma bear might be. My perspective at 15′ allowed a good view of a broad area. The young bears boldly approached the bait barrel and one tipped it over — stuff spilled out causing one of them to run off a little ways and then cautiously return for another look. I knew from evidence that young bears had previously been attending the site. The pair sniffed and chewed on various morsels, played with bits and pieces, and then….
As darkness was fast approaching, out of the corner of my eye I detected movement in a finger of trees off to my left. I watched it, and then, almost like in a dream, emerged one of the largest live bears I’ve ever personally eyeballed! It was about 100 yards “out” but deliberately approached the bait setup with a slow but steady stride. My rifle was resting on the railing, fully loaded for bear of any size or disposition. The young bears seemed oblivious at first. I watched the scene thinking: “If that’s a male, it’s my trophy. If it’s momma bear, she’s huge and the siblings will feel safe! When they saw that big black bruin, they ran to her and, though legal — it was the fall season — I didn’t pull the trigger. She was for sure 400 lbs — and legal! They walked off together into the darkness.
But how was she interpreting her situation?
She let her offsprings approach danger before she would come to the bait! She waited to see if harm came to them before she would expose herself. That’s quite normal in the animal kingdom when the descendants are deemed mature enough to fend for themselves.
Lions behave in a similar manner as do whitetails! Bucks will allow females and the young to come into a field of oats or clover before they will venture.
The following photo was taken in a field where a bear bait was setup. Deer are in the area but seldom seen when bear are also about. But this doe approached my setup with the buck following far behind!
So how clear is the thinking of a bear when it senses that danger might be in a bait setup or tree stand?
A small bear, or cub, will watch the behaviour of the mother and siblings, if there are any. They get clues from that. Also from pushes and hits or bites from the mother as well as vocalisations. They also seem to have an innate sense of the meaning of such behaviour on the part of the mother. And we mustn’t discount a bears intuition, or sense, of happenings around them by humans — farm machinery, motor vehicles, boats, crowds, and/or the vocalisations of other forest animals such as a raven or squirrel, as well as creatures and animals fleeing from a forest fire; as examples. They do have intelligence at a certain level and tests show that they have a measure of being capable of interpreting the meaning of certain situations or events; for example: a tractor at work in a field, or a hunter with a firearm who is acting as though he might be in pursuit of them.
I’ve witnessed a mother bear give a mighty wack to a youngster when he tried to take some of her food! She drove him (her?) up a tree and wouldn’t let him come down until she called him! She even grabbed the bait bucket and ran off with it! The other sibling knew better than provoke momma further and fended for himself. He got no wacks!
Say, couldn’t we all learn something profitable from the observation of bears?
Are bears dangerous? Are humans?
Til the next: I’ve decided to add a postscript to this theme that will attempt to answer the following two questions: Does a bear ever try to intimidate a hunter; why and how? And, Will you or I ever know if a predator bear has been secretly checking us out for weakness or a possible meal?