From the previous blogs, I’ve shared anecdotes and views on black bears coming from personal observation and hunting them for thirty seasons, plus a significant amount of research. What follows as a postscript addresses the question more directly.
Q1 – Do some black bears try to intimidate hunters? If so, how?
After all those seasons of chasing black bears under a variety of conditions and places, there remains no doubt in my mind that I’ve experienced a number of situations where a dominant male black bear tried to intimidate me, plus a partner sometimes, and doing it without ever being seen.
Black bears are not only opportunistic, but very crafty! Once a mature male black bear has determined that a particular area has a consistent food supply he will try to control traffic in and through that neighborhood. He does that by a direct force and attack mode, or more subtlety — if he considers he’s outnumbered or potentially inadequate to attempt a direct attack mode.
The following firsthand experiences should, I think, provide adequate insight that should resolve any doubts or questions regarding the above description of a dominant male’s thinking and consequent behaviour.
I was hunting from a tree stand within my favourite Crown Land region. My stand was only about 40 yards slightly uphill from the bait setup, which was on the side of a downhill trail that was both used by myself for baiting purposes, and game animals, particularly bears — in this case travelling to my baits. My plan was to intercept any mature male en route. My tree stand was well hidden amongst a growth of young conifers and maples.
About thirty-five yards uphill from my stand, I built a temporary ground blind for a non-hunter friend who wanted to experience a bear hunt. I had to get legal permission for that, and the only requirement was that he wear hunter orange in a vest and hat.
I knew there was a large mature male thereabouts from all the physical evidence. I settled into my tree stand for a potential four hour wait until darkness would arrive around 9 p.m. My friend was seated comfortably, hidden away, amongst a natural cover of softwood and hard, plus brush and branches we had gathered. Almost any human could walk by and never notice our presence.
(How large was the mouth of the black bear that bit into this five gallon plastic bucket used for lugging bait?)
But not so for the dominant male black bruin. At less than an hour into a very quiet lovely-spring evening, downhill to my right and slightly behind me, a tree crashed to the ground without a breath of air blowing — and by the sound, it was not a small tree! A dead tree that got tired of standing, you say? Ha! But the problem with that simple analysis is that I had experienced that same phenomenon more than a few times while hunting bears! And I KNEW that was the action of the big bruin trying to intimidate these humans in HIS territory! The next event that disrupted the stillness was the rattle of a 5-gallon plastic bucket used in baiting that the bear was swatting and bouncing off boulders and trees! Merely something else that by that stage in my bait- hunting expeditions I had become very acquainted with! The bruin was roaming! Dead silence for a full 30 to 45 minutes! Then! A large tree crashed to the ground a mere 30 to 35 yards up behind me — and just across the trail from my partner-friend! FIVE YARDS — FIFTEEN FEET from him!! Later, he informed me that he had just about filled his pants!
I was not totally surprised, but I must admit that was a first that a bear had felled a dead hardwood THAT close!
Another standard operating procedure by some despotic adult bears is demonstrated in the following examples: My friend Ken, and I had been hunting a particularly crafty male from the same ground blind until mid-October. That was getting late for that kind of hunt in that area of mixed forest. The leaves had already departed from the hardwoods, leaving us somewhat exposed on the side of a ridge to sharp-eyed bruins. The bait barrel was located on my favorite spot at which I’d taken a number of bears. As our hideaway was now somewhat exposed, the big bear was sneaking up through a finger of thick conifers to our right, and behind us, to check us out — to see if we were there. If we were “there” he’d not come to the bait during daylight. But due to this standoff between hunters and bruin, I said to Ken: “He’s coming up the ridge through the thick spruce and fir to check on us, though we can’t see him.” Sure enough, he was doing just that! But, more than that, he tried to intimidate (frighten) us!
I was the shooter and Ken the “assistant” in this particular case. I’m blind on my right side, and partially deaf on that side as well. We were sitting quietly behind the blind, elevated above the bait barrel on a +15 degree uphill angle and 98 yards from the barrel. Ken was on my left and I’d turn to look at him from time to time as hand signals were used for communication. Also eyes and head movements. We avoided whispering. We both knew the bear was handy, but we didn’t know exactly where. Then Ken swung his head part way toward the thick bush behind us while using his eyes to signal the presence of the bear directly behind us. “Directly behind us” was eight feet! His mouth shaped the word “BEAR”! without saying it. I swung in my seat in that direction and the big bruin took off crashing through trees and brush like a D9 Caterpillar — only much faster! About thirty yards… then dead silence! The bear wasn’t spooked, but he tried to spook us!! Not even the sound of a leaf falling thereafter until pitch darkness was upon us — and we were compelled to leave our post! Where was that bear?
But that’s not the finalé of that drama… A week later, I was back in the blind solo. The above pic was taken from a standing position. I wanted a photo of the scene for publication. The bush where the bear had been in hiding the week previous is just out of sight to the right edge of the photo. The bear had not been heard or seen, but I smelled him, as I’d done on the previous occasion when Ken was with me, and I’d made mention of it to him at the time. When I took my first step to return to my seat, the bear repeated his act and went chrashing off through the underbrush as in the previous week! (By the way, the big hole in the blind was made by a bear. He had torn it down and was standing on it one early morning as I arrived with two buckets of bait — one in each hand! And he looked down at me with contempt — as much as to say, “How dare you, a mere man, rearrange my kitchen!” I had to backtrack to my van and wait him out.)
How long had he been observing me at eight to ten feet directly at my unprotected back? I heard nothing prior to that final exodus… but I did smell him!
Do bears try to intimidate humans? I lived to tell my story. Others would have told theirs if they had lived.
Q2 – Have predator bears ever observed you as a hunter without you ever becoming aware of it?
The above true anecdotes have forcefully made me aware of that probability.
Another good hunting friend and I had spent an unprofitable afternoon and evening on the same ridge, knowing a dominant black bear was in the immediate vicinity. This was an earlier year than the experiences mentioned previously.
We left our site in pitch darkness. From our blind and tree stand (my partner was in the tree stand) we made our way to the main trail (unkept old logging trail) which led to our parked vehicle. Once we hit this old trail, we made a right-hand turn, took a few steps without flashlights on, and the big bruin was hiding less than five feet from us just off the edge of the trail in thick brush! He crashed off without our ever getting even a glimpse!
Startling? Yes, but much more than that! Try to enter the picture by putting yourself there. We were hunting a big black bear knowingly! He never appeared at the bait setup because he knew our movements and likely our intentions! And, in departing in the black of night we nearly stepped on him! Was he asleep and not aware of the situation that we would pass within 1 and 1/2 yards of him, being defenceless? NOT likely! He knew exactly what he was doing being fully awake and alert! He had a strategy and a plan! IT WORKED! Almost…
(The trail for baiting. We had to walk it to the main trail in complete darkness.)
My oldest son, Brent, and I were bear hunting with Norm as our outfitter. And we were separated by about three miles — that is Brent and I. That night (nearly so) I shot a bear and wondered if Brent might have heard my shot. He didn’t, but walking out of dense woods 1/2 hr after the sun had set, and for a distance of one mile, he had a bear following him every step in pitch darkness! Why would a bear do such a thing?
Consider it, and let’s not assume that it was just “one of those things”, perhaps just a curious bear? Or was the bear looking for, or perhaps sensing a weakness that it might exploit. Brent was carrying his rifle, by the way, fully loaded! You don’t walk alone in pitch darkness for a mile with a rifle unloaded and encased with sounds of a bear in the bush beside you! And, moreover, the so-called “experts” who spout politically correct agendas wouldn’t either under similar conditions — if they have any part of their brains that are still functional!!!
Or perhaps it was just an over active imagination on my son’s part? My son spent two decades in Africa as a missionary in the bush, and a good part of that time he was a licensed resident BIG GAME hunter! He has been caught in jungle with a dead flashlite, a .22LR rifle, and lions roaring around him! Imagination? I DON’T THINK SO! (Brent’s .356 Winchester XTR)
But one of the most intense experiences for me was when I was a rookie at this game with Norm as my outfitter. One feature that I very much looked forward to was the variety of places where Norm would take me for baiting bear hunting-sites. He had about 85 of ’em! One such site was on the edge of a marsh with thick woods all around. Distance from blind to bait was the closest I’d ever experienced with Norm, at 35 yards. But the deal was that I’d park my wheels about 100 yards or so from the setup, on a main dirt road and walk in to my blind carrying my rifle and assorted accessories, including water and a snack, binoculars, head net to keep out blackflies and mosquitoes, etc. The walk was not a long one but it passed within a few yards of the bait site! That was OK at 3 p.m., though I had to be wary of the possibility of a bear being on the bait. But, in leaving when hunting light was gone, I had to pass within a few yards of the bait again in near darkness. And the bait was situated up against thick bush and forest where a big nasty bruin might be awaiting my departure! And, as it so happened, that is exactly what did happen! A bear came in to the woods just behind the bait, laid down, and awaited my departure! I knew he was there from about 6:30 p.m. until I left at about 8:35 p.m. And he was breathing heavily — on purpose! I knew that he knew I was there and would not approach the bait until I left the area! So there was no point in waiting around until the dying seconds of legal light, hoping he’d appear at the bait, as that wasn’t about to happen. So, I left at around 8:35 p.m. with 10 minutes of legal light remaining as I didn’t want to pass within a few feet of him without the use of my rifle! When I did pass by in returning to my van, I heard him breathing no more than 15 feet from me hidden by thick brush!
But are they REALLY dangerous? On a private property Ken, Ben and I were after a “monster bear” that let us know he was boss by wrecking an old fence, pushing over trees, and making it generally impossible for us know his whereabouts at any particular time or occasion.
There were several pastures separated by tree lines, and four horses roamed these fields with complete freedom. They were generally friendly and no problem unless they got into the baits, which they did at times. I received a phone call from a cousin of Roger, who owned these properties that were situated not far from a provincial wildlife park. Also, the east line of the property plunged into a deep ravine and tree-lined bog. From that area, bears would often come up to explore our baits or fruit-bearing wild bushes and trees. The cousin actually had made it possible to hunt these properties since he had been a CO and knew Ken well, who was a current CO. And since I was the “general manager” of these operations, he called me. He was quite excited! The “monster bear” had chased one of the stallions — the black one — down into the ravine, and out into the bog, a killed it! The bear also had started to consume it but was interrupted in its actions by a search “party” that went looking for the missing stallion. And that happened sometime during the night of our last hunt which terminated around 9 p.m. I received the call early the next morning!
In some ways we were fortunate as the predatory bear was targeting the horses and not us! No, he never got shot. But I did continue to hunt these properties six of the next seven years and took four bears; three with my 9.3 x 62, and a fourth with a single-shot NEF .45-70. Yet, during one of those years, I returned to my old Crown Land hunting area and shot another bear using my CZ550 in .458 Winchester Magnum. That location was the one pictured to the right — the same spot where the big dominant bruin was sneaking in behind Ken and I, and when I had hunted solo the week following.
Bears will often wait us out to see what our next move will be before they make theirs! Sounds somewhat human doesn’t it? I bet they’d do well at casinos!
Til the next…
“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’ “. – The Bible