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Harvesting a Black Bear

Harvesting a Black Bear

Harvesting a black bear

It was a long bear season. I spent 60 hours at two sites, in a tree stand and two ground blinds. Steve spent at least that much time baiting; he did the majority of the work while I literally sat on my butt most of the time. It paid off in harvesting a black bear on September 16. (A plugin is acting up with photos.)

There were days I had to dig deep to stay seated while it poured. None of the downpours lasted more than an hour but still, I despise sitting in the rain. “How bad do you want it,” I asked myself. My Prois hunting apparel kept me warm and dry. If it weren’t for that gear I’d have been back in the truck and heading home in the first few minutes. When I took this pic I’d lost a battle with the rain. Sit and wait it out or walk the half mile to the truck in the down pour. I chose the walk. It stopped raining before I got there so I went back to the tree stand.

harvesting a black bear, Prois

Behind the Bait Barrel

harvesting a black bear, ground blind
harvesting a black bear, bear hunting, MaineThe light on my phone was flashing so I picked it up to see who’d left a message. It was Tammy; there was a huge bull moose headed her way. I looked up in time to see a glimpse of Three following the trail behind the barrel. I pushed my Browning .308 BAR’s safety off and lifted the rifle off my lap. “Bear” I texted to Steve. She disappeared to the right of the barrel. I knew where she’d come into the site – on the right, about three feet in front of the barrel. I waited. Thirty seconds passed. A minute. Ninety seconds. Where did she go? Two minutes. Was she simply passing through?

I lifted the rifle up and pulled it snugly into my clavicle in anticipation of harvesting a black bear.

She stepped into the edge of the shooting lane exactly where I expected her. I study game camera pictures like an over-achieving high school senior studies for the SAT. Where does each bear come in? What direction does it go as it’s leaving? Does it ever stand sideways to give me a broadside shot? I knew where she’d come in because it’s the same spot she used each time she appeared this week.

Over in a flash

The bear walked six feet into the shooting lane, stood in front of the barrel as I knew she would, and looked up the lane at the ground blind. I wasn’t expecting that; she typically looked at the camera, probably because she heard the click as it snapped each picture. One. Two. Three. She turned her head to look straight ahead. Squeezing the trigger slowly and firmly, pulse normal, breathing normal, no excitement at all. I was the most confident I’ve ever been while hunting.

She went down hard and fast, landing on her left side. It wasn’t an instant death but it didn’t take long.

She started to get up so I took aim and squeezed the trigger again, this time seeing the flames fly from the barrel. I hit her the second time, squarely, and she rolled to the left. “Bear down,” was the second text to Steve, this time at 6:29 pm. From start to finish it took less than three minutes to kill the bear. The first shot, through both lungs, would have been enough but I didn’t want a repeat of my 2014 bear. I didn’t want to look for this bear for hours, spend the night tossing and turning, and wondering if it was still suffering. No suffering. Death should be swift.

I waited and listened, hoping to hear it to be sure she was dead but the death moan didn’t come. I stood, took the safety off again and walked to the right. Death throes are hard to watch no matter how many times I’ve seen it happen. This is the first time I’d watched a bear die. I walked 15 feet to the left and looked through the red pines. She was in the dip but I could see her well enough. No movement, she wasn’t breathing now, but no death moan. I returned to the blind and called Steve. “It’s already dead.”

harvesting a black bear, black bear hunting, bear hunting, bait barrel
harvesting a black bear, Robin Follette, Prois, bear hunting
harvesting a black bear, bear in pickup
Black bears are known as the black ghost of the woods. Heavily furred and padded feet keep their footsteps quiet and their prints minimal unless they’re in mud. You might hear branches snap as they break under the bear’s weight or rotting stumps and logs giving way to their long claws, but you’re unlikely to hear footsteps.
black bear foot,

Confident choice in a small bear

I wanted to harvest Chubby. He’s been a challenge from the start. He came in at 9:30 pm and then sometimes, though not usually, later during the night. On Thursday night he was there at 8:15 pm. I studied the game cam pictures to find out more about the small bear from the night before.  I had four hunting days left. Hunting on Thursday night was out of the question in case I made a shot but had to go back in the morning to get the bear. I’d be on a plane to Texas in the morning.

If a small bear and a big bear walked in together and stood broadside I would most definitely shoot the big bear to harvest more meat. But do I refuse a bear that will feed and nourish myself and family because it’s not a “trophy” animal? Hell no. Maine’s bear population is too high. My bait site has been visited by ten bears. That’s far too many bears in a small area right outside town.

Small bears are tender, especially when death is swift. I had no hesitation at all. No regrets. She provided 36 meals.

No High Fives

I took down the bear in three minutes but there was nothing to celebrate. There were no high fives, whooping or hollering, or anything else when Steve, Peter and Chris arrived. Harvesting a black bear is a huge thing and I’m proud of our work but killing wasn’t something I could celebrate that way.

Sitting with the bear’s head at my knee, I stroked her fur. “Thank you, bear. Thank you for feeding us. I prayed before I left the house today for a swift death for you and that’s what you got.” She walked 15 feet and was dead in 60 seconds. I had more to say but that’s between me and the bear.

Have you heard the saying “don’t shoot anything on closing day that you wouldn’t shoot on opening day?” Hogwash. That lumps all animals and situations into one inconvenient package. I hunt to put meat on the table. I have a big buck, larger bear and big turkey mounts on the walls. And I have a small bear that’s going to be delicious. I’ll never shoot an animal I am ashamed of because of its size. Goodness knows I love to talk about hunting. If I were too ashamed to tell everyone then I’d implode and that’s just too messy.

We worked hard and long for this bear. Better a small bear close to the end of the season than no bear when all is said and done. That’s not a blanket statement about harvesting a black bear that will fit all situations. It’s what works for me. I am grateful for this meat, food on the table and an opportunity to share recipes with you.

Thanks to Tana at Floyd Family Homestead for inviting me to join this week’s blog hop!

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Bear Bait Barrel

Bear Bait Barrel

How to Make a Bear Bait Barrel

Making a bear bait barrel isn’t difficult. I’m using an old plastic barrel the girls had for barrel racing their horses and pony. Steve cut a hole in it with the chainsaw. The size of the hole isn’t particularly important to me. I’ve seen large holes bears can stick their heads into and small holes they have to reach into with a paw. One doesn’t seem to work any better than the other.

bear bait barrel, how to makeThe hole should be large enough for a bear to reach in and grab bait.

You need two holes in the back of the barrel. I watched two seven and a half month old cubs work together to turn a barrel on its side so they could get in easily. It took them less than 60 seconds to accomplish the job so we place the holes at the top third of the bear bait barrel. The barrel should be chained or otherwise attached to and anchor the bears can’t drag away such as large trees or stumps. Run the chain through the holes, around your anchor and secure the chain tightly using a padlock.

bear bait barrel, logs

Securing Your Bear Bait Barrel

We chain our bear bait barrel to tall stumps or strong trees to keep the bears from rolling them away. Keep the chain tight enough to keep it from moving away from the tree. If you use a five gallon bucket as a bait barrel you can drill holes on two sides and run the chain through the bucket. Don’t reply on the handle, it’ll make the raccoons laugh as they roll your bucket into the woods.

Bears will approach the barrel, sniff around, and then take time pulling the logs out. Logs give extra time to assess the bear. Is it a shooter? Is it a sow with cubs that will come tumbling in behind her? When my adrenaline rush settles in two minutes will the bear really be as big as it seemed when it first cautiously approached the barrel? Judge the size of the bear compared to the size of the barrel.

Bears! So Many Bears! – Bear Hunting 2016

Bears! So Many Bears! – Bear Hunting 2016

Bears! So many bears!

There are so many bears on Bait 2 this year that it’s a little overwhelming. We have more bears at that site already this year than three sites combined in 2015. I name and study the bears for the same reason I name the livestock we eat – to keep them straight in my mind. I’m going to call them something. “The smallest bear” can change when a smaller bear shows up. The current smallest bear is Patches because he has patches of fur missing.

If you missed why we need to bait bears in Maine you can read the first entry for the bear hunting season.

Note: Brain cramps caused me to set the camera dates off by a month. When the date shows up as July it’s really August unless I’ve edited the photo.

Bait 1

Site 1, large black bear

The sow and cub that visited in the first few days haven’t been back. There’s only one bear at the barrel now and she’s there every night but seldom, once if I remember correctly, during legal shooting time. She’s my first choice for two reasons. She’ll put a lot of meat in the freezer, and because, as you’ve noticed, I refer to the bear as “she.” I’m reasonably sure this is a sow and think it’s the bear I wanted when I took a much smaller bear in 2014. Taking her is a management choice that will help with population control. Nuisance bears have been trapped nearby and relocated. I call this bear Tail because when she’s standing up her tail sticks out further than normal. It’s unlikely she’ll change her habits from night to day. I don’t expect to harvest this bear.

many bears, black bear, big bear

Site 2

It started with Dibs and eight bears later, nine have been to the site in the first three weeks of baiting. They don’t all come back. Dibs hasn’t been around in close to two weeks. Patches and Chubby are there nightly and sometimes during legal shooting time. Smarty and Pima (pain in my ass) are there two or three times a week. You can bring them food but you can’t make them eat. And eat they do. I picked up a 50 gallon drum of mixed nuts yesterday because there are so many more bears than prior years we were caught unprepared.

Flagging shows us the bears’ height. This is Patches.

many bears, bear hunting in Maine, bear baiting

Chubby, for obvious reason.

many bears, chubby bear

Smarty is long and lanky. He looks like Pima but is a bit heavier and has a wider head.

many bears, bear hunting season, black bear, bait 2

Pima

many bears, bear hunting, bear baiting

Instinct and gut feelings are tools we use to keep ourselves safe. I got the creeps one afternoon as I approached the blind. Something wasn’t right. It felt similar to knowing you’re being watched. Steve tended the barrel while I switched cards in the camera, and then I did some investigating but couldn’t turn up anything reliable. Reasonably sure a bear was walking too close to the blind, we put up a camera. I was right.

That’s Pima walking down the trail about a foot from where I planned to sit behind the blind, and in the feature photo for this entry. (Note: different camera, date is correct.) This bear is a pain in my ass because it walks a foot from where I planned to sit behind the blind. I prefer ground blinds over tree stands even when bear hunting. We have a stack of softwood trees as a blind.

All was well and good until Pima showed up, crossing the road behind the site, following the trail we use to get to the barrel, and brushing up against the end of the blind as she passed. We did a little work to discourage it from following the trail. I dragged a fallen tree into the way, added softwood branches as obstacles and other work to encourage this bear to go out and around the blind. It went out alright but swung a hard right and walked parallel to the blind. In the picture above it’s about a foot from where I planned to sit. We put a tree stand up the next day.

Pima and Smarty are the largest bears at 2. Smarty is a little taller than Pima, and Pima’s head is narrower.

Where to Sit on Opening Day

My best chance at harvesting a bear as of today is at this site. Everything can change quickly. Dogs ruined another hunter’s site. As of now, every bear at 2 is large enough to harvest. I’m guesstimating Patches at around 125 pounds and Pima and Smarty are probably around 225 pounds. Don’t hold me to these weights, they’re guesstimates.

What Are the Bears Eating?

Their weight will continue to increase rapidly as they feast on huge amounts of raspberries, blackberries, sarsaparilla, apples and other wild foods as well as the three or four gallons of food we bring them almost daily. There are so many bears sharing the food we bring, as well as skunks and raccoons that are also eating, that it isn’t making a huge difference in how much weight they gain.
bear scat, many bears, what do bears eatScat (poop) tells us what they’re eating and it’s almost completely berries right now. The scat is full of raspberry and blackberry seeds. This bear ate raspberries, blackberries and sarsaparilla. It caught my attention because it looks like it should glow in the dark thanks to sarsaparilla.

So here we are, three weeks into baiting and one week from opening day. Two bears do show up at 2 during legal time, and I’ll most likely take the first one I see.

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Preventing Nuisance Black Bear Problems

Preventing Nuisance Black Bear Problems

Preventing Nuisance Bear Problems

There’s a rogue bear on the loose, being a pain in the backside, and scaring people. It’s probably a yearling that’s been through family separation and doesn’t quite know what to do with itself yet. Sows drive their yearlings away, sometimes violently, to prevent them from being killed by boars during mating season. If the youngsters haven’t mastered finding food they can become problems. Others can find food just fine but take advantage of easy opportunities. Gilman’s chickens looked pretty good and Betty’s dumpster was pillaged.

Maine has the highest black bear population in the lower 48 states, and the population in Maine is higher than biologists determined it should be. A short, easy winter means few bears died in their dens, and I thought it would mean they have enough food to not be jerks this year, but a few of them didn’t get that memo. They’re out and about and some are becoming nuisance bears. Preventing nuisance bear problems is easier than dealing with them after it’s too late, though sometimes we don’t know there’s a problem bear around until they make their presence known.
preventing nuisance bear. black bear, bear problems, problem bearsThanks to Betty Phelps for the photo. She didn’t know she had a bear problem until she woke up to this mess.

Prevent BEAR problems. Lock up your livestock and poultry like the Jack Link's Squatch wants to make them into jerky.Click To Tweet

Tips to Slow Down Nuisance Bears

  • Don’t put your trash outside. Secure it in a sturdy outbuilding or your basement, or take it away. Lock the dumpster. The doors not heavy enough to keep bears out. These big, silent creatures are strong.
  • Bring your grill in or at least clean it after every use. Burn off the food and bring in the grease cup, then give it a good cleaning.
  • Never leave food outside. Make sure everyone bring in their snacks and drinks.
  • Bring in your bird feeders from early spring until early to mid-November, and clean up the ground under the feeders.
  • Bring pet food and water bowls in as soon as the pet finishes eating.
  • Contain your livestock and poultry. Lock them up like the Jack Link’s Squatch is going to forget about jerky and munch on your critters. Lock them in before sunset. The bear that was hit by a pickup on Monday was hit before 5:30 pm.
  • Don’t leave any livestock and poultry food where a bear can get to it or be attracted by the smell. We keep food in 50 gallon drums that are tightly sealed and never have a problem.
  • Use the panic button on your vehicle’s key fob before you go outside to scare away any bears that might be in the yard. If you get up during the night for a drink, hit it again, for a second or two. This is best done if you don’t have neighbors too close.
  • When your dog barks at something you can’t see, let it bark. Bears are known as the “black ghost” because they move silently through the woods. The dog is likely to know a bear is nearby while you have no idea.

Bears and Dogs

  • Keep dogs and bears apart. Ava and Zoey are not afraid of bears. Instinct and experience don’t tell them to be careful enough, and their personalities tell them “oh look, a friend!” They don’t warm up to other dogs easily (they’re shy) but bears are a different story.

Preventing nuisance bear problems takes work. You have to stay on top of it and remind everyone in the household to do so, too.

Hit a Bear? Please Call for Help!

Hit a Bear? Please Call for Help!

Hit a Bear?

PSA. Attention please. :/ If you hit a bear please don’t assume it’s okay because it got up and ran. You seldom ever, or maybe never, have seen a dead bear on the side of the road in Maine. They have hard bones but their internal organs are still soft. If you hit a bear, please, please call the warden or police. You might be nothing more than shaken up and your vehicle might be just fine, but please get help for the bear.
black bear, bear tracks, hit a bear
 
Late Monday afternoon I saw the pickup in front of me hit a black bear. The driver did all he could to avoid it but it truly was unavoidable. He truck made contact with vital organs. The bear spun across the pavement across the other lane, rolled into the ditch, got up and ran in to the woods. The man parked in the road, stunned. I checked on him. He’s fine and there’s no damage to his truck. The bear is not fine. The man didn’t want to call the warden or police because “…I think it’s fine…a lot of fur but no blood…it ran.”
 
We don’t see bears on the side of the road because they’re tough. They can get up and run, but when you hit vital organs they aren’t gong to go far before they drop and die a miserable death. I can’t no do anything. It wasn’t my accident but I called it in to my warden. We couldn’t talk because of poor signals out here in the middle of no where but we could text. He looked for the bear and if necessary, put it out of its misery.

Tips to Keep Yourself Safe if You Hit a Bear

If you hit a bear it’s probably going to run off. If it doesn’t you should:

  • Pull over to a safe place near the bear to force vehicles away from it (in case they don’t see it), and put your flashers on.
  • Flash your headlights (low beam) at anyone coming toward you to warn them about the bear.
  • Stay in your vehicle.
  • Never approach the bear. It might look dead but be unconscious.
  • Call the game warden or police to find out what else you need to do.