This is a column I wrote for Maine Woodland Owners. My column is called Focus On Wildlife. I get to write about the animals I am so very fortunate to spend time with, a few I’ve never seen, and one I didn’t know exists until I was looking for a topic. There are some encounters in the wild that leave a lasting impression. This is one.
I don’t have facts or info to share with you this month. This is a story of three bear cubs that have been in my mind and heart since late September and early October. We were scouting zone 9 for bull moose in preparation for my hunt. Bears have a way of appearing when I’m looking for something else. We usually see more bear than turkeys during the spring turkey hunt. We saw more bears this fall than bulls. One bear, easily four hundred pounds, ran up the road ahead of us one Saturday afternoon. Its fur was lush and shiny, and it rippled with the bear’s gait. It crossed in front of us and ran through the alders along the edge of a bog. I’ll never forget that bear and the way it moved.
I debated on including this photo. The cubs don’t look terrible in the other photos. This is the reality of nature. I’m not being entirely honest if I don’t show you the degree of starvation they were in at the time.
The first little black cub stood out against the gray slash. He ate clover until the spot was bare, moved on, ate again, moved on. Eventually he made it to the edge of the gravel road. The wind was in our favor. He crossed the road and went back to eating. We were a hundred yards away. I stepped out of the truck and took a few photos. Perhaps he heard the gravel under my boots. Something made him look directly at me. He scampered back across the road, over the slash, and into the woods. There’d been no sow in sight. I don’t believe this little one had a mother anymore. He was round with winter fat, his coat shiny, his eyes bright through the camera lens. He looked good. Mother to den with or not, I think he’ll make it through winter just fine.
Watching the cub for ten minutes was a gift. What a thrill! I think of it often and smile. It’s the twins that tug at my heart strings. It was Sunday, October 7, 2019. Two o’clock in the afternoon. We hadn’t seen a moose. I caught a slight glimpse of a round black head in the brush. “Bear,” I announced loudly. Steve stopped, turned off the truck, and we waited. A small cub emerged from the brush only one hundred feet away. Peter put his window down for a good look and Steve leaned across the console to see out my window. We moved naturally, not trying to stay still to convince this little bear that we were not a threat. It grazed on a bit of much-needed clover and watched us between bites. We were too close. It should have been afraid of us. We watched for the sow, doubtful she’d appear judging by how scruffy the cub looked.
The second cub left the brush and ambled into the clearing. Its right side had patchy bald spots. With dull eyes, the scrawny cub looked up at us. I took another looked at the first cub, larger bodied than the second, and noticed thin it was. Not as thin as the smaller cub but clearly not at a weight that would easily sustain it through winter. These babes must have been motherless for quite some time. Their loose skin and dull fur hung where there should have been fat bellies. Cub two seldom looked up from eating. It paid us little attention. We left them to eat in peace. One of their last meals? When we stopped to talk with others on the road and told them of the cubs they knew of them. According to locals, they’d been seen in the same spot for two months. That meant they’d been on their own since at least early August.
I’m fortunate to see a lot of wildlife and interesting things thanks to living out here in the woods. We drive a lot of miles on gravel roads each year and get to see even more. I killed my bull two hours into opening day. He was dead before he hit the ground. It was something I expected only in my dreams. It’s not the bull standing 125 yards down an older skidder trail in the company of a cow, a calf and a smaller bull that come to mind most often. When I daydream about my time moose hunting in the North Maine Woods it’s the starving cubs that come to mind most often.