We started prepping for bear hunting season in late August. My site had to be moved this year after discovering that “the bear” could see me through the woods. He’s a smart one, that bear I’ve been after for five seasons. Steve and I didn’t set up the new site until the second week of baiting. It’s costly in time and bait, and we know we don’t miss out on anything that first week. The bears who’d find the barrel in week one will find it in week two. When hyperphagia ends many of the bears move on, no longer driven to eat and drink non-stop for a week to ten days.

A bear of around 150 pounds was first to arrive, and he knew what to do. It took him no time to pull the hardwood logs out of the barrel and ram his head in for his first bite. I watched studied him carefully, learned his habits, and considered him for harvest. He got tired of the logs and carried them away. Determined to have easy meals, he carried one log 50 feet down the old skidder trail. He was always the first to arrive in late afternoon or early evening.

I watched bears, too many raccoons, two fishers, a coyote, and a pine marten by way of game cameras. A sow with roly-poly twins visited off and on for a week. The cubs climbed in the barrel, licking it clean and emerging with molasses and crumbs from leftover pastry and bread from the bakery on their fur. They’re rotund, larger than average cubs I believe will go into hibernation close to 60 pound. Their mother is older, must tip the scales at 400 pound, and has kept them well fed. Random bears came, ate, and left after a visit or two. By opening day, nine bears, including three cubs, were on camera. Two sows and their three cubs were off limits.

Resident Land Owner Advantage

Being a resident landowner with 45 acres of forest, I have an advantage. I live here. There’s time to study the bears by looking at pictures daily without driving to and from the sight. I walk over, or if I’m taking a heavy bucket of bait, I make a 60 second drive. It’s not unusual to recognize a bear from year to year by its behavior, markings and scars. Some bears stand out. Only one bear with a solid black face has been on camera in six seasons, and it was only once. I can obsess over still photos and video on a daily basis.

Nervous Bear

Nervous Bear arrives before dark a few days before hunting opens

The amusing log mover and a big, nervous, fidgety boar were my best options. Log mover was always first to come in, almost always before dark. He’s a compact bear with a determined attitude. He lugged logs away like it was his job, and he tackled the barrel, shaking it to loosen whatever food was left at the bottom.

Nervous bear didn’t show up until later, not until close to the end of legal hunting time, until three days before hunting opened (picture below). He always came into the site from a skidder trail to the right of the barrel and stood in front of the old Cuddeback camera. He’d circle the barrel and leave, circle and leave, circle, leave, and not come back until after dark. When he felt comfortable enough to go to the barrel he’d take a mouthful of food out of camera sight and come back a minute or two later. Had I been in the tree stand I wouldn’t have seen him after he left the Meanwhile, I wondered what would happen between me and “the bear” when he came to the new sight. Would he spot me? Smell me? I had substantial distance on my side in this new site.

Below, “the bear.” The bear I’ve seen too close and personal to have an ethical shot. One day…

THE bear, Season five

Views from the game cameras are much better than the narrow space I could see from my stand 60 yards away.

The barrel is white, at what looks like the end of the skidder trial

Making Time for Bear Hunting

A fluid schedule as a writer made bear hunting easy. The nearly inflexible schedule of a baker and small business owner makes anything other than work Tuesday through Saturday afternoon difficult to fit in. I hadn’t harvested a bear since 2016. This is my favorite season and it came with a lot of changes this year. It’s a new site. I no longer had an option between ground and tree stand (I prefer to be on the ground). I’d never harvested anything from a tree stand. The distance from seat to barrel changed from 40 and 50 feet to 60 yards so I could relax a little more. “The bear,” the one I’ve been trying to harvest for the past four seasons, showed up a few days before the season opened, and he came in only at night. Would I wait for him? He’s outsmarted me for four years.

Would I be satisfied with a bear that weighed 150 pounds when there were two bigger bears in the area? Probably, depending on circumstances. I was satisfied with a 105 pound bear when he was the only one I’d seen up until the day before I boarded a plane to meet friends and dove hunt in Texas. How long could I go to work hours early in order to get out in time to sit in the stand? If I hadn’t harvested a bear by the the end of the third week of a four week hunt, would I pare back at work to take an extra day or two off? Would I spend the money to hire a guide and hunt with hounds? How would I make this work? I lost sleep, and when I did sleep, I dreamed of bears.