How to Spot Signs of Spring Bear

Most of the time, bear sign is all around, but you’ll miss it if you don’t know what to look for.

We always hear that we need to remove food for bear when it starts to warm up and they start raiding bird feeders. Many people don’t even know what bear like to eat. Bear are omnivores with means they survive by eating plants and animals. Bear don’t eat just honey and they will kill other animals if they want to eat it.

Bear are one of the biggest predators to deer fawn and moose calves born each spring. Bear compete with other predators such as coyote and bobcat, which also kill deer and moose calves. Source

When bear come out of their dens, most often, there isn’t even green grass, let alone abundant berries, nuts, or other goodies to eat, which is what drives them to take advantage of what’s available. That means if they live in your woods, they’ll raid bird feeders, bee hives, chicken coops, grain barrels, and garbage bins, if given the opportunity.

Bear also take advantage of roadkill, called carrion, which is why motorists may get a chance to see bear roadside in the spring. Just think of how much road kill you can see in one trip down the turnpike: deer, ground hog, raccoon, beaver, porcupine, turkey, and fox, just for starters. Bear love beaver, which has been referred to as “bear caviar” or “bear coke”, but I’ve never heard of bear specifically hunting beaver as a source of food. Beaver have some pretty nasty teeth, so most likely, it would be road kill. We actually have used beaver as a scent attractant when we initially set bait for bear hunting. It works.

A bear’s incredible sense of smell will bring them into neighborhoods and populated areas not usually frequented once natural food is available. Since I am fortunate enough to not get bear in my backyard, I have to go looking elsewhere.

photo credit: https://vtfishandwildlife.com/learn-more/living-with-wildlife/living-with-black-bears/bear-resistant-trash-containers

In our travels, primarily on paper company owned land, I’m always looking for signs of bear activity. In all the time we’ve spent in the woods and driving roads, we’ve only seen a bear three times, all at dusk, and only glimpses, because once they see you coming, they usually are gone in a flash of black.

I truly love to see the signs of bear in our travels. You don’t need a game camera to find where bear are hanging out. When traveling roads, you can also spot signs. We often get out and inspect what we find. I love to take pictures and talk with the kids about what the bear might have been eating or doing when it was there. This is also a great way to break up a long ride. Most of the time, bear sign is all around, but you’ll miss it if you don’t know what to look for. So here’s a run down of what to look for:

1. Bear scat, in the road…Yes, bear poop in the road, not necessarily always in the middle. Poop in early spring is usually very black and consists of grass that has just sprouted. This is also a way for boars to mark their territory. Since spring is the beginning of mating season for bear, this is just another calling card.

A few years ago, we were trying to get a picture of this huge pile of poop…and got caught by another motorist…not everyone understands the desire to take pictures of scat. His hand out is for reference. He wasn’t reaching for it…I promise!

2. Rocks that have been rolled out of their spots. You can usually spot when a rock has been overturned. I have scoured my files, and despite knowing I’ve taken pictures of rocks, I can’t find one. But trust me…just picture good sized rocks overturned and ants crawling about. To make up for it, here’s more poop pictures.

3. Logs and other debris in the woods and in older wood yards. These are our biggest finds, and we often find bear claw marks on the wood. Bear rely on insects as an important part of their diet throughout the year, but spring is when ants provide them the food they need.

Newly shredded log in search of bugs
Ants are a great source of protein for bear in the spring.
See how the big stump has been rolled out of the way.
Looking for ants and grubs

4. We’ll find bear tracks in the dirt if we’re really lucky. Nothing to me is more fun than spotting tracks. Which one is it? Front foot? Back foot? The size of the track compared to your hand is a great photo opportunity. ‘

Husband’s hand compared to a bear track
Twelve year-old son’s hand compared to a bear track

And finally…claw marks on trees. Some of the trees were visited long ago and the tree has started to grow, while others are freshly carved. Any way I look at these, they’re all wicked cool.

Those are some deep claw marks…glad it’s a tree and not me!
Old claw marks in a beech tree. The tree was literally covered in claw marks.

I hope this will give you a chance to find your own bear sign. Get out of that truck and take a look the next time you’re on a dirt road. While chances are you won’t actually see a bear, finding sign is almost as good. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ve been missing. Don’t forget your camera or cell-phone…you just may find your own pile of poop to photograph.

We’ve Come A Long Way

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One of the first fishing trips John and I went on with his family. We caught a bunch of brook trout.

As I was talking with John the other day, it occurred to me that we’ve changed so much over the last thirty something years. We married in October of 1984, and through all these years, we’ve persevered and have become what some have referred us to as a “power couple.”
IMG_20160507_110851408I laugh when I hear this because it’s usually in the context of hunting and fishing and all the things we do together. It’s quite a compliment, but honestly, it’s just about being together and enjoying what we do. Our kids are grown and off doing their own things with friends and family, so we have more time together that we didn’t have when we were raising our three kids. Hopefully they’ll take some of the times we spent hunting, fishing and wildlife watching with them and pass it onto their families.

So how did we get here?

My dad was pretty strict, but I think it was his own fears that made these rules. I remember not being allowed to go into the woods. My father’s house was only on two acres, but apparently he felt that was more than enough for us to get into trouble, so we (the kids) weren’t allowed to “wander off” and had to stay in the backyard. As an adult, this had lasting effects as I was dreadfully afraid of the woods and what might be lurking in those woods. The first time John and I went for a walk, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a partridge took off. I was never aware of my surroundings and all I remember was that I didn’t enjoy mosquitoes, and I certainly didn’t go looking for wildlife. Even when my family spent time at the camp lot, a parcel of land that my parents bought in the mid 70’s, that had an old school bus on it that we turned into a camper, we were not allowed to explore beyond our boundaries. Now when I hear partridge drumming, it only makes me want to find it.

From the age of 4, my oldest son Zack would want to go “hunting” with his BB gun, so he and I would put on our orange and take walks in the trails behind our house. We never saw anything, but he got the chance to work on his stalking skills and just loved every minute we were out there. I, on the other hand, never went beyond the trails because that’s all I knew.

One of these times, we hadn’t gotten further than 30 yards off the edge of the field, when I spied legs walking down the right trail. In my mind, I thought this was one of John’s cousins who is tall and skinny and who also lived next door. While I was wondering what he was doing out back, I soon realized it was a rutting moose coming down the trail. His head was down and his antlers…huge antlers…were going side to side as if to challenge us. I grabbed Zack by the arm and made a run for it back toward the house. I wanted Zack to see it, but I didn’t want the moose to charge us. I went into a full asthma attack as we hid behind a tree. We never saw it up close because I was so concerned about getting away from the scary monster, and meanwhile the moose changed course and headed down a different trail.

Zack grew to love the outdoors so much that he’d wander off all day. I’d worry and every night, I’d have to yell, “Zack-Ah-reeeeee“, for him to come home. He certainly explored beyond my boundaries, but would come home with stories of his travels and of all the stuff he saw in the woods.

When my husband was a young boy, he would sit around and listen to the men tell hunting stories, but moose hunting wasn’t allowed then so there were only stories of beastly moose and how scary and unpredictable they are. As a youth hunter, he had an encounter with a rutting moose that charged him, which left a lasting impression. John was set up in front of an oak tree while hunting deer. A moose came in to the smell of his buck lure, and when the moose saw John, he charged. John ended up yelling and kicking leaves at the moose and eventually shot over its head to scare it off. He retold this story  as a teenager and said it was one of the scariest moments as a kid he could remember. Then while in college, John was working the wood yard when a young moose wandered into camp. John decided to challenge himself and he was pretty impressed that he was able to make calls to the moose and eventually scare it off. It was then that he realized moose weren’t all that scary.

Thirty plus years later, we’ve grown to understand moose, and fully appreciate their presence in the woods. We’ve successfully hunted, tracked, and called them in just for the sake of seeing if they’d respond. There are no longer fears associated with moose or any animal for that matter.  If anyone had told me ten years ago, that I’d be hunting bear, or that I’d get my grand slam, I would have laughed. I am no longer afraid of the outdoors, the dark, the water (somewhat),  or going beyond my boundaries and stepping out of my comfort zone. I am still challenged when I face new adventures and those old fears creep in; however, I know I have the skills to be competent in the outdoors, so I just push forward challenging myself at every chance I get.

We’ve come a long way from where we were thirty years ago. I hope that if you’re thinking of getting into hunting and fishing or even just nature, that you’ll not put it off for another day. Don’t expect it to be perfect when you do venture out. Just take each time as a new and learning experience. I’m so thankful for who we’ve become both as people and as a couple. I can’t imagine life any other way.

 

Memories of A Youth Day Turkey Hunt

“If I Could Turn Back Time” still sings through my head when I think of this hunt.

One of the most full-filling times of turkey hunting is when you see your children get the chance to experience what you get to do. Describing a turkey hunting story can give the listener a play by play, but in reality there is nothing like being there hearing a gobble, smelling the spring air, and the feeling the excitement of the turkey approaching your decoy.

MomZackturkeyhuntcroppedMy son Zack and I hunted turkey together, but he was already a teenager and back then they didn’t have a youth day. We had a few successful hunts that went pretty much according to “the plan” we made. I’m sure many of you have seen this photo on my Facebook page. It’s one of my favorites and one of those hunts I’ll never forget, not because of the birds we got, but the whole experience brings a smile to my face whenever we talk about it.

By the time my youngest son was old enough to hunt, there was a spring turkey youth day established, and there was nothing more exciting than planning a day of turkey hunting. I think I was actually more excited than he or John was. John and I bought Tyler all the camouflage and equipment necessary. We scouted. We practiced. We coached. If all went according to “the plan”, then he would be successful. In my mind, we would be successful as parents~Tyler would be hooked on hunting after this hunt. 

“If I Could Turn Back Time” still sings through my head when I think of this hunt.

Tyler is not particularly a morning person, i.e. he doesn’t like to get up in the morning, especially early, early mornings to hunt or fish. By the time we headed out to the spot in Norridgewock, we were running late, to which I duly noted several times on our way to the spot. The sun was already rising, so we’d have to hurry. On our hike into the field, we had to cross an old stream that was frankly raging from the spring rains. Not only was it about shin deep, it was moving fast from right to left. I was carrying my little flip cell phone in my left hunting pants pocket along with a real camera. Unlike today’s phone, in those days, my camera had more megapixels than my phone camera so my pockets were full. I also was carrying my shotgun on my left shoulder as I usually do.

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Tyler and John heading out. The only picture I got that day…

As we made our way down the road, we approached the stream. It was a lot harder crossing at barely daylight than in the middle of a sunny day. I was doing well trying to cross. The water was rushing fast and just about the time I reached the other side and reached for John’s hand, I stepped on a slippery rock and down I went. Oh yes, I forgot to mention the rocks were slick. In a second, I was underwater. My right hand caught my fall; however the entire right side of my body was soaking cold and dripping wet. I said a few curse words about the time John pulled me out of the water. Mood ruined and I was fully aware how cold spring water can be. John was irritated. Tyler was upset, and I was mad at myself for falling, but in no way was I about to let this ruin our time. So off we went to find us some turkeys.

We crossed into two fields, got set up and began calling. John was a short distance away and I took up position right behind Tyler. I wanted to coach him as the turkeys came over over the knoll…as it turns out so did his dad. John was calling. Turkeys were gobbling. Soon two jakes came up over the knoll and headed right for Tyler’s decoy. Tyler was using his Rossi 20 guage convertible gun. I didn’t think it had that much shooting distance so I was telling him to “Wait”, “Wait”, “Wait”…until they were closer. Meanwhile, John was whispering, “Shoot”, “Shoot”, “Shoot it!”….Well, the turkeys heard us too, and Tyler was so confused by everything, that when he finally shot, he shot right over their heads. Birds flew. Feathers flew, but no  birds were down. Tyler had missed them entirely. Now who’s to say whether or not he would have missed even if we weren’t both instructing him, but it didn’t matter right then.

Now you can only imagine his disappointment. He was pretty upset with both of us. We learned our lesson that day. We should have just let him do it, and have only one person be the guide. We had put too much pressure on this kid without even realizing it. We should have spent more time enjoying the experience instead of concentrating on a successful outcome. Tyler’s not really interested in hunting turkeys, or at least not like I had hoped. I will always wonder if this type of hunting experience hadn’t happened if things would be different. Perhaps he’d want to hunt more with us…perhaps not. I’ll never know.

Turkey
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So when you head out to take a kid hunting, don’t do what we did. Don’t put so much pressure on his or her being successful so that if things don’t go according to “the plan”, the world won’t stop. Take the time to enjoy the experience and the time you get to spend together. Regardless of the outcome, your son or daughter will remember these special times more than the one time they got a turkey.

P.S. As luck would have it, my cell phone, camera and gun escaped the water that day and several ticks were removed from our clothes, and Tyler has since forgiven us.