A Day With the Bear Crew

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My son Zack, holding a cub during his college days.

It wasn’t that long ago that my son got to go along with the Bear Crew into the den of a sow and her three cubs, and ever since then, I’ve wished I could get the chance to do it too.

So when out of the blue, my friend Erin sends me a text asking if I wanted to go with the Bear Crew in January, you can bet I didn’t hesitate one second to say, “YES!”

After promising that I wouldn’t geek out too badly, Erin set the date with the Crew. I put  vacation time on the work calendar, we made our gear list, and we were set to go. The forecast was a perfect sunny, warm day so that was an extra.

We arrived bright and early at the headquarters and got ourselves into our wool pants and boots. We met Randy Cross, head bear biologist for Maine, and our day was set in motion. We had dressed right…wool pants make us quiet…we were off to a great start! We didn’t leave immediately. Instead, we met the entire crew in between their preparations and discussions of the bear we were going to see. Our bear had yearlings as it’s too early for new cubs; they don’t arrive until March or April. The Crew knew her location, how much she had traveled in the last year, and approximately where she was located thanks to the GPS collar she’s wearing. They actually know this bear well. She’s a 16 year old bear that had four cubs last year and they’ve been visiting her den yearly.

The bear crew talked about how much drug to give the sow and cub, throwing numbers, equations, and ratios around like it was a math class. I was amazed at how well everyone works together in gathering everything they need. They apologized because it was only their first few days, and they claimed to not have their routine down…I can’t imagine them doing any better!

I watched a very cool bear video on what to expect. We talked about the Bear Whisperer show, and they asked questions about me…whether I hunt or trap bears. I think they were a happy to hear I’m an avid bear hunter and trapper, but they were welcoming well before they knew anything about me.

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Once we were on the road, we actually didn’t go that far to find a bear. I got to ride on a snowmobile that literally can go ANYWHERE it’s driven…I need one of these! We literally broke trail through woods I’d never consider going, while we squeezed between trees zig zagging until we stopped. Although it had warmed up, the snow was still really deep. Being prepared, we had brought along our snowshoes!

Once we were on the trail, two of the crew members, Roach and Jake went ahead and circled the area while Lisa manned the radio to locate the bear. We quietly followed, making sure not to talk so that the bears wouldn’t hear us approaching. They’re seldom bothered by vehicles, machines, etc., but voices can send a bear bolting from her den. Randy had hoped she’d be denned up as she was last year; she had taken up residence in an old beaver house! The surrounding forest didn’t leave him too optimistic, and a ground nested bear is much harder to sneak up on and dart. So we moved as quietly as we could. To our advantage, the warm weather left trees dropping snow and it made for good sound cover.

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Waiting for the drugs to take effect. Once the sow was drugged, the cub didn’t try to run and they were able to give it a shot. In a matter of a few minutes, both were ready to be evaluated.

We were told that if we hear a whistle then to stop moving. This would mean one of the two crew members had spotted the bear. We watched Lisa and Randy move in while we waited. Little did we know that the bear was right there! They had moved in on her and now they were just waiting for the drugs to take effect. Once we got the okay to move in, we got to see our bear! She was in a ground nest. She literally had scratched the trees to make a bed of bark and laid down with nothing over her!

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As soon as they got the go ahead, the team went into action working diligently and methodically. The bears were placed on a sleeping bag to keep them off the snow. Randy replaced the sow’s collar while Roach and Jake took measurements and weighed the cub. Then once Randy was done with the sow, she was moved onto the bag, and weighed and measured as well. Lisa took information as numbers were called out in between discussions of what they should name the cub. The cub got new ear tags that had most likely been bitten out by other cubs, a tattoo inside her mouth and a GPS collar. Only one cub remained with the sow out of four. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all died, but they may have. Apparently the two male cubs were very big, and the mother had traveled hundreds of miles. It may be possible the two male cubs went off on their own to den, and there is even a possibility that they may be denned nearby as that is also common.

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In just a few minutes, both sow and cub were finished and then we got to get some photos with the bear. It’s entirely a different feeling holding up the head of a living breathing bear. This bear’s head is huge. If I had only seen her, I would might think she was a he.

IMG_0255Before the bears were returned to their nest, Lisa gathered a few armloads of boughs and lined it nicely to keep the bears dry. Their fur is so thick and full and it repels water. I was told that when it rains, the bears will literally get up, shake off, and then lay back down. Once the bears were brushed off of all the falling snow, they were placed back into their nest. A reversal drug was administered to each bear, and we left as quietly and quickly as we arrived.

I am forever grateful for this opportunity to go along with the Bear Crew. To see the professionalism, camaraderie, and true care for the future of our Maine black bears is  something I’ll always remember. Thank you Erin. Thank you Maine Bear Crew!

I wonder if we can go on an adventure with the Maine Moose Crew???…

ohhhh Errrinnnn!! 😉

 

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New Faces at My Bait Site

The sow didn’t like my camera any more than the big boar.

Week Three Woes

Week three is always the week that gets me either excited or worried for bear season. In years past, the bait site didn’t usually get hit until this week, or a big bruin who appeared once before showed up again. I thought this was going to be my year, but this week was a let down despite seeing three different bear on my bait.

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Nice bear that only comes in at night.

This year, many different bears have been visiting my site and I had been lucky enough to say that no sow with cubs have been hitting my bait…until this week. Not only did the giant bear show up, but so did a sow with two cubs.

She’s not the same sow that has been there for the last two years and showed up with three cubs last year.  The sow didn’t like my camera any more than the big boar. Thank goodness Moultrie makes their cameras bear proof since she tried to chew it off the tree. Honestly, one small scratch. Given she chewed and clawed on the camera for a half hour, I’m shocked it still works. I have since moved the camera to a less conspicuous spot.You can see the video on my Facebook page.

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My plan has been that if only bears come in at night, then I would begin trapping for a big one. I completed my trapper course in April, bought my approved Aldrich snare and am preparing to buy my trapping license. IMG_20160820_205259884(1)However, I cannot trap for a bear if there is a potential chance that I will trap this sow. The last thing I want to trap is a sow with cubs nearby. I’d have to release her, and that was not included in my training! Thank goodness for cameras and multiple shots. When she first came to the bait, her cubs did not appear until about 15 minutes later.

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Besides new bear, we also had red squirrels, gray squirrel and this vulture make a showing. Luckily no raccoons have shown. They can devour my bucket of bait much quicker than a bear.

This Saturday will be the tell tale of what immediate chances I’ll have at getting a bear this year. Fingers crossed they’re still actively eating, hanging out and leaving more piles of scat behind. Week three brought three new piles of bear scat filled with blackberry seeds. I guess we do have some berries, but not many, and let’s hope it stays that way! Monday the 29th is opening day!

PS: My blind is still up! The new poles worked beautifully!

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Bear Scat right next to my camera pole. When bears feel comfortable they do this sort of thing. Sometimes they don’t go far from the bait site as to guard it from other bears.

 

 

Bear Baiting Season Begins!

I swear, every year I get more and more excited about bear hunting.

Bear baiting begins one month before we actually get to hunt. I swear, every year I get more and more excited about bear hunting. I haven’t been able to actually get a bear, but none the less, I enjoy every minute of the process, and the experience in the stand waiting for a big boar to show up.

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Last year’s bear site

This year, we moved our bait sites and eliminated one of them. It was too stressful to decide where to sit when all three sites were getting hit, and it seemed like the third bait only made the bear come less to the sites we wanted them at. With increasingly more human traffic on the mountain, we decided we needed to head deeper into the woods. I had only had my other bait site for two seasons, but moving it in deeper will mean a better chance of seeing bear during daylight hours. This year’s bait sits on top of a mountain in a beech tree growth. Claw marks from where they’ve climbed on the trees are everywhere, so I’m extra excited. I’ve already had moose and deer using my trail so I look forward to a wildlife filled hunt.

 

Black bears are naturally nocturnal, so to get a bear to come out during the daytime, it has to be very comfortable with its surroundings. In order to eliminate the interruptions we usually create by baiting during the week in the late afternoon, we’ve left enough bait in the barrel so that whomever decides to visit, will have some bait to come back to, and we’re only checking baits on Saturday mornings for now. That may change if the bears don’t come around. I also have an ace up my sleeve if the season drags on and no bear come during daylight hours…but I’ll keep that to myself for now.

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This year’s site all baited.

My new site is a good quarter-mile into the woods, so we use the four-wheeler to bring in the bait. This year, we bought one barrel of bait to supplement what we had left from last year, but for now it’s lots of yummy cinnamon, frosted danish and muffins from last year. Along with sticky marshmallow nougat, and grease in smaller pails, the bait is left in a big blue barrel. We also put out a wick of anise oil that smells like strong black licorice for those of you who have never smelled it. Bears have incredible sense of smell so the scent acts as an attractant to get them coming to the bait site, and the bait hopefully keeps them coming back. Hopefully, but no guarantees.

 

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My secret weapon for 2016

 

Speaking of sense of smell; last year, I worried I was too open and that my scent let the bear know when I was there. The wind was constantly changing. So this year, at the 2016 Sportsman’s Show in Augusta, I found and bought the hanging tree blind I had regretted not buying the year before. This blind will provide me with extra scent protection, and now the bear won’t be able to tell if I’m in the tree or not since I won’t be seen in the blind, and I won’t be rained on! My tree stand is situated so that my back is to sun, so in theory, the bear will squint from the sun if it looks my way. A strategic move on my part, I hope!

 

 

Let’s hope I don’t have the sow and three cubs like last year.  As much as I enjoy seeing cubs and a sow, I don’t want to meet them in the woods, and I would never shoot any of them. I really am hoping my big old boar, Scrapper, comes around… or another big boar would do too.

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Last year’s sow and cubs making their rounds to all of our bait sites.
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Scrapper my night bear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be keeping you up-to-date with happenings on the bait site and as I hunt. I hope I have exciting stories to write about…and eventually bear meat in the stew pot! Wish me luck!