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.

My Maine Moose Hunting Adventure: The Pre-Hunt

moose-permitI was more than a bit shocked when I found out I was drawn for a 2016 moose permit. Even more shocking was that I was drawn for zone 5, one of the most successful moose zones, which also happened to be the same zone in which my son Zack shot his moose in 2012.

Let me be clear and honest. Moose hunting is not glamorous nor romantic. It’s hard work, especially when there’s only two of you. It’s physically and mentally draining. For a hunter and the sub-permittee to scout, hunt, harvest and transport their own moose, it’s work. This is my story about how we hunted. John and I didn’t hire a Maine Guide to do the work for us. Not that we have anything against hiring guides. In fact, we want to be Maine Guides, so we wanted the whole experience of doing it ourselves. If you don’t or can’t do all that I’m writing about, then by all means hire a Maine Guide.

Weeks before we left, we prepped for the hunt. Prepping for a hunt takes time and money. We didn’t want to forget anything, and with the idea that there would only be the two of us to get a moose out of the woods, we had to be able to do it smart. Winches, come-a-longs, pulleys, snatch blocks, tow straps and more ropes filled our truck. Then we had propane, gas, food, water, firewood and clothes.Physically, I was as prepared as I was going to be. Lugging bait and hiking in to our bear sites all season helped get me physically prepared for long walking on my bad knees.

sixmilecheckpoint
Six Mile Checkpoint. Photo courtesy of NMW website

We headed up to the North Maine Woods on late Friday afternoon. We went up early so we could scout a couple of days prior to the hunt. Given our bear season schedule, and that it’s a four-hour drive to zone 5, we didn’t get a chance to do any scouting before then.

We arrived at the Mile 6 Checkpoint outside of Ashland at 8:59 pm. We registered by phone and left a check for $204.00 for John and I to camp and hunt for 7 days. We drove down the Jack Mountain Road and found the first nice campsite. The gravel roads were still wet from the day’s rain, and pulling the camper across those roads covered the underside and front of the camper in a cement-like coating. We got set up, had a campfire under the most amazing star-filled skies and went to bed.

On Saturday, we scouted, trying to search out where Zack had shot his moose. I had forgotten the GPS in my car so we had to rely on our faded memories, the Gazetteer, and lots of searching. We finally found the area on day two of the trip. Late Sunday afternoon, we spotted where there had been a moose fight in the road only the night before. We pulled over. We found a brand new wallow that moose make to urinate in and then roll in. Yeah, it sounds gross and stinks worse. But when you’re moose hunting, it’s a find, and apparently it’s an irresistible calling card for a cow moose.

moose-antlers
The moose’s antlers looked like these. Photo from Pinterest

We made our way through the armpit-high raspberries and went into the woods about 50 yards. John gave a rake of the shoulder bone on the trees to simulate a moose scraping its antlers, and gave a moose grunt. No return grunt. Nothing. We waited a couple minutes. Then John tapped me on the shoulder and silently pointed. There in front of us about 50-60 yards away stood the biggest moose I’d ever seen! Well, actually all I could see were its three-foot high and foot-wide paddles of its antlers. Not even the points showed because of the foliage…but he was huge and after I put my eyes back in my head, we turned and scurried away so not to bump him out. I hardly slept Sunday night thinking about that moose. In my mind, we’d be on our way home by Monday afternoon. I’d have a moose, and I’d get a big refund from North Maine Woods. I think how boastful that sounded at the time, but in reality, I was just sure we’d get a moose, this moose, early Monday.