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In two days, I will be heading back into the woods and I can barely contain my excitement. I will have spent almost the whole week preparing my gear and rifles for the day trip. It is very difficult to describe this strange magnetic draw I feel toward the wilderness.
 
In Dianne Macmillan’s book “Life in a deciduous forest” she writes about energy and how it is transformed into food when it pertains to the relationships between the sun, the North American biome and its ecosystems, which also include wildlife.
 
She describes the different levels of a forest from high above in the canopy down through the understory and finally to the forest floor; there is in fact energy and not just at the solar or nutrient levels. She writes the following on page six: “A constant exchange of matter and energy creates a natural balance.”

It is all it takes just a few hours in the woods and I am able to grasp the balance I need. Although the majority of us live in urban areas, we are very much part of the link and this relationship that the author writes about, futhermore at the end of the book she provides websites and suggestions on activities and practices that are great for the environment.

This blog is not just about small game and varmint hunting but also about conservation, if you leave a room -shut off the light. This simple yet great gesture will indirectly affect your hunting environment in a positive way allowing you and future generations to benefit from the wilderness as well.

I highly recommend this book as it was an enjoyable read, so much so that I finished it in just two hours. The book is extremely informative and helps you better understand life in a deciduous forest and there are some great points about its wildlife such as the black bears, ruffed grouse and other small game.

Education and awareness are key, thank you Dianne!

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There was a light snow fall covering our surrounding wilderness with its white coat. The whole scene was quite picturesque and very serene. My tracking buddy and I were standing still in the low brush having a rest; he looked down at his watch and checked the time. It was only two in the afternoon and yet the sun was quite low, only a few inches over the evergreen tree line if we looked southwest. I removed my hunting hat with my bare hands and whipped off the sweat from my forehead and then we set off again. 

We had been in the woods since eight in the morning tracking some hare leads and just appreciating being out in the elements. Throughout the morning we were checking other animal tracks too and had a ruffed grouse fly out just a few feet in front of us. The bush was extremely thick and at times I was down on my hands and knees looking under the pine and cedar for hiding spots or simply pushing on through branches on very steep ridges. There was a deer trailing us for a while because we heard large branches crack and snap under its hooves but it never came within range for us to see her. 

The hare tracks we discovered in the morning were slowly disappearing under the snowfall. Now after several hours of tracking some more leads we eventually climbed the southern ridge near the gravel pit and headed into some heavy pine between the goose lake and a farm field to the west.

I had taken a mental picture of this spot from the last time I was out about a month earlier and wanted to save it for the final hours of the day. I knew that this pine forest was a gold mine and we just had to walk the hares. So, we followed the first lead nearest to us and continued until we found the principle trail with several other tracks, I often call this the “super highway” as it acts kind of like a main artery.

My tracking buddy was in the lead and I was trailing behind him about twenty feet to his left. Once it a while he would stop and so then I would take a knee look around under every tree, hole and tall grass. A few minutes would pass and then we were pressing forward again. About fifteen minutes had gone by and we came up to an island shaped brush pile full of pine filled with trails and droppings. By the time we got to the other side of the pile, there were two large pines bunched together to our front and just as soon as my buddy was about to push through, he set off “Big Grey.” The chase was on.

He barely had time to call my name and he leaped forward into the air between the two large trees and faded like a ghost leaving nothing but a cloud of snow. It was text-book, the hare took off like a bullet moving at about fifty-five kilometers an hour and he zigzagged dashing left and right and then completed a large circle to the left. The chase had begun and our adrenaline was pumping like mad. My tracking buddy said he was a fat grayish white hare and he would be an amazing harvest.

I stayed put and waited for the hare to circle as my buddy pushed forward and flushed “big grey” out. I was totally focused and looking for any kind of movement, I moved a few feet left making my way around the brush pile for a second time. It was very quiet and there was no sign of movement. I moved forward once again on a few feet and as I was stepping over a fallen log, swish, the hare sprinted directly to my front going from right to left in what seemed to be a second and then disappeared under the snow and brush before I could get a shot off. He was heading west to the edge of the western field and my tracking buddy shortly found his fresh tracks and so we joined up and pushed forward together.

We placed ourselves side by side and continued flushing left like a rake through the tall grass and searched until we completed a full circle but to no avail. The chase had lasted about an hour and it was one of the best hare hunts I had experienced.

“Big Grey” beat us today but we will be back on his track.

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Try to imagine that we were conducting a study on human behavior, about how a person would behave when entering their car as well as the steps involved in preparing themselves for a drive. This study would have to be completed by doing research on thousands of drivers from all over the world; and it could take months or even years to complete. Time we do not necessarily have.

We would need to be recognized as experts in the field of human behavior thus allowing us to know where to begin the study and what to observe. We would have to be educated in that particular field allowing us to be respected by the public in the event we wanted to publish. We would also need to be prepared to defend our work against critics.

The steps of getting into a vehicle might be: First a person might unlock and open the door, get seated, adjust their seat and mirrors if needed, then fasten their seatbelts. Place their keys in the ignition then starting the car, and then maybe turning the radio or music player on.

This could become a complex study but the fact remains we are pretty predictable and even a young child could act out these steps while playing. I have to admit that this form of human behavior has become fairly common and it would not be difficult to write-up a thesis on this process of entering a car.

Now one might ask what the heck does this have to do with small game hunting. The fact remains that as small game hunters in North-America, almost every time we step into the wilderness depending on where we live, we are entering Grizzly or Black Bear country. When we do, we need to bring with us our best weapon every time we step out into the woods and that is, our minds. This is exactly what Stephen writes.

As a small game hunter, I do not have months or years to spend on this type of research and besides it is no longer about my example but rather about animal behavior and more specifically about bears and their attacks. What are the causes and avoidance? Can we become experts in predicting behavior or just be prepared?

In Stephen Herrero’s book “Bear Attacks: Their Causes and avoidance,” he has provided us with a great resource, combining the experience and research completed over three decades. He is by definition an expert. As a result after having read this book I can go out hunting in my case in black bear country with a more elevated sense of awareness and have more tools at my disposal.

I still believe it to be almost impossible to predict animal behavior especially bears. For me it is about taking the wealth of tips and information that Stephen has provided us and applying it to your experience. This is a great book but I must warn you that the first four chapters are very descriptive with concerns to real life incidents of attacks and may be difficult for some people to read.

This is not meant to be a book review by a long shot but rather a thank you note to the author for writing such a book and sparing us the years of work and providing us with tools that may make our hunting experience that much more enjoyable as we now become more aware.

I wanted to share some of the tips and information that I consider important and that Stephen has written and recommends:

-Go to naturalist talks on bears or attend a bear awareness sessions
-Study “Field Signs” such as feeding or bedding areas, areas near rivers (droppings, scrapings on trees, crushed logs, turned over rocks, fresh digging holes for roots or insects)
-Know the difference between the two types of bear attacks, defensive and predatory.
-Playing dead is your best bet for minimizing injury during defensive attacks, but you must be able to tell the difference between a defensive and a predatory attack.
-Fighting back, using any available weapon is essential in a predatory attack. Most serious or fatal attacks by black bears have been predatory.
-Certain bears that are use to feeding on people’s food and garbage can become dangerous or nuisances and in worst cases have killed people.
-Stay away from carcasses found on trails or near river beds, also be aware that there might be bears nearby if you see scavenging birds. (Just like Ravens and Wolves)
-Bears like to use already used game trails, roads and open areas near river banks, be aware of this and attempt to avoid possible in making any sudden contacts.
-When hiking through the woods, always be aware of the wind direction and try to be positioned down wind from the bears if you see one.
-Make sure you get first aid training and always carry a kit with you on your trips.
-Bring along spare food and water in case you may be stranded while waiting for rescue to come.
-Exercise and remain physically and mentally fit and prepare yourself mentally in preparation for injury. (There is a bear attack story in the book, where mental strength saved a woman’s life when she was certainly facing death.)
-Travel with alertness and attention in your immediate area.
-If the bear is aware of you and nearby but hasn’t acted aggressively, slowly back away, talking in an even tone as possible to the bear while slowly waving your arms. Don’t stare at the bear.
-Carry a gas-powered boat horn or pepper/Bear spray as these both have been tested and can be successful in an encounter. (Hiking stores and Outdoor shops carry them)
-Sometimes your first indication that a bear is near is sound. A crashing in the bushes may indicate that you have come too close to a bear, deer, or moose. (This has happened to me with deer)
-When you encounter or see a bear, you want to know not only the species but also whether it is a female with young.
-Be aware that if a bear sees or hears something, it will often move downwind to get more information. (Bears have great sense of smell)

The author put a Native American saying in his book on page 137 and I read it and instantly memorized it: “A pine needle fell. The eagle saw it. The deer heard it. The bear smelled it.”

In chapter 16, –Bears and people in rural and remote areas, there is a section on firearms and it is very informative on the types of rifles or shotguns including shot that should be used for hunting or in self-defense. If you plan on defending yourself with a firearm against a charging bear, then you better have a lot of practice and know exactly where to shoot the bear and be a highly skilled marksman.

This book and its author Stephen Herrero have provided me with more insight and awareness that will make my hunting journeys into black bear country that much more enriched.

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After a nice chat with Ron, I thought about my hunting plan for the day ahead, prepared my gear and then set off towards the west down the ridge and across the field. It was full of thorny plants, so I went around them on the left, which brought me over to the south-eastern edge of the woods. From there I went in about ten yards from the forest edge and then continued towards the west, all the while carefully scouting the first large boulder; there was no sign of activity and no fresh dirt from a dig, this first den was abandoned.

So I kept going forward, walking slowly and looking all around for any signs of activity or woodchuck. I heard a branch crack and the sound came from the south, deep in the woods to my left and high above me on the other side of the thirty five foot cliff. I stayed alert because Ron had come across a black bear sow and her cups up the road while picking berries two days prior. So I looked around some more and then kept on inching forward. The forest was so quiet, there were only a few crows overhead and I could hear the breeze blowing around me along with their calls and the rustling of the leaves. It was around ten in the morning now and the sun was coming through the tree canopy and lighting up the stones on the forest floor and causing them to change shapes and color, it was such a neat sight.

Ten minutes into the stalk and I spotted my first woodchuck of the day. He was right in front of me facing north and had a clear view of the field to his front. I was coming up on his right from the east and I was in a bad spot. I could not really move forward any more without him seeing me and I was way out of range. There were a few maple trees to my front so I thought if I move backwards he will see me and scoot in his hole. So I had no choice but to move forward. I waited standing still like a tree for about five minutes, so that he would get more comfortable and not set off his alerting whistle and drumming. I inched forward and then stopped only lifting my feet very carefully and keeping them close to the ground.

I would look down on the ground and place my feet between branches to avoid cracking them, then I tried very hard to move in behind one of the maple trees and then moved to the other. When the wind would shift, I could see the woodchuck turn his head and move in the direction of the wind and this would force me to freeze again. It was one of the toughest stalks of the year but I managed to move forward and get only twenty yards away. My adrenaline level was extremely high as I did not want to miss this harvest; it was very hot out and the woodchucks would soon disappear around noon hour for the most part of the afternoon.

I slowly raised my Model 60, lined up the iron sights and took the rifle off safe. Crack! The shot rang out and struck the woodchuck right into its right flank and then everything went silent. Ron had mentioned that there were two other dens on the southern ridge, so I continued my hunt after a short water break.

Once I crossed the river separating the farm from the southern fields, I walked up the northern side of the ridge following the cattle trail and found myself a large boulder to sit on and had a look around with my binoculars. I felt like a true woodsman sitting high on my chosen boulder surrounded by lush Canadian wilderness and farm fields littered with stumps, jagged rocks, logs and broken branches. The heat was intense but there was a nice breeze blowing in from the north-west and the dandelion seeds floated through the sky where they would fall and then rest in all the darkest corners of the woods. The varmint alliance was solidified once more and my day was now over.

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