Tomorrow opens the season for hunting bears with bow and arrow, including crossbow. Archery for bear runs through Friday, Nov. 18. Then regular rifle bear season opens on Saturday and runs through Nov. 23. Bear season is closed Thanksgiving but wild turkey season reopens and runs through Nov. 26. Skip one day and you have the opening of rifle deer season.
Sounds complicated, which it is, so it is wise to consult your license digest because some Wildlife Management Areas have different times and rules than others. If you plan to hunt in a WMU different from the one you live in, double-check to be sure you have it right.
I have never hunted bear with a bow and arrow. I have often had black bears within yards of me that would have presented easy shots but not in season. I hunt deer with bow so I know the restrictions and disadvantages of hunting with archery equipment and I believe I can understand the difficulty of bagging a bear with a bow.
Larry Rossman of Franklin, bagged a bear with a bow many years ago and his method is no doubt the most effective one. He spent a lot of time scouting prior to the season and for any serious bear hunter, particularly those who are not part of a bear-hunting gang, that is probably the key. Pinpoint feeding sources and find the bear trails that connect bedding areas with feeding areas. It sounds like a simple formula, but it takes a lot of looking and watching as a rule.
Bear trails have a distinctive look to them and experienced hunters can differentiate between a bear trail and a deer trail. Bear trails are usually wider than deer trails and cleaner. That is, seldom will you find deer tracks or droppings on an established bear trail. A bear trail is packed down by bears' flat feet. Finding a bear trail that connects a feeding and bedding area then selecting a good stand in fairly thick cover for a watch will give you your best chance. Look for such trail on the edges of swamps or other thickets where bears like to hide.
Rossman bagged his bear with a bow and it stood as a record for years. He had scouted, knew where the bear usually traveled so he put up his tree stand. Then he had to come to terms with the next requisite for successful bear hunting - persistence. He passed on two smaller bears that came by his stand but the last hour of the last day, the 462-pounder showed up at his stand. Just before the last moments of the season waned.
Rossman's trophy was one bear that required persistence; another I know of firsthand was bagged by John Whyne of Renovo about 25 years ago.
John Whyne hunted then with the famous Hevner gang near Renovo, and the bear he bagged stood for years as the largest bear ever taken on the North American Continent.
The Hevner gang hunted hard but that year it was unusually warm and hunting was exhausting. On the last drive of the last day Whyne had just about had enough but decided to hang in there for this last drive. Midway through the drive, Whyne saw his trophy, a black bear that scored 22 6/16.
Dick Hevner, the legendary captain of Northcentral bear hunting a couple decades ago gave me some good advice for the lone still-hunter. The best area to hunt for bear when you are alone is on the first bench down from the top of a ridge or mountain. If they are disturbed, they just run up over the top and you'll never see them again," Hevner said.
All the hunters I've talked to also said to get right into the thick stuff. Still hunt along the trails you'll find inside thickets. "If you can see around for more than 30 yards, you are in the wrong place for bear, " Rossman told me.
"First thing you have to do when you hunt bears solo," Hevner said, "is to abandon your deer hunting methods. Bears won't be walking around in the open woods. They'll be holed up in the thickest stuff around so your only chance is to get in there with them.
This year, the mast crop is sparse. Bears will probably be holed up in the thickest brush near a cornfield. But there are a lot of bears in this state and chances are good for a hunter to see one this year. Chances are especially good that you could spot a bear that weighs 600 pounds or more.
Next week, I'll share that famous recipe for bear stew.