Fanciful tales of our forefathers, having only the sparsest gear and clothes, tracking their quarry over mountains and rivers until finally they got the shot, make great by-the-fireplace reading. Few of us, with all our resources, have ever managed to do it.
Gary Alt, former manager of bear research and restoration for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, told Robin Young, host of the "Now" program on NPR radio that when he was first beginning his research on bears, he decided to try to track one down to see just how easy that might be.
He had a great advantage in the chase because this bear had a radio collar around its neck and Alt had the receiver for its signals clipped onto his waist and his father, Buck, was flying a small plane above the area that was equipped with a radio receiver as well.
This bear was a 560-pound black. Once it realized it was being followed it began some serious evasive measures. It led Alt into the thickest, densest wooded areas around and then it would exit the thickets and quickly backtrack and come in behind Alt.
"I got onto that maneuver quickly," Alt said, " so the bear put on the next move. I was tracking on fresh snow, to give me an advantage, and all of a sudden the tracks simply stopped. It was as if he just disappeared. I scanned the tops of the surrounding trees but I was sure no bear could have leapt that distance, so what the heck had he done?
"I got down on my hands and knees and examined the tracks closely and could see that this bear had simply turned around and put its paws down in the tracks he had just made and backtrack. He did this 26 times in the 2 days I followed him," Alt explained
"I never did catch up to him and that's when I realized how many evasive tactics they instinctively know how to use. He led me on a 14 mile trek and I never did actually catch up to him."
Sometimes in bear hunting season, a hunter comes upon fresh tracks in the snow and decides to follow them. It's a great tactic provided the bear has not become aware that you are following him. We've all read stories of grizzly bears who backtracked on their own trail and waited, waylaying a hunter who was following the tracks. The hunter, more intent on watching the trail on the ground, than looking for a bear in the brush, was then rushed and often killed or severely mauled by the bear.
Black bears, it seems, are quite adept at implementing this same trick. Perhaps we can use it to our advantage. If you push out a bear in season or even wound one that must be tracked, have one hunter do the pushing and the other hunters in the gang post at intervals along the trail, to intercept the bruin when he circles.
We utilize that same deception on gobblers in the spring. If a tom is out there gobbling from a distance and refuses to come any closer to your calling position, one trick to try is to loudly waft a series of yelps (or whatever you choose) and then run 50 or 100 yards right toward the bird, set up again and call no more.
Very often, the bird will slowly advance toward the last calling position he heard and walk right up to your new set up spot. So apparently, this evasive maneuver is one that most prey species have learned to use.
As I mentioned last week, this hot summer time is the prime breeding season for bears so they are on the move more than usual. Male cubs from 2 years before have been mercilessly kicked out of their mother's domain and must find some where new to call home. In their travels, as they desperately try to find an area where no dominant male bear has staked its claim and they smell delicious odors they will stroll down main street, or raid the bee hive or bird feeder in someone's back yard.
That's when they get spotted and the alert goes out - someone has seen a bear 100 yards from the house and is sure they have come hoping to find grandchildren to eat, and panic sets in. Everyone wants to get a look at the bear, and everyone has a pet solution as to what will get rid of the bear.
So people start yelling and banging pots and pans together, spraying stuff, thoroughly alarming the bear. So he does what his mother taught him: he runs up a tree, probably right in the backyard of the person who desperately wants to get rid of him or a shade tree on Main Street and the circus begins. Almost always, in these situations, wildlife professionals are called, they come and have to tranquilize the bear, let it fall from the tree, then transport it to some remote area where they hope it will settle into a new home. Sometimes, within a couple of days, the bear is right back at the same spot.
Black bears are not aggressive unless they feel threatened or they have cubs to protect. Most often, if a bear is spotted, if you just ignore it, it will go away on its own.
There are more black bears in Pennsylvania now than in any other time in history. Nuisance bear complaints keep Conservation officers and deputies hopping during the summer. The biggest problem the officers face these days is not how to trap and transfer the bears but actually, where to put them. Every area of the state already has the ultimate bear population that it can sustain so dumping a strange bear into a new area usually results in fights among the newcomer and the resident bears as to will be "top bear." The strange bear generally loses these battles and so the search for a place to live begins anew.
So if a bear shows up in your back 40, just wish him well and wait. He will be gone soon.