09-02-17 Swanson outdoors

Black bears can cause great fear and hold great fascination among people in Wisconsin. By understanding their behavior, we can coexist with relatively few issues.

I had been sitting in a tree stand since sun up waiting for a black bear to come into the bait station.

About a half an hour before dark, a bear made a very hurried pass through the small clearing where the bait was located and disappeared into the thick tangle of popples surrounding the stand. Soon it began to get too dark to hunt, so I climbed down from the stand and began to walk out of the woods. As I was rounding a curve in the trail that led back to my car, I glanced up and there was the bear 15 feet away walking in my direction. Soon we would be close enough to shake hands.

I pulled the hammer back on my hawkin-style muzzle loader and pointed the rifle in the bear’s direction. The bear looked up and its eyes got as big as saucers. Then in a flash, the bear whirled to its right and leaped over a tall brush pile. After a few snaps from broken sticks, the woods went completely silent as the bear vanished. I was left standing in the woods, in the dark, with my heart racing wondering where it went. I walked out of the woods with all senses on high alert.

This close encounter with a black bear ended the way most encounters with black bears ends: with the bear vanishing into the woods. Seeing a black bear is not that difficult since they are abundant in northern Wisconsin and are common in Dunn County. They are a fascinating species to observe and while black bears do not have the savage reputation of a grizzly bear, they can also be dangerous.

Bears live a very solitary lifestyle until the urge to mate strikes in June and July. Then, they have brief encounters in the woods to propagate the species. The bear cubs are born the following January while the sow is hibernating. The cubs weigh about one-half pound at birth and are born blind and nearly hairless. The cubs nestle into their mother’s fur after being born. When the cubs emerge from the den with their mother they weigh about five pounds and, by midsummer, can weigh up to 50 pounds. Female bears begin producing cubs when they are two or three years old.

Diet and territory

Bears will eat a wide variety of foods and the sweeter the better. Honey, berries, insects and larvae are all prime foods for bears. In the fall, acorns are a favorite and in the spring, bears are one of the few species that can locate new born fawns and ultimately end up consuming many of them. Bears also take advantage of human provided food sources like corn fields and sunflower seeds in bird feeders. They also will scavenge on carrion left in the woods or on road sides. Bears are eating machines since they have to gain thirty or more pounds each summer to successfully hibernate. A bear’s final meal before hibernation consists of pine needles twigs and other roughage. This “food” forms a plug so the bear does not defecate on itself during hibernation.

Black bears do roam a home territory but make no effort to defend it. Their territory covers several square miles of terrain. Bears will scratch or claw on tree to mark their territory. Bear tracks are an interesting thing. The rear foot of a bear makes a print almost identical to the foot print of a human except for the claw marks on the front. The front paw of a bear is different, however. The track has a roughly oval shaped pad with claw marks in the front and a slight indentation in the rear. The bigger the pad the bigger the bear. Experienced bear hunters and researchers can give a fairly accurate weight estimate of a bear based on the size of the front pad.

When bears attack...

Bear/human interaction generally ends well, but people must understand bear behavior to ensure both human and beast survive the encounter. When a bear feels threatened or bewildered they will woof, slap their paws on the ground or make a bluff charge. If a person encounters a bear, they can expect such behaviors, but may not always occur.

No matter how the bear responds, the best course of action is to slowly back away. Do not run or make any quick movements. This may trigger the predatory response in the bear. Talking to the bear may help a heightened situation. If there is a group of people huddled close together, then back away. Waving hands in the air like slow jumping jacks can help. The idea is to make yourself look too big to mess with. Do not look the bear in the eye. Bear attack statistics show that bears can count and that groups with four or more people are rarely attacked. Hence, when camping in bear country bring friends, and one enemy to trip.

Experts note that there are two types of bear attacks: predatory and defensive. On the rare occasion, if a black bear does attack a person it is usually a predatory attack where the bear is looking for supper. So, fight back with anything handy. The nose seems to be a vulnerable spot on bears. Bear spray is much more effective in self-defense from bears than a gun. The best way to avoid issues with bears is to be smart. Keep food under wrap, pay attention in the woods and keep your home and camp clean. If you do spot a bear in the wild, enjoy the show from a safe distance.


Dunn County News reporter

Laura covers local/prep sports as well as school-related and general news in Dunn County. She joined The Dunn County News in October 2016. She can be contacted directly at laura.giammattei@lee.net or (715) 279-6721.

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