Bears put on show—if you find them

Naturalist and guide Lawrence Woodall goes on a muddy hike in search of bears.

A few weeks back when we had that hot dry spell, you literally had to get muddied and bloodied to locate hot feeding zones for the bears.

Bears are continuously moving from feed zone to feed zone throughout the seasonal cycle, but with hotter and longer dry spells these days, both grizzlies and blacks will travel to bogs, marshes and deeper into the canopy where moisture is retained in nutrient-rich plants, with the bonus of a cooler environment.

Oh, you’ll see the odd bear feeding in the open upon drier feed, usually the younger animals being forced from prime habitat by larger bears. You’ll also see an increase of bold bears seeking food in communities during these dry spells. I can’t understand bear tour operators that sit in one location which normally will be crawling with grizzlies or blacks, but will be devoid of sightings come the hot weather.

It came to a point where I was advising folks they would have to donate a pint of blood to locate bears.

On one such evening trip I was doubtful of any successful sightings with the time we had, so we gambled on one of my favourite glades that sees plenty of bears during Autumn. Our hike out along the game trail proved promising, with lots of fresh scat and crisp paw prints.

We struck paydirt — to put it mildly — as we came upon the glade to see the gorgeous black coat of a 500-pound beauty feeding on a slight rise along the edge.

With an eye on the boar, an elk calf approached within a few feet of our location as it wandered over to investigate the boar. As the calf came within 10 feet of the large male, his size truly came to light as he reared up, towering over the calf who quickly bolted away. The boar stood over seven feet tall and was easily over 500 pounds. He took note of us and then went down on all fours to continue feeding.

The calf’s curiosity was evident as it approached our position, once again observing for a few minutes. There was no sign of the cow; hopefully she was off foraging and would return for the calf later, for if this was an orphaned calf it wouldn’t be long before an opportune predator would go after an easy meal.

At this point we heard stealthy movement around us and the snapping of twigs — I was certain there were bears all around us. When traveling, bears aren’t quiet like elk, cougars or wolves, and it wasn’t long before they presented themselves to the large boar. The first was another large male, our boar stood once again, went down on all fours and charged — no contest.

We think he was becoming a bit stressed with all the activity. No sooner had the newcomer been chased away, he began yawning — a sign of a low stress level. Then we heard another bear to our left woofing, and that was the end of that nonsense as the big guy once again charged, triumphantly sending another nuisance bear in flight.

Our bear once again checked us out, and returned to his spot continuing to feed. It wasn’t just at our end of the glade; we noticed several bears at the far end in an all-out brawl. I was giddy to say the least; this was the full-meal deal, up close and personal.

The brawl didn’t last long as two of the bears were chased off by the champ who took a position in the centre of the glade to feed.

A short while later our boar approached us — maybe he was finally camera shy — but halfway to us he abruptly changed direction and charged another bear that was off to our left. Dusk was setting in and it was time to evacuate, so we left our big buddy who had once again returned to his perch.

Upon returning to the vehicle, with the adrenaline wearing off, the stench was noted; climbing over trees and pressing through dense brush on the game trail, we were coated in a fine haze of aromatic elk urine — a fine wine to go with the “full meal”.

Getting muddied, bloodied and stinky was well worth the action.

Lawrence Woodall is a longtime naturalist and guide who has spent much of his life in the outdoors.

 

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