Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Will Boo Boo Return?

Last year, about mid-way through hunting season, we discovered some equipment and food plot damage on our hunting property that we initially thought was vandalism. It seemed odd because the property is not easily accessible and a person would have to know exactly where to go in order to tamper with our equipment. Heavy feeders had been knocked over and broken. When it happened the first time, we repaired the feeders only to later find they had been damaged again. At that point we were convinced someone was intentionally trespassing on the property during our absence. 

After the second occurrence, we began searching around the food plots in an effort to find signs that someone had been there. The year before we had planted a bunch of young fruit trees around the edge of the food plots. We discovered that several of them had literally been destroyed. The trees had been broken off just above ground level. That seemed like an odd thing for someone to do and the trees didn't appear to have been chopped or cut. As we continued to look around, we walked to the pond which is situated at the end of one of the food plots. Along the bank, we came upon the signs of our vandal, but it was not the vandal we assumed. In the mud were several fresh, clearly distinct bear tracks. Suddenly, it all made sense. 

Black bear tracks

We have been hunting this area for many years and had never seen a bear track, much less an actual bear. Up to this point, the top predators were coyotes and bobcats. Bears were pretty much wiped out in Kentucky by the early 1900's due to hunting and extensive logging. The few bears that remained were generally located in the southeastern part of the state. Our property is in the northern part of the state. To say the discovery of bear tracks on our property was a surprise would be an understatement. 

Unlike hunters who live in places where bears are common, we never had to plan or think "bears" while setting equipment or traveling to and from deer stands. Now we realized there was a much larger predator in the area. We surmised the bear was looking for food which is why it went after the feeders and destroyed the fruit trees. The one thing we didn't know was if the bear had taken up permanent residence or was merely passing through. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has radio-tagged several black bears and monitors their movements via GPS. This map shows the travel of one of the male bears over several months: Bear Movement Patterns. As you can see, the bear traveled through KY, TN, and VA. 

One of our concerns was that the bear might eventually get close to our cabin. We do a lot of cooking over the fire pit and an outdoor BBQ grill. The last thing we wanted was for a bear to be attracted by the smell of food or trash. The other concern was bumping into the bear while deer hunting. Since it had obviously been hanging around our food plots we had a new element to consider that had never been present before. Kentucky does not have a regular bear season so hunting it was not an option. The state held its first season last year, but it was limited to three counties in the southern part of the state and only a small number of bears were to be killed. Once (and if) the quota was met, the season was over. 

Black bear track

We didn't find any more fresh bear sign during the remainder of hunting season. In an effort to discourage the bear from staying in the area, we didn't put the feeders back up. Since we really had no options for dealing with a bear, we hoped it had moved on in search of food. 

With this year's hunting season only days away, it will be interesting to see if we have any bear visits again. The population is increasing and sightings are more common, although still rare in the part of the state we hunt. For those of us not accustomed to having bears around, it adds a new twist to the mix knowing a top predator has been and could be in the area. Although bears are generally shy and avoid human contact, the thought still lurks there in the back of your mind while walking to a deer stand in the pitch dark of an early morning.


Dennis said...

Figure on Boo Boo being back, with friends...the things breed like rabbits, we're over run by them.

heyBJK said...

I'm surprised we hadn't seen bear sign before then. It's great habitat. So you're right, Dennis, we'll probably have more. I wish we could get a regular season.