I’m not a bear hunter, nor have I played one on TV! I wouldn’t know what to do with a bear if I tagged one. However, I do thoroughly enjoy seeing them in the wild.
There was a period of time when it seemed that I would bump into a bear every time I stepped into the woods. But back in my early years of hunting, bears were not that plentiful and a sighting was rare. At least for me. Some of that has to do with where you hunt. I began seeing bear when I started hunting deer in rougher terrain in the big hollows of the Shenandoah Mountain.
The first bear I ran into (or should I say ran into me) was in the head of Slate Lick Hollow. If I remember correctly, I was bow hunting and just starting to get familiar with the area. As usual, I had been studying topo maps and noticed an interesting looking series of small ridges in the head of the hollow. The terrain turned out to be rough and thick with laurel but the laurel was low and there were open hollows that could be hunted.
That day, as I was slowly still hunting up the side of one of the smaller ridges, I knelt on one knee to rest and watch the small hollow below. After a short pause, I cut back up to the top of the ridge to continue my trek. Gradually, I began to hear movement high on the mountain on the opposite ridge. Leaves rustled, occasionally a limb would break and a rock would roll on the steepest, roughest part of the mountain. Could it be another hunter above me? Unlikely. Suddenly I saw something black moving on the ridge. It was a bear!
The bear continued to move down the mountain, through the hollow, up the side of the ridge I was on, and stopped just below me where I had rested just a few minutes before, not twenty yards away. For some reason I wasn’t concerned, even though the bear would have run over me if it hadn’t stopped.
We all know what a bear does in the woods, but as I looked directly at the bears expressionless face, it seemed like I could read its mind as it stood there slowly moving its head, trying to identify an unfamiliar scent…. “Hummm, what is that smell!? Squirrel? No, no, no. Raccoon? No, no, no. Deer? No, no, no. Dog? No, no, no. Human!?? YIKES!!!”. With a surprised look it wheeled around and made a mad dash back the way it came. This time it sounded like a freight train in the dry leaves, with broken branches as it crashed through the laurel, and a cascade of rocks rolling as it scrambled up the opposite side.
Since that time, I have seen a number of bears and each time it is something special. The Black Bear is well named because the blackness of the fur is a stark contrast to the background of the woods. Their effortless fluid movement as they travel through the roughest, steepest terrain on the mountain is amazing to see, and hard to describe.
I hope sometime in your outdoor wanderings you manage to “bump” into a bear in the wild and enjoy the experience as much as I do.
Have a safe and productive hunting season, and a very Merry Christmas!