August 25, 2013

Hunting: Rewards can come hard for bear hunters

By Bob Humphrey

Crickets. Their monotonous drone filled the air with a trill of white background noise so steady and constant I didn't notice it until it stopped. Suddenly the air was deathly still, which could only mean one thing. Something was stirring, unseen and unheard in the dense forest undergrowth.

The bear didn't appear so much as it materialized, right before my very eyes. Where once there was empty space now stood a four-legged black ghost of the forest. Even in the cricket-less silence it made no sound as it deftly set each padded foot down, every step bringing it inches closer. Then it paused, still well out of bow range, slowly turning its round, black head and tan muzzle first one way, then the other. It turned to look back and in flash was gone.

Success is measured in many ways and by some, that hunt could be considered successful. Drawing a wild black bear into the open is no easy task. Shooting one was the ultimate objective, but merely catching a glimpse is a rare and hard-earned event.

That hunt actually began several years earlier, first with inquiries. I knew several veteran bear hunters, including a couple who offered to help me find some likely areas to set baits.

The first few trips were to investigate prospective areas for the right combination of features. They would have to be well away from human activity yet still be accessible, have the dense security cover bears prefer and at least some sign they were in the area.

With that accomplished I set out to gain permission and secure a sufficient supply of bait. The former proved much easier than the latter. In the big woods folks were familiar and comfortable with bear hunters. Back on the flat the mere mention drew odd looks and some reservations. Eventually I secured enough of both to begin the next phase.

In Maine, hunters are allowed to set baits a month before the hunting season. That means late July when the biting insects, heat and humidity are at their peak. Lugging buckets of sweets back into the woods is a chore, but also a means to an end.

Initially I made the long drive every two or three days, diligently checking each and every bait, hoping I'd attracted the interest of a wandering bruin. Each time I returned home disappointed but not defeated. Then one day, after nearly two weeks of baiting, I saw the irrefutable evidence. Something had visited one of my sites, something big. The other sites remained cold but this one at least had turned on.

After a month of baiting, the season finally arrived. I hit the woods each afternoon with all the anticipation of a kid on Christmas morning, expecting to spy my present under a nearby fir tree. But that holiday never came and the season ended with nary a sighting.

Such is the way of bear hunting. Fewer than half the hunters who sit over a bait ever see a bear, let alone shoot one, particularly novices like I was at the time.

I set out the following year with renewed vigor. This time two of my six sites were being visited, albeit on an irregular basis. When the season arrived I made the hours-long drive and hiked up into the forest. Each day I donned camo clothing, soaked myself with scent-masking spray and sat, silent and motionless for hours on end waiting, hoping.

Then, one day it finally happened. The encounter lasted only seconds, but left a lasting impression. I was hooked. And regardless of whether I sat over a bait every season, I was a bear hunter.

It's easy for some people to criticize and condemn that which is unfamiliar to them. To the uninitiated, the process of setting out sweets to lure in a bear might seam so easy as to be unfair, unsportsmanlike. Those who have done it know quite the contrary is true. It takes considerable time and effort to locate and then establish bait sites. It takes meticulous scent control, stealth and diligence to wait one out. Often a bear will circle just out of sight and hearing, and at the slightest hint of danger will simply skulk off undetected.

Eventually some are rewarded, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Far more hunters go home with unfilled tags, but some carry the reward and indelible memory of sighting one of these wild creatures.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

bhhunt@maine.rr.com

 

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