AS FALL APPROACHES, black bears enter a stage that biologists call hyperphagia, or excessive eating. Right now, it’s not uncommon to find multiple bruins feeding at one food source, each gaining up to 2.2 pounds a day. So the first step is to find the grub. In the big woods, cherries, blueberries, apples, wild grapes, beechnuts, and acorns are tops. On the farm, ripe corn is the No 1 bear magnet.
Loot for fresh scat to tell you bears are actively feeding in a given area. Upon close examination, bits of seeds, apple skins, and hard-mast shell casings will reveal exactly what they’ve been eating. Also search around for fresh claw marks on tree trunks and “bear nests” (tangled broken limbs) in the upper-most branches.
Stamped-down vegetation and partial tracks may indicate entrance trails into cornfields or other feeding areas, but such places can be difficult to pinpoint. To find out whether a bear is definitely visiting an area, try stringing a short length of barbed wire across a suspected trail about 3 feet off the ground. Later, strands of bear fur tangled in the barbs will confirm your suspicions.
Hunt them like Deer
Once you’ve found your spot, use the same care erecting a tree stand for bears as you would for whitetails, with three important caveats: (1) Don’t climb more than 10 or 12 feet high. Otherwise your shooting angle may be too steep to ensure a clean double-lung hit. (2) Set up in a copse of trees or in a large hemlock or pine to avoid being silhouetted. (3) Position your stand so you can shoot sitting down. The less movement you make when a bear is close, the better.
Any bow capable of downing a racked buck is more than adequate for even a trophy black bear. Shot placement is the key. Wait for a broadside or a quartering-away angle and aim mid-body behind the shoulder. Given the animal’s thick fur, considerable body fat, and potentially dangerous nature, expandable-blade broadheads are not a wise choice for bears because they can occasionally fail to deploy. Rather, a cut-on-contact fixed- or replaceable-blade head will give you the best shot at a new rug for camp.
Signs of a Trophy: Five ways to tell if a bruin makes the books
FRONT OR REAR PAD (ABOVE LEFT): A 5-inch width generally indicates a P&Y bear.
SCAT (ABOVE RIGHT): If it’s the diameter of a soda can, the bear is probably a Booner.
CANINE TOOTH SPACING: P&Y bruins that bite into tree branches leave puncture marks that are 2 or more inches apart.
CLAW SPACING: A 7-inch spread usually indicates a dominant B&C boar.
TRACKS: Big boars approach feeding areas cautiously, putting their feet in the same place on each visit. A trail with distinct pie plate-size impressions is a dead giveaway.