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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Outdoor Notebook:

By GORDON LEWIS

Outdoor Notebook

The first time I encountered a bear in the wild I was fishing for trout somewhere beyond Sandwich Notch about 35 years or so ago. I was walking along a seldom used dirt road on my way back to the truck to grab a bite to eat and as I came around a sharp turn in the road there sat a black bear eating an apple out of his paws. I’m not sure which of us was more startled but we both took a quick second look at each other and he went one way and I went another. He did manage to hang onto the apple in his mouth and I never let go of my fly rod – no small achievement on either part considering the speed with which we vacated the place of encounter.

Black bears are the only native bear we have in the Granite state – they come in various colors ranging from pure black to lighter shades of brown. Some may have a white spot or blaze on their upper chest which shows pre-dominantly against their otherwise dark pelt. Black bears are, as a rule, shy and reclusive, they tend to avoid human contact and are seldom aggressive when encountered. ...

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The first time I encountered a bear in the wild I was fishing for trout somewhere beyond Sandwich Notch about 35 years or so ago. I was walking along a seldom used dirt road on my way back to the truck to grab a bite to eat and as I came around a sharp turn in the road there sat a black bear eating an apple out of his paws. I’m not sure which of us was more startled but we both took a quick second look at each other and he went one way and I went another. He did manage to hang onto the apple in his mouth and I never let go of my fly rod – no small achievement on either part considering the speed with which we vacated the place of encounter.

Black bears are the only native bear we have in the Granite state – they come in various colors ranging from pure black to lighter shades of brown. Some may have a white spot or blaze on their upper chest which shows pre-dominantly against their otherwise dark pelt. Black bears are, as a rule, shy and reclusive, they tend to avoid human contact and are seldom aggressive when encountered.

An omnivorous creature, they will eat almost anything they can find that is edible from the same things we eat (especially fond of picnic baskets or was that a grizzly bear named Yogi) to roadside carrion and they are particularly fond of fruit. An old, abandoned orchard with scabby apples is paradise found to a black bear at this time of the year as well as blueberry, blackberry and raspberry patches they find producing fruit throughout the summer and fall season. In the fall they will gorge themselves with apples to help purge their system for winter hibernation.

Black bears are justifyingly known for eating fermenting fruit and get slightly drunk from the process of the fruit converting sugar to alcohol within their stomachs. This occurs only on Friday and Saturday nights as well as full moons and in no way interferes with their normal existence during the rest of the week.

An encounter with a black bear is at once slightly frightening, awe inspiring and wildly impressive all rolled into one fleeting moment in time. They are very timid around humans and will most likely leave the scene immediately, often times before you even know that there has been a meeting of the two different worlds.

Human contact is not something a bear really seeks out and with their excellent sense of smell they usually know you are in the area before you have a clue they are nearby. An attack is extremely rare but any creature that weighs upwards of 300 pounds, possesses sharp claws and very large teeth is an animal to respect and avoid annoying if at all possible.

If you do encounter a bear along a trail or in the woods the simple act of yelling or waving your arms will usually suffice to scare them off. The biggest problem with any bear is that they have extremely poor eyesight coupled with a deep sense of curiosity so they must rely more on their sense of smell than anything else to avoid any confrontations and to satisfy their curious nature.

In my many years of hunting I have had less than a handful of bear meetings and this includes actually seeking them out for whatever purpose at the time. I have often thought that bears are extremely well informed about firearms and avoid any run-ins with anyone carrying one. Fishing rods of the fly-casting variety are a different matter entirely and in most of my chance encounters with them I have been armed for trout rather than bear. In every instance though the bear practiced discretion and left posthaste from the point of contact for horizons unknown. In every instance the bears were never aggressive towards me nor did they display any animosity at my presence in their domain.

However, after all is said and done it is always best to maintain a sense of respect for these great creatures that inhabit forest areas and remote woodland ridges. Any potential food sources that produce a scent such as BBQ grills, garbage, pet food and bird feeders (especially in the springtime) are attractants for these four legged eating machines. In recent years the number of complaints by home owner’s of bears raiding their bird feeders usually coincides with an end to winter hibernation. A 200-pound ravenous appetite freshly emerged from a four month long sleep is not something to face down over the sunflower seeds and discretion dictates that the Fish and Game recommendation that bird feeder stations be taken down by April 1st. The local bird population may miss the easy handouts for a few short days but a miffed Chickadee is easier to reason with than a hungry Ursus Americanus (black bear to non-Latin speaking people).

Black bears are a wonderful resource here in this state and throughout New England in general and we must take care to ensure that future generations get to enjoy this animal in his natural surroundings.

Remember if you do encounter a bear in the wild to make noise (yes – screaming scared works fantastically), wave your arms enthusiastically and move your feet in the opposite direction.

Gordon Lewis can be reached at
moonglowfarm@gmail.com.