Black Bears

Since childhood bears have been my favorite animal. And for those of you who have not seen one in the wild yet, they look nothing like what you might have seen in the zoo. They are sleek, very black and quiet as a ghost. A close encounter will put chills up the spine of even the most experienced woodsman. 

You can often find bear claw marks in the smooth bark of beech nut trees

You can often find bear claw marks in the smooth bark of beech nut trees

I look for bears whenever I’m in the woods. It is easy to find their sign, but you rarely see one. 

While people have a pretty good fear of bears, there are very few reported incidents. I know of one in the fall of 2010 in the Northern Lower of Michigan when an archer had a confrontation with a bear in his tree stand. The published story is that two bears climbed up his tree whereupon he kicked and encouraged them back down. Then the largest of the group climbed up the tree and gave him a pretty good scratch in his leg. He was so excited that he didn’t even know he had been hurt. I didn’t see pictures of his wounds, but it was reported that he needed quite a few stitches. I could speculate as to why and how this happened, but I wasn’t able to reach the man in the attack so I won’t offer uninformed advice. But I will say this, if a guy took a swing at one of my little boys and my wife was there, you can be sure she’d do a little bit more than scratch him. Animals and humans, we’re protective of our kids! 

Especially in spring, look for secluded meadows for feeding bears

Especially in spring, look for secluded meadows for feeding bears

So keeping with the common sense of animal interaction and the rest of this site, respect wild animals and use your head when dealing with them in an uncomfortable situation. But respect doesn’t have to translate into fear. Bears are amazing animals. Sharing the woods with them is awesome and seeing one is a memory you will have for years. 

Look for deep scratches in trees, especially choke cherry trees

Look for deep scratches in trees, especially choke cherry trees

Most sightings are brief, measured in seconds. They hibernate from mid fall to spring. Their primary diet when they emerge is grass. So you can imagine how late they continue sleeping even as the snow melts, giving mother nature enough time to grow some fresh green stuff.

Bears do eat meat, but their primary diet is veggies and fruits. But they are opportunistic and have a diet that ranges from blueberries, choke cherries, all kinds of grass, especially marshy bright green stuff along the edges of ponds, skunk cabbage, other animals (when the situation presents itself), bird food and even human trash. 

Bears don't really use Charmin like the commercials would like you to believe. Pine trees are their paper of choice

Bears don't really use Charmin like the commercials would like you to believe. Pine trees are their paper of choice

Early summer is mating season and the big boars (males) are out looking for a female in heat. If he comes across a mother and cubs he will attempt to kill the cubs in an effort to bring the mother in heat so he can mate. Cubs typically stay with their mothers through one whole winter together. They are born in the den tiny and helpless. By the time they emerge they are rambunctious, and still pretty small. By that fall they may have reached close to 100 lbs, and will den up with their mother for the last time. 

That spring she will aggressively kick them away, chasing them from her area. The reason she chases them is twofold. First, she doesn’t want a large male to come and kill them. The second reason is for long term genetics. Bears need to disperse in order to help ensure they breed with other families. The males typically will wander the furthest from mom’s lair. During this time where they are looking for new homes they might travel to new reaches of the U.P., and encounter people and towns along the way. 

Bears have territories and leave signs to let others know about it. They bite branches off pine trees, straddle young christmas trees and like dogs - pee on stuff. There are areas where territories intersect, and this is where you might find “scratch” trees. These trees can have decades of marks from various bears over the years leaving their mark. I wonder whether a bear can tell who might have been in their family line.

Through the summer they feast on fresh berries and other foliage. In the fall they fatten up and get ready to hibernate. One of their favorite foods this time of year are choke cherries. It’s easy to tell if bears frequent them as they just about tear them apart to get at the berries.