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Bowhunting Black Bears

by Steve Flores 11. May 2012 14:50
Steve Flores

Let’s get right to the point. When you reach “full draw” on an animal that can kill you,if it chooses to do so the intensity level is, to say the least, high. And while a black bear may not seem as ominous as a grizzly or brown bear, the threat of bodily harm still remains. In fact, black bears can prove to be more dangerous simply because of their unpredictability and our own skepticism regarding just how much of a threat they really are. This leads many to let their guard down, thus opening the door for something bad to happen. However, if you find yourself face to face with a bruin, on purpose or otherwise, fret not; archery tackle can spell bad medicine for even the toughest black bear. 


Confidence in your equipment can go a long way toward keeping you calm and steady when the moment of truth arrives. Choose your weapon wisely.

Intimidation Factor

In my opinion, the most difficult part of trying to harvest a black bear with a bow is dealing with the “intimidation” that usually accompanies such a task. Like I said, when you draw back on a potentially dangerous animal, it isn’t like drawing back on a whitetail buck. Yes, emotions will be heightened, and excitement levels will rise, but trust me, it is a different emotion---one that certainly requires a different thought process.

 
Black Bears don’t look so intimidating once they are off their feet. In fact, “ground-shrinkage” is common and often drastic in most cases.

The first thing you need to realize is that black bears are not known to be “man-eaters”. Although they have attacked and mauled humans, for the most part, they are just as afraid of you as you are of them (where have we heard that before). Quite often, you will never even know that you have spooked one in the woods because they will flee the scene long before you arrive. Also, despite their “hulking” stature, black bears are rather small once they are on the ground, stone dead.

I learned this fact on my first black bear hunt in Canada many years ago. The first time I saw a bruin I was amazed at how big it “appeared”. However, I was even more shocked when my guide and I approached the bear after I introduced him to the business end of my arrow. In all honesty, I didn’t believe it was the same animal I had shot just moments before. Part of my misconception was due to the intimidation factor, and some of it was a result of a black bears nature to “puff” itself up in an effort to appear bigger than it actually is; especially when approaching a bait sight or otherwise. When you combine those two stimuli it is easy to see how an approaching bruin can seem larger than life. However, in actuality, they are most often the opposite.

Point of Impact

The largest part of a black bear, and certainly the one area you want to avoid hitting with an arrow, is the front shoulders. This area is very big and muscular and obviously presents the greatest obstacle for your broadhead and arrow. Apart from that region, black bears are rather small. Therefore, placing an arrow tight behind the shoulder (not into it) is of utmost importance. I have killed whitetails by driving an arrow through the shoulders (not on purpose), but I try to avoid such a shot scenario at all costs when it comes to black bears. 

  
You don’t need heavy draw weight to take down a black bear. It can be done using moderate poundage and a sharp broadhead---if shot placement is good. The author’s wife (pictured here) has taken numerous bear with such equipment.

Unlike whitetails, the coat on a black bear is, well…..black. As a result, there are no defining colorations separating or outlining the shoulder from ribs like that of a whitetail. Instead, when you peer through your peep-sight at a black bear all you see is BLACK. This can make the task of “picking a spot” much more difficult, which in turn, can result in botched shots.

When faced with shooting a black bear, I try to divide the animal in half. In other words, I will establish a horizontal center line, and then a vertical center line. Together the two will make sort of a “crosshair”. This will usually give me a good “starting point”. The main thing is not to stray too far to the “rear” of where these two lines intersect because that could result in a gut shot animal, which we all know is bad news. Once I establish where these two lines intersect, I move my point of aim slightly toward the shoulders; making sure I don’t aim directly into the shoulder but rather tight behind it (if I can properly make out the shoulder region). After that, I leave the rest up to my broadhead and arrow. 


Locating a “defined” aiming point in a sea of BLACK can make proper shot placement difficult. Therefore, take a few extra seconds to make sure your sight pin is in the sweet-spot before dumping the bowstring.

Blood Flow

Most often, the blood trail of a bow-shot whitetail will more closely resemble that of a “road”; even more so if shot placement is good and broadheads are sharp. This is due mainly to the short, rather non-absorbent hair of a deer. Black bears, on the other hand, are entirely different. Even when your arrow blows through the boiler room of a bruin, its long, sponge-like hair will often prevent a great deal of blood from hitting the ground. Don’t let this fact discourage you from taking up the trail or naively assuming that you have made a bad hit. I have shot, and trailed, bears that scarcely bleed a drop----despite the fact that they were mortally hit. Sometimes the blood trail will be good, but don’t be surprised if it isn’t. Trust your instincts and take up the trail until you’ve exhausted all effort to find the animal.


Blood on the ground makes tracking easier. However, when trailing a black bear, it isn’t necessarily an indication of a well-placed arrow. A bear’s thick coat will often soak up a lot of the blood before it hits the ground. 

Odor Control

Bears, for the most part, have poor eye-sight. However, they can easily detect movement and without question have very good hearing. But perhaps their greatest defense is their nose. With an unbelievable ability to “sniff-out” danger, food, or a mate, black bears will likely smell you before you even see them. Most often, when hunting over bait, bears will approach downwind despite the fact that they may smell danger. Heavily baited areas are marked with human scent (mostly unintentionally) and therefore many bears become accustomed to it and can’t distinguish between “baiter” and/or “hunter”.  While smaller, immature bears may come close I believe the oldest, largest, and wisest bears often shy away until nightfall; never presenting a shot. 


Regardless of where you hunt black bears, strict attention to odor is paramount for success. Take every “scent-reducing” precaution you can or the hunt will be over before it starts. Pictured here is the latest breakthrough in odor control technology, Under Armour’s new Scent Control clothing line (available summer 2012).

If you happen to be hunting black bears in a big-timber setting, such as I do, then odor control is critical. In most instances baiting is not legal and therefore any hint of human odor near your stand will send bears running in the other direction. With that in mind, the same steps that are taken to fool the nose of a whitetail must also be followed when hunting bears. In fact, your efforts should be increased because, yes, they can smell that good.  Use of a product like Tink's B-tech odor eliminators is an absolute must when hunting black bears.  From the hair & body wash to the field sprays, I recommend using them all to keep your human scent down to an absolute minimum.  Above all else, too much scent can ruin your hunt before it even begins.

Conclusion

With the end of turkey season fast approaching, it’s time to shift our focus to spring black bear.  Regardless of whether you are hunting with an outfitter or in your own backyard, consider these key points before hitting the woods. If you do, I promise you will be the one doing the intimidating in the spring bear woods. Good luck!

Real Work Lies Ahead for Wisconsin Deer Hunting Makeover

by Patrick Durkin 19. April 2012 09:42
Patrick Durkin

Deer hunters who chronically crab about the Department of Natural Resources were cheering and toasting Dr. James Kroll – the “deer czar” – in early April for his harsh preliminary report on the DNR’s deer-management program.

Meanwhile, the agency’s defenders glared. They attacked the report and Kroll personally. They said this proves he just wants the $150,000 fee, and that he repeated every bad thing Gov. Scott Walker and his toadies dictated about the DNR’s deer program. Not only that, but Kroll’s an egotistical second-guesser who wants to build 8-foot fences around every 5-, 40- and 160-acre hunting property in Wisconsin.

Sigh. Welcome to Year 75 (or thereabouts) of Wisconsin’s mind-numbing deer scrum.

Much work remains before the three-man review team releases its recommendations for revamping Wisconsin's deer program in late June.

Seriously, folks: Stop strutting and pouting. In three months, no one will remember this report. By then we’ll have the final report to cheer or condemn. The sides could switch roles if June’s report turns all those grins and frowns upside down.

Or maybe DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp will email outraged press releases to support her wildlife staff, and condemn the Ph.D.s – Kroll and teammates Gary Alt and Dave Guynn – for being rude. After all, she ripped Democrats and Sen. Dale Schultz in March for allegedly disrespecting the DNR while dooming the proposed Gogebic taconite mine near Mellen.

Of course, few realized Stepp was merely defending her environmental-regs staff against doubts they could protect natural resources near the mine. She said so in a statement to skeptical DNR staff hours later.

In fact, to show Kroll’s team she has her biologists’ backs, Stepp could reuse part of her mining statement, and replace “Democrat state senators” with the trio’s names. Try this: “In the end, don't we trust regulating agencies to do their job? On my travels throughout the state, I have found that most … citizens … trust the DNR to do its job. Why don't Kroll, Alt and Guynn?”

Many Wisconsin hunters have long distrusted the Department of Natural Resources' deer-herd estimates.

OK. Never mind.

Trouble is, many hunters have never trusted state biologists to manage deer, and Stepp won’t challenge those doing so now. She even sat silently as the Legislature stripped the DNR of its most powerful deer-management tools this past year.

But maybe Stepp senses futility in fighting. After all, our hunting forefathers of the 1930s and ’40s even scorned Aldo Leopold, the University of Wisconsin’s first professor of wildlife management. A hunters’ rights newspaper, “Save Wisconsin Deer,” slammed the iconic professor for backing “the infamous and bloody 1943 deer slaughter.” The paper also claimed Leopold admitted his deer estimates “were PURE GUESSWORK.”

Imagine: Poor Aldo was ruining “our deer” before biologists even invented the DNR’s demonized Sex-Age-Kill formula for estimating herd sizes.

Hunters will be called on to help with more boots-on-the-ground research.

But make no mistake: Kroll’s team is correct in saying this entire issue centers on endless arguing over numerical goals and estimates impossible to explain to laymen. If hunters don’t see deer, they blame predators and deer estimates. And before wolves returned the past 15 years, some blamed the Chippewa.

That doesn’t mean the SAK is useless. It just means DNR biologists should leave SAK estimates atop their desks for historical, professional reference. Arguing its art, data and formulas outside the office is a fool’s errand. And yet they’d persist if given the chance.

Kroll’s team correctly emphasizes these needs: more in-depth habitat analysis, better forest management for deer, and hunter-researchers to document browse damage and other deer-related field work.

Dr. James C. Kroll, Stephen F. Austin University

In launching those efforts, perhaps we could intelligently express deer-management goals with criteria such as harvest levels, success rates, deer condition, crop-damage claims, deer-vehicle collisions, and forest health and diversity. People can see, touch and understand such things.

What Kroll’s team can’t ignore, however, is deer baiting. Their report lists the top 15 concerns hunters posted on Kroll’s Web site. Three (20 percent) involve baiting. Of the top five concerns, “Come to a decision on baiting” was No. 4. Yet the report ignores baiting while addressing the other top concerns: “too many predators,” “DNR doesn’t listen,” “inaccurate population estimates” and “eliminate earn-a-buck.”

Was this preliminary report unfair to the DNR? Maybe, but by bluntly listing the problems, Kroll has been able to hold his town meetings (April 16-21) and focus on solutions, not endless grievances.

Those meetings and the recommendations that follow will truly determine if Kroll’s team earns the money Wisconsin’s hunters are paying them.

 

 

 

 

Coyotes Prey Heavily on Southeast’s Deer Fawns

by Patrick Durkin 19. April 2012 08:46
Patrick Durkin

SANDESTIN, Fla. – If you’re a Great Lakes States bowhunter who blames every apparent deer shortage on predators, be thankful you don’t hunt parts of the Southeastern United States. Coyotes in some Southeastern regions prey so heavily on newborn whitetails that less than one in five fawns lives four months.

And if you’re a Great Lakes wildlife biologist discussing predators with your colleagues, ask yourself the last time one of them told you to “Get with it!” or “Get your head out of (long pause) the sand” in public.

Well, many wildlife managers talked that way a few weeks ago at the 35th annual Southeast Deer Study Group meeting, which attracted about 325 deer biologists and researchers from universities, wildlife agencies, and timber companies across the South and northward. I’ve been attending this annual gathering since 1991 because it’s a great source for the latest research on white-tailed deer.

In some parts of the whitetail's Southeastern range, many fawns don’t live to see their third month.

At a forum I attended one night, a speaker asked the audience if coyotes were having significant impacts in their areas. About half the wildlife pros raised their hands. Minutes later, John Kilgo, a wildlife researcher with the USDA Forest Service in South Carolina said:

“My guess is that the skeptics haven’t yet seen places that once had deer but don’t anymore. The data we collected at the Savannah River Site (South Carolina) showed it took a 75 percent harvest reduction by hunters to level the population decline. Also, preliminary research doesn’t show much promise for mitigating coyote impacts on deer by improving and expanding fawning cover, or increasing buffer foods.”

Ten years ago, most Southeastern biologists never thought they’d be worrying about coyotes, which aren’t native to the region. But as coyotes moved in the past 30 years, they adapted, reproduced, and learned newborn fawns were easy prey.

Coyotes can kill deer in winter, but do most of their predation when fawns are less than a week old.

“Coyotes are increasing at rates that remind me of what our deer herds did in the 1980s and ’90s,” said Dr. Charles Ruth, deer project supervisor for South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources. “When I talked to folks 10 years ago, I often said if I could get my foot on our deer herd, I would pull out my knife. Well, I’m kind of having to chill out on that approach.”

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of predator-deer impacts is their wide variability within regions and states. When Kilgo reviewed pre-2005 predation studies across the United States, he found coyote-inflicted mortality on deer averaged 16 percent in Northern states and 44 percent in Southern states.

Black bears killed more fawns than coyotes did in a Wisconsin study.

“The North’s highest mortality rate was 38 percent,” he said. “That doesn’t even reach the South’s average,” he said.

But it’s not consistent across the South, either. A 2008-2011 study on northern Virginia’s Quantico Marine Corps base found 60 percent of fawns lived past three months, and more died of natural causes, 53 percent, than predation, 18 percent.

But in 2011, in the first year of a study at the Fort Bragg Military Institution in North Carolina, researchers reported only five of 27 fawns (18.5 percent) survived their first four months, with 15 of the 22 dead fawns (68 percent) killed by coyotes or bobcats.

How do those studies compare to similar research by the Wisconsin DNR? To refresh, one study site is a 3,500-square mile Northern-forest setting in Sawyer, Price and Rusk counties. The other is a 2,300-square mile east-central farmland setting in Shawano, Waupaca and Outagamie counties.

A Michigan study is finding coyotes to be the whitetail's No. 1 predation risk.

During the first year (2011) of Wisconsin’s Northern study, 27 percent of ID-tagged fawns (eight of 30) survived seven months, with 17 of 30 (57 percent) killed by predators. Five others died of starvation or other causes. The top predator was black bears, with five fawn kills. Unknown predators killed four; hunters, three; bobcats, two; unknown canid, two; and coyote, one.

For perspective, a 1973-1983 study in Minnesota’s northeastern forests found annual fawn survival was 31 percent, not significantly better.

But in the first year of Wisconsin’s east-central farmland study, 62.5 percent of ID-tagged fawns (30 of 48) survived seven months, with eight of the 18 deaths (44 percent) caused by predators. The others died of starvation, six (33 percent); vehicle collisions, three (16.5 percent); and unknown causes, one. The top predator was coyotes, with four fawn kills. Hunters killed two; black bears, one; and unknown, one.

Meanwhile, researchers in Michigan’s south-central Upper Peninsula estimated fawn survival at 37 percent in January 2011after two years of study in Menominee County. With three years of data now in, researchers report 47 of their ID-tagged fawns were killed by four-legged predators.

 Coyotes killed 22 fawns (47 percent of kills), followed by bobcats, 12 (25.5 percent), unknown predators, five (11 percent), black bears, four (8.5 percent) and wolves, four (8.5 percent).

 What to make of all this? Few hunters or biologists will find much comfort or scientific certainty in such varying, ever-changing numbers.




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