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Gun notes.

Black bear usually range in the same sections as our deer--whitetails in the East, mule deer in teh West, and Pacific Coast blacktail on the extreme West Coast. Just as the grizzly will be found up high in the range of the sheep, goat and caribou, so the little black bar will be found lower on the range of the deer and elk as a rule.

Many times I have run onto black bear sows wth young cubs in the berry season and sometimes in the fall when hunting deer and elk. I never shoot a sow with cubs so have always watched them, and they are usually good for a half hour of entertainment if not traveling. Their actions are absolutely unpredictable. The cubs will wrestle and play and often stand up and box as though they supposed they were men, as other times they will chase each other up trees and even jump on their mother's back in their play. The cubs seem to be eternally interested in either food or play. At times they will mimic their mother's actions; if she turns over a rock, they will find one and do likewise. If she starts to dig they will dig. They are clowns and good for a laugh at any time. When the weather is hot they like to wallow in some cool muddy spring and will spend hours playing in it with their mother.

I once watched a black sow convoy her cub across a deep and wide stream. She pushed him inw ith a paw. He could swim, but did not liek it at all, and when the old bear dived in he promptly grabbed her tail in his little teeth and hung on while she towed him across up the other bank of the river. At other times, I have seen sows teaching the cubs to fish and to dig out grubs. It was most interesting.

Black bear do not answer very large, probably 300 pounds on the average, for mature specimens. They mature much quicker, or so it always seemed to me, than Grizzlies. A real large one may go as high as 600 pounds, but personally I have never seen a black or cinnamom of over 400 pounds in weight. The nose is usually tan colored and quite often there is a white spot in the center of the breast. The teats of the sows are located high, almost between the front legs, and it is most amusing to watch an old sow sit down while the cubs stand up and plant their forefeet on mother's breast and nurse. When scared, the cubs usually let out a bawl and head for the last known direction of mother. When the old sow has young cubs she is very savage toward any old males that come around and they usually give her a wide berth. She will fight to the death for her cubs against almost any animal but will usually run from man.

Usually black bear are harmless, but not always, and many Alaskan guides have told me of having black bear come for them and also chase them into their cabins. I have seen several show fight when badly wounded, the most of them continue to try to get away. Bob Hagel had a wounded black come for him even with a broken back, and that black pulled himself forward with his front paws, all the while bawling his rage. Captain Guleke also had a big one charge him when wounded, and this bear took hit after hit, and was reaching for Guleke's cap when his last shot powder-burned its face.

The only unprovoked bear charge I have ever seen occurred between the Prophet and Musqua Rivers in British Columbia. Westley Brown and Edgar Dopp were afoot, cutting through dense growths of arctic willow and scrub spruce, while four more of us followed with their saddle horses and the pack string. A big headed old black bear, that would not have weighed over 250 to 300 pounds, jumped up out of his bed when Westley disturbed him with his chopping and chased Westley back toward the pack string. Westley yelled, "Look out for the bear" as he ran back, in an effort to reach his saddle and his .30-30 carbine. He still carried his four-pound chopping ax. When he saw the bear was going to catch him before he could make the horse, he stopped and swung the ax up for a high blow at the bear's skull. Just then, Ed Dopp pulled his glove off with his teeth and jerked out an old .455 S&W Triple Lock. He took it in both hands and centered the bear's brain with a heavy slug. That black turned head over heels toward Westley and stopped with his head on the stump of a small tree Westley had previously cut down. Wes promptly sunk the chopping ax in the back of his head clear up to the handle, but the bear was already dead as a mackerel from Edgar's heavy six-gun slug in his brain. The wind was directly behind us and that bear came upwind of six men and 23 head of horses. I was back in the middle of the string and though I stood up in my saddle could not do anything, because of two men and plenty of horses ahead of me. However, I saw enough to know that bear was plenty mad. His upper lip was extended toward Westley and his teeth were showing and the ears laid back flat with his skull.

Incidentally, mad bears all have the same expression on their faces, whether grizzly or blacks. The upper and lower lips are extended forward to the limit and the teeth show, while the ears are laid back flat alongside the skull. They never have the cat snarl that most artists portray in their pictures, with the upper lips drawn back and upward. A mad bear looks almost identically like a mad boar hog. After death, the old grizzly I killed at Snug Harbor had his lips still extended. To give the tyro an idea of the length of the snout, I placed the tips of the fingers on my right hand back against the front teeth of that bear and then the upper lip extended clear across the length of my extended hand to my wrist, fully six inches from the top of that upper lip to the front teeth.

Though more hunters try for black bear each fall and spring than all other species of bear combined, they are usually killed by accident more than when actually hunting them. By this I mean that getting a shot at a black is more apt to occur when hunting other game and is just a chance shot, rather than due to the efforts or knowledge of the hunter. The sense of smell and hearing of the bear is so much greater than that of human being that a hunter will seldom get a shot in timber still-hunting. When watching a bait, or a salmon stream in Alaska, or some garbage dump, it is another matter. But just to go out in the tibmer and still-hunt for black bear without snow is usually about the hardest possible still-hunting I know of, and one that is seldom productive of results.

Hunt always upwind, and if a good breeze is blowing that will muffle your footsteps, so much the better. The late evening is always the best time to hunt bear in the fall. If you make a deer, elk, or moose kill, then you will have a far better chance of getting a bear by watching the offal each evening from some vantage point than you will in actually still-hunting. In the East, bear are very fond of acorns and nuts and will frequent ridges where they can be obtained. They are also likely to frequent any old deserted orchards and berry patches, as they are very fond of any fruit. Even here in Idaho they very often come down and work our orchards at night, or late in the evening. In Utah and the more southern ranges they feed a great deal on acorns in the fall. They also like to lie up along some steep rocky watercourse that is well covered with brush or berry bushes, and in hunting them in the West you can often jump them by working down a watercourse and keeping to the windward side of these small creeks and watching as you go. Even so, more bear will be seen and killed while hunting other game than when actually bear hunting.

In the late fall, they will often be found to frequent extensive patches of wild roses, where they eat the small red seed pods. They also frequent alder and willow thickets, where they eat the swollen larvae of the gallfly, which is encased in a red swelling of the leaves and often is nearly as large as a marble. At such times, when such thickets of willow and alder or wild roses can be located, it is well to get across the canyon and high enough so that you can have a good view and wait for the bear in late evening. The same is true of berry patches. Often the frozen huckleberries and service-berries still remain on the bushes and you can then have a very good chance if you find where the bear are feeding and lie up and wat for him. Be sure always to locate your lookout where the wind cannot carry to him, or you will never see the bear.

In all bear hunting and for that matter all big-game hunting, one must know exactly what the game is feeding on at the time, to have much chance of success. Once you locate what the bear are feeding on and find a good patch of such food, then you have the battle half won. Always pay strict attention to any scolding of the pine squirrels, camp robbers, or blue jays and magpies, as all these birds, as well as the squirrels, will fuss at and scold a bear as long as they can seen him. The squirrels hate him anyway, on account of his digging out their pine nut caches, and the magpies and jays and camp robbers will alway scold him as long as he is in sight. Ravens as well will often circle over a feeding bear, just to see what he is eating and if by any chance it may be carrion and they can obtain a feed when he leaves.
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Title Annotation:excerpt from Guns & Ammo for Hunting Big Game; hunting black bear, part 1
Author:Keith, Elmer
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1984
Previous Article:Washington report.
Next Article:Dangerous game rifles.

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