Black bear basics

Maine’s 13-week black bear season opens Aug. 30. Although a natural supply of berries and mast crops predicted for this season will make it more difficult to attract bears to artificial bait sites, outfitters and their clients — the bear hunters — remain optimistic. Maine’s black bear numbers are reportedly at record levels.

Recently, bear guide John Floyd of Tucker Ridge Outdoors in Webster Plantation talked about the upcoming bear season on my Sunday night radio program, “Maine Outdoors” (Voice of Maine News-Talk Network, 7 p.m.).

Floyd’s knowledge of bear behavior and his insights into hunt strategies intended to outsmart the wary black bear made for an interesting and eye-opening interview.

Floyd notes that, contrary to conventional wisdom, hunting bear in Maine over bait from a tree stand has its own set of challenges. Incredible hearing and a keen sense of smell are a bear’s ace in the hole.

“A bear’s sense of smell is seven times stronger than the best bloodhound!” says Floyd. And a “bear’s hearing is twice as keen as a human’s,” he adds.

Before his hunters ever climb their tree stands for the long six-hour vigil, Floyd requires that all of his “sports” sit through a PowerPoint presentation about how to avoid the most common mistakes when hunting bear from a tree stand.

Guess what single tree stand activity by bear hunters, according to Floyd, has spoiled their luck more than any other? Reading a book? Pouring coffee from a thermos? Unwrapping a Snickers bar? Snoozing?

None of the above. Cell phones!

“Hunters who really want a bear need to be still, focused and quiet,” says Floyd. “Trust me on this. No texting your buddy. The time for social media posts and your smartphone is after the bear is wearing your tag.”

The second biggest mistakes by bear hunters are eating, drinking and tobacco use.

Floyd concedes that asking a bear hunter to sit quiet and motionless for six hours-plus is asking a lot but insists that it is the sacrifice that spells success.

Interestingly enough, Floyd’s years as a bear outfitter and stand baiter has taught him that bears, who may be lingering 100 yards from a bait site, get acclimated to the smell and sound, even the walking gait, of the person who replenishes the bait site.

A bear who catches a whiff of a different hunter (the one in the tree stand who has not done the baiting) will rarely show itself, no matter how alluring the bait smells might be.

As former bear hunters who managed their own bear bait sites and spent many long hours in a tree stand, my wife and I now know why we saw only a few bears over the years. We never used a cell phone, but sometimes a book and invariably a thermos of coffee and a piece of Diane’s gingerbread were indulged. You try sitting still for six hours!

Still, we have no regrets, only wonderful memories filled with balmy September afternoons and high anticipation.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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