Follow the Feed for Fall Black Bear
By Gary Lewis
"If I'd hesitated another moment I could have had a bear AND T-bone steaks," joked OHA member Dan Turpin. It was opening day of deer season and he was hunting in the Ochocos. He followed a trail up the canyon on an old logging road.
Tall timber kept the trail in shadow and groundwater helped the ferns stay green, even in early October. Turpin found where a buck had rubbed his antlers on some willows and began to look for the tracks.
Pounding hooves caught his attention. Something coming fast. Turpin settled in behind a fallen tree to watch. A herd of cattle lumbered into view. A young calf galloped at the rear and right on its heels was a bear.
Turpin, armed with a bear tag and a Remington 30-06, had a moment's decision. Should he take the shot and risk alarming the buck he was hunting? Or let the bear pull the calf down? He took the shot when the wide-eyed, bawling beef and the bruin were less than 25 yards away.
Oregon's bear population is thought to be close to 30,000 animals, spread over approximately 40,000 square miles of habitat. Plentiful, but not easy to find. In the late summer and early fall, you've got to focus on the groceries if you want to find a bear.
At this time of year in the Cascades, the Coast Range, the Wallowas and the Elkhorns, hunt the high meadows and old burns where huckleberries grow. Small berry bushes such as crowberry, blueberry and bear berry often are a food source for a bruin. Where huckleberries and blackberries grow wild, a hunter can find a bear by watching trails where he finds tracks.
When the apples in old orchards begin to fall, a downwind stand taken in a nearby tree can yield the hunter a bruin. Likewise, bear will return year after year to hardwood forests when acorns carpet the ground beneath the oak trees.
In late September through October, salmon can be found in many waters up and down the coast. Likewise, some interior streams such as the Metolius, have kokanee runs. As the fish swim upstream they become vulnerable to bears. After they have spawned their bodies are washed up on gravel bars. An alert hunter moving stealthily into the wind may find a bear fishing for his dinner.
A bear is not normally credited with excellent eyesight but will make up for it with good hearing and a superb sense of smell. Pay attention to the wind, testing it frequently to make sure any bears ahead will not be forewarned of your approach.
Today, more than at any other time in recent memory, black bears are plentiful. Plentiful enough that more and more hunters keying on the groceries and targeting them as a primary species. This fall, carry your bear tag whenever you venture into the woods for other game. As Dan Turpin found out, fall bears are following the feed.