Spring Bear - Meet ‘em in the Middle
By Gary Lewis
Spring is supposed to arrive on the 20th of the month named for the Greek god of war. As the days march on, snows melt, rivers rise and hillsides turn green, black bear find their way to the sun.
When a bear emerges from its den, it seeks available forage that will include grass, forbs (broadleaf plants), bulbs and grubs. At this time of year, the bear needs to jump-start its digestion in order to process more complex foods later in the season.
In April and early May, the primary food source to watch is the grass. There's no doubt about it, bears spend most of their time where it’s easiest to make a living. They search out old slides and lower elevation meadows where the new grass grows. As the thaw continues, bear move higher on the slopes, finding the groceries at the mid-elevation levels.
Good bear country is wet and that often means north faces, moss, springs and tangles. On the west side, though, the grass is going to grow best on the sunny south-facing slopes and in the three- to five-year-old clear cuts where sunlight can penetrate.
In dry climates, east of the Cascades, the north face is generally better.
When the temperature climbs in May, the warm weather brings bears into the open on sunlit slopes where they may graze for hours, eating grass and turning over rocks in search of grubs. The thawing snowpack reveals ground squirrel dens and the carcasses of winter-killed deer and elk, which are a bonus.
In the northeast corner of the state, especially in the watersheds of the Grande Ronde, Imnaha, Minam and the Snake, bears follow the elk herds to catch cows and newborn calves when they are most vulnerable. Mountain meadows and creek bottoms with a gentle grade are favored calving grounds and a good place to call a bear to dinner. Calf elk calls and fawn-in-distress cries can bring a bear on the run.
In late-May, adult bears move into the mating season. And, while they still must eat, they turn part of their focus to breeding impulses. Now is the time to focus close to the core areas where you found sign in the early season and watch mid-elevation meadows or clearcuts for hours at a time.
Patience and scouting can pay off with multiple bear sightings and stalk opportunities when you meet them in the middle.