Hunting the Eastern Deciduous forest for black bear without the aid of bait or hounds is one of the toughest hunts in North America. Heavily wooded and rugged terrain combined with the “low density” animal makes the pursuit legitimately difficult. Recently, I’ve been calling it the “sheep hunt of the South.” The only difference being the odds of killing a bear are probably lower. The first questions most people have are, “what does bear sign look like?” and “what’s the best type of sign?” This article and the accompanying photos are designed to describe just that. Most of these photos were collected over the course of a single scouting trip and an additional hunt on public land. Some sign is more valuable than others. Sign that leaves an accurate “time stamp” will give you the most relevant information for harvesting a bear.
Bears are nomadic by nature with large home ranges (typically from 10 to 20 square miles). If you’re trying to kill a bear today, bear sign that is a month old has less relevance than sign made two days ago. Here are six things I look for when hunting big woods bears.
Scat is King
Bear scat (droppings, poop, crap…whatever you want to call it) is the most valuable sign. Its freshness will give you a good estimate of how recently the bear stood right there. Bear scat is moist when fresh and dry when old. Weather conditions and temperature will give you an indication of how quickly it will dry out. High temperatures and direct sun will make scat crust over within a few hours. Cooler temperatures in a shaded region will leave scat moist for longer. It’s always important to use a stick or your boot to knock the crust off the scat to get a better estimate of age.
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November - December 2019