Hunter Tips – Sharing Habitat with Bears in the Fall
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) reminds hunters as they head into the woods this fall that bears are actively foraging at this time of year in preparation for the winter. Louisiana black bear populations throughout the state are growing and their ranges are expanding, as noted in record numbers of trail camera photos capturing bear activity at deer feeders.
Bears are foraging more actively at this time of year in order to gain the body weight necessary to survive food shortages during winter. Corn is a bear favorite and when placed in areas inhabited by bears it will attract them.
MINIMIZE ATTRACTING BEARS BY
- Planting food plots instead of feeding corn. For those hunters that prefer to feed, it is advisable to switch to soybeans. Switching from corn to soybeans may be enough to drastically decrease the number of visits by bear(s) to a particular site.
- Hanging your feeder out of reach of bears. A feeder should be hung at least 8 feet above the ground and 4 feet away from the tree or pole used to suspend the feeder.
- Using spin-broadcast type feeders. Bears are less likely to forage for one grain at a time, as dispersed on the ground from a spin-broadcast feeder. A pile of feed corn or rice bran is more likely to attract bears for repeat feedings.
How to handle black bear encounters
It is important for hunters to educate themselves about bears and bear behavior and take the proper precautions while in the woods. Younger hunters should be coached on how to respond to different types of bear encounters and provided with bear spray and taught how to use it.
- Black bears are extremely inquisitive and will sometimes follow a hunter’s tracks to a deer stand. It is not uncommon for black bear to place their front feet on the ladder and peer up into the stand in an attempt to discover what’s there. This situation can usually be resolved by standing and moving about on the stand and speaking to the bear to allow him to see and hear you. Once their curiosity is satisfied, bears will usually move on.
- A hunter moving through thick brush will occasionally come upon a black bear nest. Female bears readily use ground nests to give birth to their cubs. This occurs during the den season (late December through April). Ground nests are most often located in slash piles, felled tree tops, blackberry thickets and thick palmetto. This type of encounter will usually cause the female to run away from her nest. The cubs will bawl loudly in protest at being abandoned. This vocalization will quickly bring the female back as soon as you leave the area. DO NOT approach or handle the cubs.
- If you see a black bear in the woods from a distance, detour around the bear. If necessary, go back the way you came and access your intended destination from another direction.
- If you encounter a bear at close range, raise your hands above your head to appear larger than you are, speak in a normal voice to allow the bear to identify you as human, and back away slowly until it is safe to turn and walk away — DO NOT RUN.
- The best tip for insuring hunter safety and peace of mind in the woods is to carry bear spray. It is readily available for purchase on vendor websites, easy to use, and is the most effective bear deterrent available. There are several brands available. Be sure to buy a product labeled “bear spray” and keep it readily accessible at all times. Do not substitute mace or pepper spray intended for humans. Most brands of bear spray come with a belt holster designed to keep the canister in a convenient location. Bear spray buried in your backpack does not do you any good. Another good option for temporarily chasing a bear out of an area is to use specialized pyrotechnics called siren screamer or “screamers”, for short. They are fired from a hand-held, pistol style launcher and make a high pitched “screaming” noise as they fly through the air. They are available for purchase via vendor websites.
- In the unlikely event that a black bear attacks, DO NOT PLAY DEAD; that is a technique used for grizzly bear attacks. Fight back with anything available (sticks, rocks, knives, etc.) as black bear attacks have successfully been stopped when the person fought back violently.
Know your target
Hunters are also reminded that feral hogs and black bears can look very similar, especially in low light conditions. A hog’s eyes will not reflect light or “shine”, but a bear’s eyes will “shine” when viewed with a flashlight. It is critical to always know your target and what’s beyond it before pulling the trigger. Killing a Louisiana black bear is against federal and state law and can result in serious fines, jail time or both. All Louisiana black bear deaths also hinder LDWF’s progress towards successfully delisting the species.
LIVING WITH BEARS
Increasing numbers of bears and expanding bear range means many more Louisiana hunters will encounter bears while hunting. For hunters who do not have experience with bears, encounters with bears can result in some anxious moments. It is important that hunters understand that in most circumstances black bears are not aggressive toward humans. They are typically curious and will usually move away once they are aware of human presence.
In many areas of the United States, including the southeast, hunters and bears successfully co-exist. The increasing presence of bears in Louisiana’s wildlife community will require that hunters learn about bear behavior and make some adjustments in the way they feed deer. Bears are adding a new dimension to the hunting experience and one that will be positive if hunters adapt to their presence. It is the goal of the department’s black bear program to restore sustainable bear populations and allow regulated hunting of bears in the future.
To report a bear incident or problems with bears call 1-800-442-2511.
For more information, contact Maria Davidson at 225-931-3061 or [email protected].