by Skye Goode | Mossy Oak ProStaff
Mossy Oak ProStaffer Skye Goode loves bear hunting but when she can't hunt them, she watches them on trail cameras. She spends part of her summer "down time" aging bears and pinpointing the males.
As most of my friends know, I run my trail cameras year round because I love to get pictures of any critter that walks the woods. This time of year my cameras are always run down with pictures of hungry black bears that have emerged from a long hibernation and are in search of food and a mate. Black bear mating season occurs mid-June and can last until early August. During this time, bears are not only in search of a breeding partner, but also trying to fill themselves back out after losing large amounts of fats over the winter. Boars will breed with several different sows throughout the summer, except the sows that already have this year’s cubs with them.
Bear sightings during the day are more common as their judgment is clouded, much like strutting toms or rutting bucks, and the fear of people is somewhat forgotten. A few summers ago, I encountered a male chasing a female through an open hay field. The female crossed the county road, but because several cars stopped to check him out, the male was caught on the other side of the road. He pawed at the ground and growled, upset that the cars were deterring him from crossing the road to pursue his female.
I’ve already had several different bears of various sizes and ages this spring on my cameras that span a three county area. Unfortunately, it takes years to draw a kill tag in my area, and after filling my 2012 archery bear tag, I find myself waiting until 2016 for my next chance to hunt. The night I harvested my male, he came in with a smaller sow pictured above. I’m glad that I was able to see the difference and harvest a mature male instead of a sow that will potentially produce offspring for future hunting generations.
I love seeing the different bears that walk through, and it’s great to practice aging and sizing black bears, a difficult task with the long, heavy fur and lack of a “monster rack” to judge. Bears are categorized as trophies by the size of their skull, which is difficult to gauge from a treestand. Neck size and ear length are the two characteristics I look at when aging a bear. When flipping through trail camera pictures, I can see that I have several yearling cubs coming in, evident by their huge ears and lanky legs.
It is also good practice to learn the difference between males and females, as taking a sow with cubs is considered unlawful. Often times, especially in the later part of fall, cubs won’t be right at the heels of the sow, and you could potentially put your tag on a mother bear when the cubs were a ways behind. Much like a dairy cow, boars will have broad shoulders, a thick neck, and a straight back with a hump around the shoulder area, whereas sows will typically have a swayback, a large hindquarter area, and a smaller face/head with a flatter forehead.
It’s a common misconception that having a large amount of bear in your hunting woods will deter bucks from staying in your area. It is true that if given the opportunity, bears will pray on young fawns. If a hunter is targeting bears specifically by keeping an active bait site in the area, then yes, the deer population will tend to avoid said feeding ground. I keep mineral sites in my woods that are not targeting any one species. I have an equal amount of furbearers, black bear, small game, and deer, including some decent bucks that frequent the area throughout the rut, even though bears are passing through to check out the mineral site. So, black bears and deer can usually coexist.