I Went Bear Hunting and All I Got Was a Picture of Poop

WARNING: No bears were harmed in the making of this spring bear season.

Spring bear season.  It's what you do after you've recovered from general deer/elk season and are looking at your freezer with regret from eating all your venison you carefully packed away for the winter.  Every single shot I missed comes back to me with painful clarity as I scrounge for venison in my freezer's 9th level of frozen hell.  Sure, I can grab the more-than-gamey roadkill deer I harvested in an attempt to put an extra critter in the freezer, and yeah, there's a turkey from fall turkey last year that still needs to get brined and cooked.  Oh, don't forget the all the goat and venison I still need to grind into burger, but hey, there's nothing readily accessible, and after all, it's spring bear season.  I could go freezer diving, or I could accompany Larry in the quest for said bruin.

The answer was pretty obvious.

Going Bear Hunting

For those crazy enough to take on the challenge in Montana, bear hunting is relatively simple. This season, I opted to accompany Larry rather than get a tag and convince myself that I could send the bear to his own happy hunting grounds. With my current rifle modifications not zeroed in, I'm more likely to scare the heck out of the tree next to a bear--or worse. So being a second set of eyes made sense.

Grizzly sow with cubs -- a big no-no.
Papers, Please, or Bear ID

Here in Montana we have two species of bear: black bear and grizzly.  Although the government has delisted the grizzly as endangered, we can't hunt them yet.  There are stiff enough penalties for shooting the wrong species and shooting a sow with cubs to make even the toughest hunter blanch.  So it behooves you to know your bear so you don't screw things up.

Sure, Montana has a test to identify a black bear versus a grizzly.  They even have an interactive exercise where some guy shouts "shoot! shoot!" when you see a bear's picture. (Presumably to simulate the excitement of seeing these elusive critters.)  If a buddy of mine did that, that bear better be attacking him; otherwise, I'm getting a new hunting buddy. Once you're done with the ID test, the State of Montana gives you a piece of paper saying you're capable of telling the difference.

Oddly enough, they never seem to give the test of real-life bear encounters. The test of determining species by hearing crashing through the underbrush or seeing a fresh steaming pile of bear poop that was certainly laid by an elephant and not a bear isn't available. (The poop in question was full of chokecherries and nearly a foot wide.  The next day, I was searching for news of an escaped pachyderm from a circus.) It's that kind of test I'd like to see.

First, Find the Bear
Nature's version of "Where's Waldo?"

We live in bear country.  So, it's no surprise I've seen a bear next to my front porch.  I've also had a bear leave its poo in my yard after my nine-pound attack cat decided to hunt it from the living room window's safety. I guess she scared the poop out of it. That said, I never actually saw the phantom pooper. I simply witnessed the cat, and next day, the poop results.

All-in-all I've only seen a bear outside of a zoo six times.  Twice in Colorado, long ago, and four times in the ten years I've lived in Montana. Granted, I've seen bear twice as much in Montana, but they makes deer look thick as thieves and elk as numerous as the LA freeways at rush hour. Of those four bears, two were not during legal light, one was on the road with private property on all sides, and one was a cub (also illegal to shoot). To make matters worse, you can't bait them here in Montana, which makes finding them a matter of by guess and by golly.

Everything BUT Bear

At this point, bear hunting consists of going around the places where you know there are bear (Montana) and looking for them. Oh sure, we know the diet and where they're supposed to be, but good luck seeing one of the elusive bruins. In fact, if I hadn't seen them -- and their poop -- I might think that they were unicorns or something: totally mythical. So, when we went hunting we saw: bucks, bucks, and more bucks, does, elk, turkeys, eagles, hawks, blue herons, and other amazing critters.

And a poo pile.  One big, grassy bear poop.  Fresh.

And I didn't even bring my cat.

--MH Bonham