Published April 13, 2012, 06:24 AM

Black bears remembered

The first black bear I ever saw was in Yellowstone National Park when I was 11 years old. I still remember it — a bear sitting on its haunches while a brainless father was trying to capture a photograph of his toddler daughter waving a stick at the bear … definitely not a good way to behave around a bear.

By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun

The first black bear I ever saw was in Yellowstone National Park when I was 11 years old. I still remember it — a bear sitting on its haunches while a brainless father was trying to capture a photograph of his toddler daughter waving a stick at the bear … definitely not a good way to behave around a bear.

It wasn’t until 1973 that I hunted black bears. Jake and I went on that trip together to the Selkirk and Purcell Mountains of the West Kootenay in British Columbia. It was a marvelous hunt where we each took a grizzly bear, I shot two black bears, and Jake took a big bear with a 300-yard shot that I still remember. Earlier, I almost had a shot at a big brown-colored bear but there was a snag in the way, I held my fire and never saw the bear again.

A couple times over the next four decades I glassed the “greenup” line during the spring, more as a chance to get out in the field than anything. I never have shot another black bear. But I have seen many — one time a bear ran across the trail while I was hunting elk in the Winegar Hole Wilderness in northwest Wyoming.

I saw bears from my small tent while backpacking alone in the Great Bear Wilderness, and on the shores of lakes in Saskatchewan. Several times I have seen bears in camp, and a couple years ago in Canada I noticed the door to the cabin next to mine banged up and the window missing. The camp owner told me that some fools from a previous fishing party left a package of bacon on the table, a black bear smelled it and wrecked the cabin door to get at the bacon!

One time many years ago Laurie and I backpacked into the upper Sun River country in Montana. We were hiking on a trail when a black bear suddenly leaped from tall grass a short distance from me, ran about 40 yards, then began grazing as if nothing had happened. I was carrying a .357 Magnum revolver, but can assure you that if the bear had been intent on attacking me, I never could have cleared leather. It happened that quickly.

On that same trip we watched a big brown-colored bear wade across the river. (Laurie, who is afraid of bears, was not happy about their presence.)

One time in the Kuskokwim country in Alaska my partners and I killed two caribou bulls. We packed the quarters back to camp, put them into bug-proof game bags and stowed them a couple hundred yards from camp. There wasn’t a tree within two miles where we could hang the bags. Every night black bears would raid our meat bags. We’d move the bags the next day but once again they’d locate them. The bears got as much meat as we did on that trip.

Black bears are highly adaptable creatures that live from Florida to Maine and across the Great Lakes states, and in the West from Old Mexico northward throughout the Rockies, and from northern California up the coast to interior Alaska, and across much of Canada in the forests of the Laurentian Shield.

When I lived in Juneau, it was common to see black bears wander right into town, and in my present home in Bozeman, black bears come into town every fall, foraging before they go into hibernation, and causing a stir among the residents.

The last black bear I saw was during a shuttle ride from a Grumman Goose floatplane to the air strip in Port Hardy, B.C. almost two years ago. A bear ran out of some willows and right into town!

Black bears never were found in the Great Plains, but where there is forest, you are likely to find them. Biologists estimate a North American black bear population of 500,000 to 600,000.

If I were planning a serious, fair chase hunt for black bears these days I would travel to Vancouver Island, B.C. or somewhere in Southeast Alaska. It is a sodden, brooding country with lush grasses, forbs, berries and five species of Pacific salmon — a virtual paradise for black bears!

Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974

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