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  • Writer's pictureSteve Sorensen

Know the Black Bear Calendar

"We're taking over the habitat of black bears!"

"Man's civilization is disrupting wildlife so animals are confused about where they belong!"

"Something is wrong. Bears are being chased out of their habitat!" 

What are the real reasons bears are making stops not only in small towns in our area, but all across the nation? This week's "The Everyday Hunter" column explains why. (Scroll down to read.)

Above photo: This young male bear took down a bird feeder, then hung around for days after the feeder was removed, hoping for an easy meal. (Photo courtesy of Marsha Donner, Busti, NY.)

Steve Sorensen's bi-weekly newspaper column, "The Everyday Hunter," appears in the Forest County News Journal (Tionesta, PA), the Corry Journal (Corry, PA), both part of the Sample News Group. Also the Warren Times Observer (Warren, PA), and the Jamestown Post-Journal (Jamestown, NY), both in the Ogden Newspapers. If you'd like to see "The Everyday Hunter" in your local newspaper, have your editor contact me.


To access more of Steve's writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of his blog, Mission: Hunter.

Know the Black Bear Calendar

Steve Sorensen

Why the sudden influx of black bears to the small towns in our area? It’s not as sudden as it seems. In fact, it happens every year in early summer.


Some people think we’re displacing bears by knocking down forests to make room for neighborhoods, shopping centers, and factories, but that’s not why bears come to town. Black bears have plenty of natural habitat, from steep mountains to low lying swamplands to secluded hamlets to farmlands. Bear habitat is all around us, so small towns struggling to maintain the status quo are not taking over their habitat.


Bears leave their habitat and show up in ours because of their calendar. Yes, bears keep a calendar. One important appointment we all understand is the period we call hibernation. Although bears are not true hibernators, that word describes their winter doldrums when they are mostly sluggish and sleepy. Female bears birth their cubs in the privacy of their dens, and Mama is groggy when the cubs are suckling for nourishment so that they will be ready to exit the den as winter turns to spring.


Next comes the brief period when bears start regaining the weight they lost during winter and the strength they need for what’s soon to come. They begin by eating grass, which flushes out the digestive system and prepares it for high calorie intake, so lady bears and gentlemen bears get fit for the next important appointment—reproduction.


The trouble is that Papa Bear is not very gentlemanly. His job is to seek out females, but not all females welcome him—especially females with cubs. He is a ruffian bent on killing the cubs if he can. He will view them as food, or as an obstacle to breeding.


And that’s why Mama Bear brings her cubs to town. Whether it’s our habitat or hers isn’t relevant. Her job is to protect her cubs no matter what, and she knows her cubs are safer around us than around the big aggressive males.


It’s not only mothers with cubs we’re seeing in town. The single bears you see are two-year-old males that have left their mothers, plus three- and four-year-olds (maybe older) not yet ready to compete for breeding. Some young males are mature enough to breed but don’t win the dating game because competition from bigger, older males is intense. Without a safe place away from those big bullies, they are likely to end up with scarred faces, torn ears, and maybe worse.


By the first week of July most breeding has finished, but the breeding males will continue patrolling for unbred, willing females.


As summer transitions to harvest season, dumpsters have been secured, bird feeders have been removed, and newborn fawns are old enough to no longer be easy pickings for predatory bears. They will move on to occupy corn fields and feed on tender, milky corn. Then they’ll gorge on berries and capitalize on acorns and other woodland foods.


The sleeping season, the breeding season, and the fattening up season are what govern the calendar of the bears. It’s why they don’t move, and it’s why they do move. And when they move, we see them.


When you see a bear, you can’t ignore it. But don’t try to interact with it, because no good can come of it. You don’t need to call the game warden unless it’s a troublesome bear. Just snap a photo and leave it alone. And especially don’t feed it because a fed bear is a dead bear. Being habituated to people is what makes a bear dangerous, and such a bear is often euthanized.


One of my closest bear encounters was many years ago in New York’s Allegany State Park during deer season. A big one approached and watched me from seven feet away for five full minutes. I’ve had other encounters as close or closer, but this time I worried. He saw me as a source of food, likely because people in the park campgrounds had fed him.


People like to see bears, but too many bears will overwhelm their food base, spread diseases such as sarcoptic mange, and have unacceptable conflict with people. Enjoy the biggest predator in this part of the country, but understand their calendar and give them a wide berth.


When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website,


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