Bears are beautiful. They’re cute, strong, amazing – even funny – animals…from a safe distance. But “bear climbs tree stand” doesn’t sound quite so cute. What happens when a bear joins you on a bowhunt? It starts by climbing your tree…and then this happens:
After the bear rockets up the tree with a few soft grunts, it gets eyeball-to-lens with his video camera. It then sniffs around to assess the situation before descending and walking away. Seconds later, the frazzled bowhunter turns the camera on himself, tells us exactly how he feels about the encounter – and then records the bear walking toward a cub several yards away.
That guy isn’t the first – and he won’t be the last – bowhunter to share his tree stand with a black bear. Fortunately, most of these encounters end without harm to the hunter. Occasionally, though, the hunter suffers bites or clawings.
A Mother’s Love
Dr. Karl Malcolm, a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service, has studied black bears in Wisconsin and sun bears in China. He reminds hunters that attacks by black bears are rare. “If you’re hunting deer or elk in bear country, and you see a bear, it’s usually just a cool, memorable experience,” he said. “The vast majority of these encounters are thrilling. Bears usually try to avoid people. Most black bear attacks are just bad luck. You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, and make the wrong move. It’s a crapshoot.”
Geeked-Out Bear Trivia
When black bear attacks do occur, they can often be explained by sows – mama bears – protecting cubs that unintentionally put the hunters between themselves and their mother. But black bears occasionally climb trees and ladder stands simply to check out hunters or the stand platforms.
Curious omnivores. Dr. Karl Malcolm, a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service, has studied black bears in Wisconsin and sun bears in China. He said the bears’ omnivorous diet – meaning they eat meat, fruit and vegetables – makes them curious by nature. “No food is off limits to black bears, so it pays for them to be curious about their surroundings and check things out,” Malcolm said. “If they smell food, candy or something else a hunter is carrying or left behind, they’ll investigate it. If you have an interesting scent on your boots or gloves, it’s conceivable a black bear will climb the tree or ladder to your stand to find the scent’s source.”
How come the bear in that video climbed the tree so fast?! Unlike North America’s other bears – polar bears and brown bears – black bears are well-equipped with curved, relatively sharp claws to climb trees. Their paws are also flexible and dexterous, which aallows them to open screw-top jars and thwart door latches.
Human-like paws are always handy. When skinned out, bear paws look remarkably like human “paws.” When asked to elaborate, Malcolm said: “I’ve talked to game wardens in Alaska who investigated kill scenes of brown-bear attacks, and they’ve momentarily mistaken black-bear remains as human when finding what’s left of the feet. They didn’t realize their mistake until finding more bones that were clearly from a black bear.”