Backyard Visitors, Facts Or Myths?

I have received many phone calls and text messages about bears this spring, more than any time I can remember. From trail cameras to cellphone pictures I have it all shared with me, including bears that weigh in at more than 450 pounds, the majority of them in folks’ backyards.

The reason for more bear sightings this spring is really simple: we have a larger bear population than we have had in some time. It’s just that simple, folks.

It seems the past few weeks the reports of bear sightings have increased. This is because bears came out earlier this spring looking for food. I’m not a huge bear expert, but I have spent time hunting them. In fact, I took three with my bow, but I have been around folks much more knowledgeable than me, so I ask a ton of questions.

To understand a critter well enough to hunt them, you need some basic knowledge. From what I have gathered, bears like to eat, and eat a lot. They will go to where the easiest food source is within their range. No matter the woods or the thickets or your backyards, bears will go to food, because bears have excellent sniffers.

Unlike when we hunt them in the fall, we need to do the opposite in the spring and summer to keep them away. Your first line of defense is to make sure they’re not attracted to your property because you left foodstuffs outside. Regularly clean up debris beneath bird feeders. Put away your bird feeders in early spring and don’t put them back up until mid-November. Bring hummingbird feeders in at night.

Feed pets indoors when possible, and store pet food indoors. If you feed animals outdoors, bring food dishes in at night. Put garbage out shortly before pickup time. Store garbage in a bear-resistant trash container or storage area. Double-bag to reduce odors and place bags inside the container. Regularly clean and deodorize cans with bleach.

When cooking meat on the outdoor grill, don’t leave your food unattended. Thoroughly clean your grill after use, including the grease can and drip tray. Clean up spills on your deck or patio. Store the grill in a garage or shed when not in use. Don’t add pungent items such as meat, melon rinds or sweet-smelling foods to your compost pile. Regularly turn the pile and add lime to reduce odors.

Harvest fruit from fruit trees and berry bushes as soon as it’s ripe. Pick up fallen produce frequently; rethink planting more fruit trees or berry bushes. Protect beehives with electric fencing. Even non-food items can attract bears. Take scented items, such as suntan lotion, insect repellent, soap or candles indoors when not in use.

During spring and fall, when bears are roaming around seeking food, or when a bear is reported in your area, close and lock windows and doors at all times. Scents wafting from your home can lure bears inside.

Following are other ways to prevent bears from entering your yard, home, and garage:

Install electric fencing around your yard or around fruit trees and gardens. Electric fencing gives bears a shock, but doesn’t harm them. You’ll need an energy source, either a 12-volt marine battery or 110-volt household current, plus an energizer, fence posts, a grounding rod, and 14- or 12-gauge, hi-tensile galvanized steel wire. The largest expense is the energizer, a device that delivers the electrical pulse to the wire fence. Look for a charger that offers a minimum of .7 joules to effectively shock a bear.

Install and use specially designed animal deterrents to discourage bears from entering your property. Anything that is based off bleach or ammonia, these scents will keep bears away, because bears can’t stay with these smells. Likewise, the use of fruitier or sweet-smelling cleaning solutions or candles will bring bears in. For a passive deterrent, liberally apply pine-scented cleaner around doors, window frames and porch steps.

If you’re away from your house for an extended period of time, or you’re closing a vacation cabin for the season, be sure to clean out all foodstuffs from shelves, refrigerators, freezers, and pantries. Remember to always sweep up any crumbs and debris, and remove all trash. Protect windows with heavy shutters. Don’t store food, such as dry pet food, anywhere in your house or garage. Remove it until you return.

If there is a time when you happen upon a bear face to face, so to speak, always be ready for an encounter with a bear in bear country and carry pepper spray. Use it only in the event of an attack. Black bears likely will run when you make noise by clapping, yelling, banging pots and pans, or blowing a boat air horn.

It’s no big secret that the local bear population has expanded in the past few years. State biologists have also taken note, hence the expanded bear season, which currently runs the entire big game season in part of the state. Keeping wildlife populations in check can be a fine balancing act for state biologists but is important from many different reasons.

Due to the dry conditions this past spring and so far, this summer black bears have been more active through portions of New York state. There are some basic things that we all need to remember, whether you’re a bear hunter or just a property owner. Being a property owner doesn’t necessarily mean that you own property in the country, it could be in the city. Bears often go where the food is and, generally, it doesn’t matter where that is.

This is going to sound simple, but it needs to be said: NEVER FEED THE BEARS. It is not only prohibited by law/regulation, but IT just isn’t the best thing to do for yourself or the bears. Nuisance bears that have become habituated to obtaining food from humans can become aggressive, requiring the DEC to euthanize them.

If you are doing any deep-woods camping, use bear-resistant canisters to store all food, toiletries and garbage. The use of bear-resistant canisters when camping — I don’t care if it’s a campground, in the back forty of grandpa’s land or deep in the woods — we all have seen how bears can be and they are everywhere.

If you don’t use a bear-resistant canister to store all food, toiletries and garbage in a food/bear hang, you are just asking for trouble. Bears are most active in the evening. Cook, eat and clean up before dusk.

While the increase in the bear population is nothing new, I feel it’s important to share that the majority of problems with bears, isn’t so much the bear. It’s folks who think the animals are some cartoon character. The black bear is a wild critter and while attacks on humans aren’t common, they do happen.

Keeping that in mind, it’s always best to leave well enough alone when you see a bear or are in bear country. Remember, the majority of time, the bear is more scared of you than you are of them.


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