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OUTDOORS: Bears on the prowl

OUTDOORS: Bears on the prowl

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The last thing I need in my yard is a bear. I have a fence that keeps the deer at bay, but the lightweight wire is no match for a black bear, and there has been one spotted on several occasions within a mile of my house. This is the time of year when there are many encounters between those in suburbia and black bears. As hot weather and food sources dry up in the mountains, and if the mast is poor, the bears come to town to investigate. Yes, they literally come to town.

A friend of mine lives on the edge of town in Louisa and says there are two families of bears on the prowl in his neighborhood. One mama bear has two cubs, and the other three. The last thing on Earth that you want is to come between a mother bear and her young. That is a recipe for disaster.

We have a ton of bears in Virginia; maybe more than in colonial days. The Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has done a tremendous job in managing bear populations. Last year was a record harvest for bear hunters with some 3,540 animals tagged—an increase of 30% year over year. But when bears produce two, three and even four cubs, it’s easy to see how the population can surge.

The main attraction that brings bears to town is smell. Bears can smell good things a’brewing from a long way off. Bears, in fact, are thought to have the keenest sense of smell of any animal on Earth. I had a bird dog that could wind a quail at a hundred yards. A dog’s sense of smell is up to 100 times greater than a human, but bears have a sense of smell seven times better than even a bloodhound. When the wind and conditions are right, a bear can smell an animal carcass from up to 20 miles away. It’s no wonder, then, they are drawn to residential trash cans emitting putrid odors.

Years ago, when I first started bow hunting, Ray Walker, a local game warden, called and said he had received a complaint from a lady who said a bear was regularly coming to her yard and even opened the freezer door on her back porch. He knew I bow hunted and asked if I would set up near her property and check it out. I did, reluctantly. This was a big bear she was seeing and he would not take kindly to an arrow in his backside. But I went, stayed until dark and the bear didn’t show. Whew!

Afterward, I chatted with the lady, asking what might be drawing the bear and she admitted to pouring bacon grease outside on some rocks where she burned trash.

If I can smell bacon grease from three blocks away, that bear could smell it from Pennsylvania. She stopped pouring the grease outside and never saw the bear again.

If you would rather not have a 300 pound bear in your backyard, consider some of these preventive measures:

  • Remove bird feeders. That’s one if the first things a bear will inspect.
  • Secure your garbage, store it in a shed or garage if possible and put out the trash the morning of pick-up, not the night before.
  • Pick up pet food. Don’t leave food bowls outside overnight.
  • If you have a compost heap, avoid putting any meats in it.
  • Keep your grill clean. That can be a main attractant for bears.

These few simple measures may help prevent an encounter you would rather not have.

—Contact Jim Brewer at

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