Bears have the ability to be one of those creatures that just captures your wonder and interest.Watching The Wilderness Family movies as a kid I always wanted to have a pet black bear named Sampson. However, my parents quickly shot that dream down because apparently my bedroom was not hibernation approved they said. However, my interest in these dangerous animals never left me. I would look for them on family vacations in Colorado and Yellowstone growing up, and it wasn't until I was 31 that I would see one in the wild at Yellowstone 6 years ago (we got lucky and saw five different bears that trip and my wife got to see a moose).
The idea for this story came to me a few years ago after watching North Woods Law, the idea of going along on a tracking, trapping, and tagging trip for black bears seemed like a fun idea. And, in the business, sometimes we get to do some pretty cool stuff. So after I found out who I needed to talk to and if they would even allow me to tag along it started bugging management to let me go. And, when I say bugged, I walked into my News Directors office every day for a week and just said, "Bears!" and walked out.
This all was a great idea until I realized that I would be getting up at 3:30 a.m. on a Tuesday to drive down to McCreary County to meet up with John Hast with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. Hast and his team agreed to allow me to tag along for the start of their research this season. It is never easy to be embedded into a group of people that you don't know for a period of time like this, they all know each other and here is this camera guy (which with them taking one look at me knew that if attacked by bears, aliens, chupacabras or anything they would only really have to outrun me).
Day 1 of the trip started with the checking and setting of traps off the old logging road in the Daniel Boone National Forest, sometimes the bait area would be a few yards off the road and other times it would 100 yards or more off the road. The caravan to these sites would be the Fish and Wildlife teams along with National Parks Rangers and US Forest Service personnel. The research project is a joint operation between the agencies. The data collected not only helps Kentucky understand the migration and breeding of the bears but also give the government agencies the needed information as well on these animals.
Setting up each trap or bait site is a multi-step process that involves some old woodsmen abilities, you have to make the site seem natural after setting the trap, but also have to make sure that the bears are able to be caught. From setting the leg snare to prepping the ground to look like nothing is there using small trees cut down to sit on each other to make the site look like a "den" takes some time. It also adds time when you are teaching others how to set these traps as well.
Setting and checking six sites finally got us a small female bear near the end of the first day. Hast and his apprentice carefully measured the medications needed to sedate the bear via air gun. Once the bear was asleep the research and data collection started. Everything on this female was categorized and marked down. The size of her paws, the length of her ears, to pulling a tooth, checking to see if she was nursing. Nothing was left unchecked by the team. After the female bear was fitting for a tracking collar and given ear tags, the medication started to wear off and she started to come around. We would leave her be and the next morning when a team would check the site she was gone.
Day 2 started out with the teams splitting up to check all the sites and re-bait if needed, in as fast of a time a possible. On our second site of the day, we found a male bear had been tempted by the honey buns and was caught in the trap. Much like the information collected on the first bear was also collected on this male; however, there wasn't a tracking collar placed on him. He got ear tags, measured, and got a microchip much like you use on your dog. While the focus is on breeding females for the research, the male bear got a tattoo on his inner lip. This is used for identification should he become killed on a hunt. They will know that they had contact with him in 2017 and be able to determine migration.
The information the teams collected is interesting and gives them valuable details on bears in Kentucky. It was an honor to be able to have the opportunity to travel with this team and see how bears are moving closer and closer each day. I hope that you enjoy the story and the information that we have collected for you here. Thank you for allowing me to tell this story.