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Moyer afflicted with ‘Bear Fever’

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POSTED November 21, 2010 2:15 a.m.
For almost five decades, I have been afflicted with Bear Fever.

It’s a real challenge hunting critters that are larger, stronger, and faster than you are. In my case, the bears are usually smarter than me also.

I first got hooked on hunting bears in the Merced River Canyon east of Mariposa.

In fishing the South Fork Merced, I noticed bear signs everywhere. The habitat was perfect for bears.

There were abundant blackberry patches all along the creeks and rivers, and local farmers regularly complained that bears were playing havoc with their apple orchards. The bears would climb up in the apple trees to gorge themselves on the ripe fruit.

In doing so the bears, not only wiped out that year’s crop, but caused serious damage to the apple trees by breaking limbs while getting to the fruit. Apple farmers don’t like bears very much. For that matter, cattle ranchers aren’t usually big bear fans.

As a teenager, I figured all I had to do was wait near a berry patch or apple orchard to ambush my first bear. Boy was I wrong.

Those bears taught me a serious lesson in humility. They are really smart critters. In the past 30 years the bear population in California has grown tremendously.

California Department of Fish and Game now estimates that our bear population has doubled or even tripled since the early 1980s.

One summer, while in the Sierra with my family, we were inundated with bears. Just after dark, a bear would enter camp and attack our ice chest.

Our faithful Labrador retriever would charge the bear, run it up a tree and begin barking furiously. We’d turn on our flashlights and admire the bear before going back to bed.

Trouble was, the scene was replayed every 45 minutes or so, and each time it was a different bear!

It was really difficult to get a good night’s sleep under conditions like that. That old dog really earned her keep that trip.

 I figured that come fall and the opening of bear season, I’d have a slam dunk bear for the freezer. Wrong again. On the first day of bear season, there wasn’t a bear to be found anywhere.

It wasn’t long after I got married, that I discovered that my new brother-in-law was a life-long bear hunter.

Old Dave knew more about hunting bears than I could imagine. With David’s help, I finally got lucky and managed to get a bear that weighed about 200 pounds.

One of my buddies was a taxidermist and mounted the bear head for me, and it still hangs in my office as a reminder that most bears are usually smarter than me.

In the years since, I have shared my Bear Fever with my son, Donald, and he too has become a successful bear hunter.

The California Department of Fish and Game has a pretty sophisticated system of managing bears now.

With the information they gather, the DFG experts can make a determination about how healthy the general bear population in California is and then they adjust the next year’s bear season accordingly.

This year, the total number of bears that can be taken in California is about 1,700. When 1,600 bears are reported to DFG, they send out postcards to all tag holders closing off the bear season.

During the time lag involved in notification, the final bear harvest usually is actually fairly close to the figure DFG is shooting for.

Although the system is not perfect it’s actually pretty darned good. This year, hunters will take about 1,700 bears out of a total population of 30,000.

That works out to a 6-percent annual harvest with 94 percent of the bears remaining to reproduce for the future.

The way I see it, DFG is doing a great job managing our bear population. Overall, the total bear population has been increasing each year and bear hunting just gets better and better.

Next time you’re talking to your local state Senator or Assembly member, tell them to give the gang at Department of Fish and Game a big “Atta boy”.

As a matter of fact, I think I’m going bear hunting.

Until next week,
Tight Lines
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