Black bear are very hard to kill, and they are hard to track when wounded. Even a good heavy-caliber lung or heart shot may not keep the animal from getting off into the woods, and that same shot may not leave very much of a blood trail. Wounded bear bleed into the porous fat layers between hide and muscle, and their thick fur absorbs external bleeding like a sponge. As the bear runs and the fat moves, it appears to seal over most wounds and even a heavily bleeding animal may travel a great distance before its wound begins to leave a visible trail again.
There aren’t many more upsetting situations a hunter can face in this country than to put a carefully aimed shot into a carefully selected bear at virtual point-blank range, see it stagger, then vanish into the brush in two steps before you can even recover from recoil. You sit there, with dark closing in by the minute, not able to see more than 20 feet, and a wounded bear extending the distance. You have to get down onto the ground and do something about it. No wonder now why your guide and other experienced bear hunters kept telling you how important it is to hit a bear hard and solid and put him down and keep on hitting him until there is no chance he will get up and get out of your sight.
First rule is to wait. Be patient and slowly gather your wits and be prepared for the next steps.
Second: Look. Observe the direction your bear exited.
Third: Listen. Bears are commonly known to turn into the direction of their wound (more likely if mortally wounded) and can actually end up circling the bait. Those that don’t will run with such ferocity that the normally silent creature can cause major disturbances to surrounding areas and make enough ruckus for you to gage the direction to begin tracking.
If you are lucky, a short time after your shot is made, you may hear a drawn out, breathy cry often referred to as the death moan. This likely means your bear is down and is not getting back up. Don’t worry if you don’t hear one, not all bears will give you this satisfaction.
After waiting at least 30 minutes in your stand, cautiously come down and look at the area where your shot connected. Look for any sign of your shot: blood, tissue or even an arrow that carried through.
Start in the direction where you shot and look for any sign of blood in the direction you saw your prey evacuate from. Take the time to bring and use marking tape to highlight your trail as you go, not only will it give you a general direction, but it will also make finding your way out much easier and stress free.
A good, clean shot should drop a bear within 40 yards but we have tracked bear that have gone up to a couple of miles away.
On top of marking tape, I also suggest having a spray bottle with peroxide in your kit. In the forest, leaves can often have brown marks that look an awful lot like blood and using the peroxide will help differentiate as it will bubble on contact with blood. I often add the brightest yellow food coloring I can find to highlight the blood even further. I also like to pack a small black light to use in conjunction with this mixture as it will illuminate if the natural lighting begins to fade.
It is not uncommon to spend a few hours searching if your bear has gone beyond the 40 yard mark but don’t lose hope. Keep your eyes peeled for signs of foot prints, snapped twigs or torn leaves as this could be nature’s own way of marking your bear’s trail.
If the day ends and no bear can be found, ensure that you go back early the next day. Look for any signs of scavengers in the area. Turkey vultures are often a DEAD giveaway. They feed in the daytime so be prepared to wait a bit for them to arrive. We sometimes will suggest to our hunters to climb back in the stand and look over the area again from the original vantage point.
If on the second day there is no harvest found and no sign of scavengers, it is very unlikely you will find your bear and you will come away with one of the hardest experiences in hunting. Disappointing for both sides.
So in closing, take time placing that shot and take time looking for any wounded animals you may have created.
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