I've had the good fortune to hunt bears in many Canadian provinces and western states over the years. But most of my experience with bears in Virginia comes in the spring when I'm not actually hunting them but instead repairing the damage they do to property and discouraging them from coming around the house.
In fall I'm usually too busy pursuing deer and fishing here in Shenandoah County to devote time to them. But if you want to go after bears with a bow now that they have opened, one of the best ways to do that is to concentrate on what they're eating now.
Some are probably in the woods eating acorns. Finding a spot where they're feeding on that oak mast is certainly a good bet.
But bears also have a strong attraction to corn. The high-fat carbohydrate is just what they need before hibernating and the tall stalks provide security cover, enticing them out of nearby woods to feed.
That offers you the perfect opportunity for an afternoon cornfield ambush. And now that some cornfields have been cut the bruins are even more concentrated for you.
First, find a location where bears are plentiful. You'll need a good block of mature timber with some thick cover. Then find areas with cornfields nearby.
Pinpointing the best field is the next step. Farmers can often tip you off to where bears are damaging their crops. If not, use leg-work, a bike, ATV or horse and search the perimeters where cornfields edge up to remote woods, preferably hilly or mountainous.
As you go, search for the sign bruins leave. You'll know bear damage when you see it. They'll often tear up, knock down and roll on a 200 square-foot area when they feed. But they may walk in a few rows before they create such chaos. Watch for a few trampled stalks on the edge and check further in when you see such an entry point.
The next step involves analyzing the prints. You don't want to set up on a sow and cub. Make sure there's only one size paw print. It should be a minimum 4 1/2 inches across, indicating a 5 1/2-6 foot square bear, likely a boar.
It's hard to be delicate about this, but the size of the dropping pile the bear leaves is also a good indicator that you're onto a large animal. The bigger it is, the bigger the animal.
Also look for claw marks on trees. Often bears will claw trees before entering a corn field, marking the territory to show who is boss by their scent and the height of their marks. Look for clawed bark 6-7 1/2-feet high.
After you find sign such as tracks, claw marks and droppings, look for the entry point into the corn field. Undisturbed, bears will tend to follow the same trail. It may wind through open timber as they leave their bed on a knoll, ridge or swampy area, but as they approach the corn bears like some cover for security. Look for shrubs, briers and low brush on the edge of the field that's mashed down where they entered.
Once you find this key spot, backtrack and follow the bear's trail back until you locate a good downwind tree for a stand or brush to camouflage a blind. Don't go too far or you may push the bear out.
Hunt close to the cornfield if bears have been seen in daylight and the weather is cool. If the weather is hot with little daytime activity, hunt 150-300 yards back along their trail.
He may not come any given day, but with a 3-4 day effort, this cornfield game plan offers good chances for success.
Bears are legal game with a bow Oct. 6-Nov. 16. The muzzleloader season runs Nov. 10-16. Rifle season opens either Nov. 24 or 26 depending on the county you're hunting and runs through Jan. 5, 2013.
-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.