Almy: Fields of corn are hotspots for bears

One of the best ways to go after one of the Shenandoah Valley’s abundant bears is to key in on what the animals are eating.

In the springtime, berries and winter-killed animals draw bears, as well as unsecured food items around homes. This means little to sportsmen, however, since Virginia and most other states don’t have spring hunting seasons.

In fall when bow season arrives on Oct. 4, bruins could be feeding on a number of different items. Fruit trees could attract them. And later in the fall they will gorge on acorns. But often during early October the big, black animals are focusing on corn. And with this year’s bumper corn crop, there’s plenty available for them to dine on.

The high-fat carbohydrate is just what they need to pack on pounds before hibernating. The tall stalks also provide security cover, enticing them out of nearby woods to feed during legal shooting hours.

That offers you the perfect opportunity for an afternoon hunt. Here’s how to set up a cornfield bear ambush.

• First off, locate the best bear hunting areas. Check with biologists for locations where bears are plentiful. Then pinpoint the most remote parts of those areas with few roads, lots of unbroken timber and some agriculture.

• Pinpoint the ultimate cornfield. Farmers can often tip you off to where bears are damaging their crops. If not, use leg-work or an ATV to search the perimeters where cornfields edge up to remote woods, preferably hilly or mountainous.

• Scout for sign. You’ll definitely recognize bear damage when you see it. They’ll often tear up, knock down and roll on a 100-200 square-foot area when they feed.

But they may walk in a few rows before they create such chaos. So watch for a few trampled stalks on the edge and check further in when you see such an entry point.

• Judge the bear’s size. 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 ½ inches across, indicating a 5 ½-6 foot square bear, likely a boar. Also look for large dropping piles. The bigger they are, the bigger the bear likely is.

• Measure clawed tree sign. Often bears will claw trees before entering a cornfield, marking the territory to show who is boss by their scent and the height of their marks. Look for clawed bark 6-7 ½-feet high.

• Find out where they are entering from. Undisturbed, bears will tend to follow the same trail. It may wind through open timber as they leave their bed on a knoll or ridge, 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.

• Back-track and set up. Once you find the entry point, 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 bust him out.

Set up near 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.

Of course, your quarry may not follow this routine every day. But with a 3-5 day hunting effort, this cornfield game plan offers good odds for providing a plush, glossy rug and freezer full of tender bear steaks and burgers.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.