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Bear Hunt

Heading out

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Into the Woods

2 of 7

Beringer and his crew scope out the bear den from a distance.

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Well-Hidden Home

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Up Close & Personal

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Testing the Air

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On Alert

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Black Bear Near Winter Den

Published on: Mar. 24, 2014

I didn’t have to think twice when Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer emailed me last week, asking if I’d like to accompany him on a trip to Howell County. He was winding up two days of checking on denned black bears, something I had never done before.

Jeff is in the first year of a seven-year study aimed at answering some important questions, including how many bears Missouri has, where they live, how much and what kind of habitat they need, how rapidly or slowly they are multiplying, and how genetically diverse they are. The information will guide the Conservation Department’s decisions about how to ensure that bears continue to thrive in Missouri while minimizing conflicts with people.

At this time of year, Jeff’s field work consists mainly of checking on radio-collared sows to see whether and how many cubs they have with them. This also gives him a chance to check to be sure their tracking collars are neither too loose nor too tight. Adjusting a collar requires sedating the bear to refit the collar. It also creates the opportunity to count, measure, and weigh cubs (now going on three months old) and collect DNA and hair samples from the little ones so they can be identified in the future and added to the genealogy that is emerging from the collection of DNA by various means.

Much more important from my point of view, would be the chance to handle a live adult bear and her cubs. That is a thrill not many people experience. As we hiked the half mile across USDA Forest Service land to the den site, I have my fingers crossed that the sow’s collar is too loose. The other three Conservation Department workers in our party clearly share this hope.

When Jeff goes on this sort of bear hunt, he needs a few extra hands to haul gear – GPS unit, directional antenna to locate the bear’s collar, dart gun and supplies to sedate the bear if necessary, and gear for gathering biological samples. One person serves as official recorder for the event. My job as writer/photographer earns me a pass on packing duties. Our crew for the day includes Outdoor Skills Specialist Brian Flowers, and Wildlife Management Assistants Clinton Prenger and Justan Blair.

As we set out, Jeff cautions his entourage to be as quiet as possible when we get close to the den site. After all, this is the second day of

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Comments

On March 26th, 2014 at 12:49pm lowj said:

Thanks for your questions, Dan and Edward. Please don't develop a station to attract bears. The old truism that "a fed bear is a dead bear" applies to any practice that tends to break down bears' natural fear of humans. Anything you might do to artificially attract bears could lead to bears developing an unhealthy familiarity with people  However, you can set up trail cameras on natural food sources, such as blackberry patches, to increase your chances of capturing a bear that way. I said the sow bear's collar was still a good fit. I was sad because that meant Jeff didn't need to dart the bear and remove her and her cubs from the den. That would have been very cool for us, but not as much fun for the sow. Also, although handling cubs is sometimes necessary to gather data, it isn't something we do casually.  Jim Low@mdc

On March 26th, 2014 at 11:18am dan hutton said:

We have ground in carter county. We have been curious for some time as to having any bears in our area. What is the best method to develop a bear station?

On March 26th, 2014 at 8:01am edward schlogl said:

In the second to last paragraph it says that the collar is sadly a loose fit,does this mean that there disappointed the sow did not put on weight ?
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