After several years of avidly hunting bear over bait, there are a handful of things that still baffle me. Matter of fact, I think there are questions about bear behavior to which we may never know the answer. Here is the one that has been plaguing me lately: Why will a bear abandon a site that provides him with fresh beef tallow, sunflower seeds, pastries, chocolate-covered cherries and bacon grease every day to go eat acorns?
            Have you ever eaten an acorn? Try one. They are bitter, have an unpleasant texture and are hard to extricate from the shell. Yet, when the acorns fall during the late summer each year, the bears that have been faithfully chowing down on my baits will disappear. And I know where they go. They go to the acorns.
            This past season, in what I thought would be a new enlightening day, I took to an if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em strategy. I knew of a long ridge that ran out of a state forest, and that ridge had a large stand of mature white oaks growing along the crest. I decided that I would put a bait right smack on top of that ridge in the shade of those great oaks and the bears would be at my doorstep when the acorns fell. A couple weeks later I was actually standing on nice big white oak acorns when I placed the bait and covered it with logs. I smothered it in bacon grease mixed with used cooking oil and molasses. I expected to have the bears waiting in line for me. I checked that bait every day for nine days, keeping it fresh and smelling yummy.
            It was a complete bust; never was hit even once. Can the power of the acorn be that strong?
            It turns out the answer is a definite yes. Matter of fact, results of a study on the bear’s relationship to acorns done a few years ago in Arkansas showed that the bear’s lives are so closely linked to acorns that a poor mast crop can cause the sows to have fewer cubs in their litters, or have no cubs at all. There is simply no substitute for acorns in a black bear’s diet. Let us look at this a little more closely.
            The Arkansas study tracked bears with radio collars and monitored how many cubs they had in relation to the amount of acorns available. In years when the mast crop was a total failure, the cub crop was a total failure. The problem lies in a thing called “delayed implantation.” The bears mate in the spring and early summer, but the fertilized eggs do not attach to the uterine wall and begin growing until November. If the sow is in poor condition, she does not have enough fat to support herself and the growing of the cubs inside her, and the subsequent nursing of those cubs before they exit the den in spring. Her body simply reabsorbs the eggs and they do not attach to the uterine wall. She has no cubs that year. That is doubly bad for the bears since they generally only breed every other year.
            But why are acorns so important to this equation? Foods can be generally lumped into two categories: Carbohydrates and proteins. Proteins are used quickly by the body, providing energy, but are not as easily stored as are carbohydrates. Foods high in carbohydrates are easily stored for later use. And as we know, our bodies and bear bodies store carbohydrates in the form of fat. Acorns are super high in carbohydrates. So they are easily converted to fat and the bears instinctively know that.
            A bear’s body tells it what it needs. Our bodies do the same if we are paying attention. Ever feel like you have had too much chocolate? Think about it. There are times when a piece of chocolate looks so good to you. And there are times when it has no appeal at all. That is one example of your body telling you what it needs (or wants). This is as simple as feeling thirsty. Your body needs water, and it is telling you so. Your body will tell you when it has had too much alcohol or sugar, too. So when the food becomes available that the bear’s body is craving, he forsakes all else to seek it out. The acorns drop, the bears abandon the baits.
            So what can we do about it other than wait it out? Not much actually. We can hope for a poor mast crop which will cause the bear baits to be much more active as the bears search for high-carb foods. Poor mast crops also increase dispersal, meaning the bears travel farther and are more likely to find your baits. They are also more likely to become more of a nuisance at the local dump, granny’s bird feeders or the garbage

 

in the shade of those great oaks and the bears would be at my doorstep when the acorns fell. A couple weeks later I was actually standing on nice big white oak acorns when I placed the bait and covered it with logs. I smothered it in bacon grease mixed with used cooking oil and molasses. I expected to have the bears waiting in line for me. I checked that bait every day for nine days, keeping it fresh and smelling yummy. It was a complete bust; never was hit even once. Can the power of the acorn be that strong? It turns out the answer is a definite yes. Matter of fact, results of a study on the bear’s relationship to acorns done a few years ago in Arkansas showed that the bear’s lives are so closely linked to acorns that a poor mast crop can cause the sows to have fewer cubs in their litters, or have no cubs at all. There is simply no substitute for acorns in a black bear’s diet. Let us look at this a little more closely.

The Arkansas study tracked bears with radio col- lars and monitored how many cubs they had in rela- tion to the amount of acorns available. In years when the mast crop was a total failure, the cub crop was a total failure. The problem lies in a thing called “delayed implantation.” The bears mate in the spring and early summer, but the fertilized eggs do not attach to the uterine wall and begin growing until November. If the sow is in poor condition, she does not have enough fat to support herself and the grow- ing of the cubs inside her , and the subsequent nursing of those cubs befor e they exit the den in spr ing. Her body simply reabsorbs the eggs and they do not attach to the uterine wall. She has no cubs that year. That is doubly bad for the bears since they generally onl y breed every other year.

But why are acorns so important to this equation?

cans that line the street one day a week.

Where I live in Minnesota, the annual numbers of bears harvested can be directly linked to the quality and availability of the mast crop. And when we talk mast crop in Minnesota, we are primarily talking acorns and to a lesser extent hazelnuts.

So to a large degree it is out of our hands. The things we can do include: keeping baits fresh and loaded with as much high-carbohydrate food as possi- ble and locating our baits near water, because bears need a lot of water to aid digestion of that increased carbohydrate intake. I would suggest locating your baits within a half mile of drinkable water if possible. I have found that it also helps to keep a variety of foods in your bait. A pile of pastries may not have the same drawing power as a bait with pastries, meat, sweets, oats and corn mixed in. When the baits go dead for a few days, or become irregular, make sure you keep checking them and keep the bait from spoil- ing so they are rewarded when they come back. After all, the acorns on the ground are not in infinite supply and when they get them cleaned up, they will return to the baits. Plus they are competing for acorns in a feed- ing frenzy that not only includes bears, but squirrels, deer and other critters, too.

Since there is no way to truly overcome the power of the acorn, we must simply be patient and wait it out. The bears will be back, we must just work hard to be r eady for them.