Scratching trees are also important. Bears mark territory with this behavior and generally use larger trees than those that they top off. Itís also common for these trees to have bite marks on them, especially in the springtime, serving the same purpose as the smaller topped trees. You will often see where the bear has bitten off some of the bark or chewed deeply into the tree trunk itself. Conifer trees will ooze lots of sticky sap after being torn up by a bear and you will sometimes find bear hair stuck to the tree. This also happens with the topped trees. Iíve been able to determine what color bear made the marks in an area on several occasions. Look for ďbear treesĒ next to trails, or roads. I think that there is some significance to the location of these trees; at least Iíve found some that I think I know what the bear was up to. Iíve found these types of trees near a ridge pass from one drainage to another and in areas that have a repeatable food source such as berries or a spring pasture with a wide variety of greenery. These signposts could be a mark of ownership of a territory. Iíve also found them in campgrounds; maybe the bear is trying to tell us something. In one of my favorite campgrounds there are claw marks eight to nine feet up an eighteen inch diameter fir tree; this area is also home to a very large boar grizzly.
Tooth marks on freshly chewed off tree top.
The height off the ground, size, shape and depth of the claw marks can also tell you something about the bear that made them. Height off the ground is the most obvious, bears will reach up at least head high to scratch a tree so scratches six feet up can indicate a bear of over 250 pounds. Next put your hand up to compare the spread of the claw marks, remember bears donít have a thumb like primates, so all five claws will form the mark. If you have to spread your hand out to cover all the claw marks things are looking good. Black bears have climbing claws, short, curved and sharp; grizzlies have digging claws, long, straight and blunt compared to a black bear. The scratch marks of a black bear will look like deep cuts in the bark; grizzly marks will remove a wider strip of bark exposing the cambium layer and are not as deep.
Bears will often flip over stones to look for insects.
A bear hunt from a few years ago is a good example of how all this information can be put to good use. The old logging roads in the area I was hunting had been closed off, a loss of access for motorized users but a boon to spring bear hunting. The area is a mixture of clear-cuts, selective cuts and an old burn. As I climbed higher up the road I found some bear scat. It was black but still soft indicating that a bear had been in the area recently. Just below a large clear-cut a small spur road cut across the face of the mountain. This road was overgrown and there were many small trees growing in the road bed. Iíd found ďtopped treesĒ on this road in prior years so it seemed like a good place to start looking.
With a light breeze in my face I began to slowly walk the road. A few hundred yards along I found a freshly topped tree. The top broken section about five feet from the ground was still green and fresh, the sap runny and very sticky; a few cinnamon colored hairs were stuck in the sap. A little further along I found where a small seasonal creek had flooded over the road, there were bear tracks going in the same direction I was traveling in which was encouraging. The tracks were a bit wider than my own hand, a rough indication that the bear was an adult between 150 and 250 pounds.
This tree on an old logging track has been killed by a bear. Finding areas with both fresh and old dead trees indicates that this is an excellent area to search for more sign and a good trophy.
Since I knew I was following a bear, I was not only extremely alert to bumping into my quarry, but Iíd also begun to search diligently for even the smallest sign of its passing. Iíd set the length of my adjustable hiking staff for the bearís track length and used it to pace out the bears tracks. This is very useful when tracking a soft footed animal since you will often lose the track, and if you can accurately pace it out itís surprising how easy it is to find it again. After about a mile I found the bearís track on an elk trail leaving the road and heading uphill. The trail was loose and soft and the bearís tracks obvious.
This view shows the variety of habitat that bears find very attractive in the spring time.