Photo by: Donald M. Jones
It’s hardly a secret that black bears are drawn to uncut cornfields like moths to a flame, but how do you hunt fall bruins in such a setting? The first step is to understand why corn is so tantalizing to bruins. The tall plants provide not only food, but cover, too, especially in areas of heavy human pressure. Here are four killer strategies to utilize if you suspect that a black bear is raiding a large cornfield.
1) Find the Entrance Ramp
A bear will take advantage of all available cover to enter a cornfield undetected. Look for tracks and scat inside a finger of brush that leads to the field, or along a faint trail leading out of a nearby brush-choked ravine. If sign seems scarce, break out the trail cameras or (if you’re on a budget) string a length of barbed wire 24 to 30 inches off the ground and over a suspected entry point. If a bear is using that trail, he will invariably leave some fur attached to the barbs.
Play the wind and set up a stand nearby. Be careful to avoid being silhouetted, however, and remain still once you’re in the stand. Contrary to popular wisdom, farmland bears have excellent vision.
If there is plentiful cover, the bear might also wander along the inside edge of the field for a bit before heading into the middle of the field to feed. Do not be fooled if you find several of the outermost rows of corn knocked over or flattened. The culprit is more likely a family of raccoons. Bears typically destroy cornfields from the inside out, leaving little sign along their edges. Locate a nearby tree with ample shooting lanes into the field and climb on board a couple of hours before sunset.
2) Set Up an Ambush
In order to pinpoint a bear’s feeding location within a field, position yourself in a tree or hilltop overlooking the field. You will easily be able to see the damage a bear or two can cause to the cornfield.
Set up a ground blind on the edge of the feeding area, or along a fence line, creekbed, or irrigation ditch that leads to the most recent feeding hotspot and wait for the bear to show up. Be forewarned: Any opportunity you get will be eyeball-to-eyeball, giving you precious little time to draw, aim, and shoot.
One bowhunter I spoke to recently at an outdoor show told me he was mortified when a bear came from behind the blind and stuck his nose inside one of the blind’s windows for a quick look-see–and then woofed. The hunter dropped his bow and fell off his stool. The bear quickly disappeared into the labyrinth of maize no worse for the encounter.
3) Keep Your Feet
If still-hunting is your game, prowl the periphery of the field and try to catch a bruin flat-footed as it tries to sneak into the stalks. This will require you to be stealthy and completely camouflaged. You will also need nerves of steel as the encounter is likely to be quite close, and there is no telling what the bear’s reaction will be when you meet.
I have been fortunate enough to still-hunt several bears over the years. Two of them rushed me, scaring the pudding out of me. Keep in mind you may only get one opportunity for a shot under these circumstances, so hold steady. It does not take much to spook a bear into using another route to gain access to the field, or to force him into going nocturnal.
A second option is to sneak and peek your way back and forth through the cornfield, looking for swaying cornstalks and the sound of ears of corn being ripped off a stalk to help you get a fix on the bear’s position. This tactic works best on windy days when the natural rustling of leaves will not alert the bear to your forward progress. The problem here is getting a clear shot. Close-growing cornstalks and long, flopping leaves can easily deflect a well-aimed shaft.
4) Drive the Stalks
A silent two- or three-man drive might also get you a crack at a black bear. Drivers should let their scent drift toward the bear’s suspected position, pushing the bear(s) out of the field and back to daytime lairs. It’s important that the drivers work through the corn slowly so as to not bust the bruins out at top speed.
Pennsylvania hunter Joe Quinn once told me that a smart bear confronted with noisy drivers will more than likely lie down and let you walk past him. The secret is to erect treestands along escape routes, and then rely on the quiet drivers to ease a bear past you.