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Black Bear Hunting in South Carolina
Black Bear Hunting in the Southeastern Appalachian Mountains
by Bonnie Farner of Appalachia Adventures
With thousands of acres of prime game lands in southwestern North
Carolina and southeastern Tennessee it is no surprise to find a keen
interest in hunting bears here in the mountains of Appalachia. The
Tusquitee Ranger District found in the Nantahala National Forest,
alone contains 158,579 acres with elevations ranging from 1,200 to 5,499
The Nantahala National Forest lies in the mountains of Western North
Carolina and offers a half million acres of forest land for hunting,
fishing, camping, hiking, and other outdoor recreation.
The Tellico Ranger District (Cherokee National Forest) in southeastern
Tennessee contains 123,372 acres of public hunting lands. Most of the
area is mountainous and elevation ranges from 1,000 to 4,321 feet.
Elevation in the Tellico Ranger District ranges from 900 feet near
Tellico Plains to 5,472 feet in the Haw Knob.
Since it is illegal to hunt bears over bait in North Carolina or
Tennessee, hunting bears with trained dogs is the preferred method of hunting.
There are several successful ways you can hunt bears with dogs. Having a
well trained pack of dogs is definitely required. Most of the locals who
hunt here use Tree Walkers, Plotts, Black and Tans, and Red Bones and cross
breeds between these types of dogs. The best bear dog I've ever seen
was a cross-bred dog, best described as "just a hound."
One method that many local hunters prefer requires a good "strike" dog
and truck that is rigged with a platform that the dog can ride on as
well as a dog box containing the rest of the pack. Most of the trucks have CB
units in them as it sometimes helps to have a hunting buddy or two in
other trucks on the hunt with you.
One of the hunters usually tracks the bear race while the others try
to head off the bear before it crosses another road in the area. It is
not unusual for the locals to have their own colorful "secret code" to
relay to their buddies where the bear is headed so as to avert any other folks
in the area from turning on their bear. I've heard everything on the CB
from "Racer just put a white-tail in the lake" to "Levi's gone trout
fishing over in the Cove", none of which remotely refers to either deer or fishing.
The strike dog rides on the outside of the truck on platform and the
hunter drives up and down the roads until the dog starts barking indicating
that he has scented the game. The hunter can then release the dogs to
follow the trail. It requires seeing and hearing which way the pack is going
and trying to drive to the area that the bear may cross and intercepting
it. This often requires quite a lot of fast paced driving up and down country
roads (with "Dueling Banjos", of course, playing on the radio) or until the
dogs tree the bear. Driving on backwoods, dirt country roads in the
mountains here requires excellent driver skills. You have to be on constant look
out for other vehicles and/or dogs on the road, which is more often rough
riding at best. If you love lots of excitement this is the type of
hunting for you.
Many dogs are equipped with radar tracking collars and can be tracked
to see which way they are going if they get out of hearing range. Some
collars even have a "tree switch" that lets the hunter know if they
are treed or just running.
If you don't have a good strike dog you can also drive up and down the
mountain roads looking to see where a bear has come down or climbed
up a bank. A skilled hunter can tell the difference between fresh sign
and some that's old, but the dogs will alert you to a fresh track.
Another method is leading two or three good trail dogs into an area
where a bear has been sighted, bedded down or feeding and turning them on a
fresh track. This requires getting out and walking in the woods in
mountainous terrain and requires moderate physical condition and
stamina on the hunter's part. Most of the local hunters in our area use at
least 5 or 6 dogs to a pack, but have a couple of good lead dogs for starting the
race. A good dog will immediately let you know if it's a fresh track
and the rest of the pack can be turned loose on the bear. The blood
pumping, adrenalin rushing race is then on and it's a matter of trying to keep
up with the pack of dogs until they either tree or stop the bear. The larger,
older bears tend to walk along and fight the dogs on the ground, whereas a
younger, smaller bear will climb a tree to escape the dogs. Running
after a pack of dogs in wooded mountainous terrain definitely requires wearing
very comfortable boots. This is also a very successful way to hunt our
Spot and stalk hunting or still hunting is another method you can use
for hunting black bears in North Carolina and Tennessee, but for the most
part proves difficult due to the bears range habits. The territory is
densely wooded, mountainous and may contain areas that have been clear cut in
prior years. Neither state allows hunting over bait so the hunter just
has to get out into an area where bears are likely to be located and start
looking around for fresh bear sign.
Time and length of travel on a good bear race varies. The bear will
try to get away from the dogs and will try to seek a good cover area. He will
try to put as much territory between him and the dogs as possible but if
they're too hot on his trail he may try to climb up a tree or back up
against a fallen log or rock bluff to fight.
You can hunt with a bow, handgun (check with the local regulations),
shotgun using slugs, and a rifle. Preferred rifles are 30/30, .35,
SKS, 308, 30.06, 45.70, etc. using 150 gr. and above shells. Scopes will
probably not be required as most shots can be taken as close as 40-50 yards.
Knowing more about black bears, their habits, what they eat, and the
territory is a pre-requisite to a successful bear hunt. Pre-scouting
an area to look for bear sign is also necessary. The following is some
information about the bears found in North Carolina and Tennessee.
Black bears are found in the southern Appalachian Mountains of
Southeastern Tennessee and southwestern North Carolina and along the
coastal bays and swamps in Western North Carolina.
Ideal habitat consists of old forests with hardwoods containing a
variety of mast producing trees and shrubs. Bears require extensive, rugged
country with dense thickets such as mountain laurel, rhododendron, rock
outcroppings, and swamps with lots of room to travel widely.
Black bears are omnivorous. Their diet mainly consists of hard and
soft mast, insects, animal matter and succulent plants. The amount and
types of food eaten by bears varies according to seasonal activities and
food availability in each season. It is not unusual to see bears migrate to
lower elevations in search of food when there has been a poor mast crop in
the higher elevations. The Smokey Mountains contain a good population of
black bears and there are several bear preserves in both North
Carolina and Tennessee. When the mast is poor in those areas they will seek out
food supplies in the surrounding areas within the Cherokee National
Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North
August through November - Pre-denning Season
Hard Mast (acorns, preferably White Oak), Black gum, Holly Berries,
Black Cherry, Dogwood Berries, Sassafras, Persimmons, Insects, (yellow
jacket larvae) Animals, Poke Berries, Gooseberry, and Green briar.
December through March - Denning Season
(Due to the mild winters here in the South,
Some bears may be active throughout the denning season).
Hard Mast (acorns), Green briar, Corn, Gall-berries
April through May - Post Denning Season
Arrow Arum, Green briar, Grasses, Pokeberry, Wild Strawberry, Squaw
Root, Tree Cambium, Insects, Animals.
June through July - Breeding Season
Blackberry, Huckleberry, Blueberry, Service Berry, Viburnum, Insects,
Bears Require Cover
Bears have a great sense of smell and hearing but their vision is less
acute. They will often bed down in dense cover in the daytime and move about
mostly at sunrise and sunset when they're near areas of human
activity. They will also use trees as resting places as this offers them some
protection for humans and dogs who may be in the area.
Bears Require Escape Cover
Mountain Black Bears will seek out mountainsides containing mountain
laurel, rhododendron, grape vines, greenbrier thickets, rugged
terrain such as steep, rocky mountain slopes and areas that contain little
Coastal bears will seek out dense briar thickets, swamps, cane brakes,
bays, streams and standing water.
Bears will seek out a water supply daily preferably with two or more
sources of permanent open water per square mile of range.
Home ranges for bears range from one bear per square mile to one bear per
seven square miles. In the southeastern U.S. the home range of
some bears can be from 6 to 19 square miles for a female and anywhere from
18 to 160 miles for a male. Ranges must have food, water, cover and
den sites. The mountainous land within the Nantahala National Forest and
the Cherokee National Forest offer excellent habitat for sustaining good
populations of bears as all of the elements can generally be found
Male bears are territorial and will mark their boundaries by clawing
or biting as far up on a tree as they can reach. In the southern
Appalachian mountains bears tend to mark trees along ridges and old logging roads.
A larger, older male bear will often run a smaller male off and claim
the area as his own.
This article was written by Bonnie Farner of Apppalachia
Appalachia Adventures offers hunters of all
ages and experience an opportunity to hire an affordable,
experienced guide to hunt free range, fair chase the
old-fashioned way within the bountiful Nantahala Game
Lands in North Carolina and the Tellico Ranger District in
the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. There are
thousands of acres of prime hunting lands in both North
Carolina and Tennessee
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