Bear Art-How to Hunt for Bear-Bear Tracking Tips

Article by Dr. Jim Halfpenny

We call it bear Valley, our secret location in Yellowstone. Walking its narrow bottom, you can feel their presence: grizzlies and black bears. Interestingly enough, we have seldom observed a bear there. However, ursid scratches left on the trees are petroglyphic communications telling us it is their home, not ours. Like Anasazi petroglyphs, we strive to place meaning into behavioral art left by our ursid friends.
The valley is an art gallery, a bear art gallery. Each marked tree, etched by claws, is a picture of ursine comings and goings and a tip to tracking the great bear. Contained in the art work is a vertical bear trail that provides an interpretation challenge for the natural history detective. What is the story told by this bear art?
Bears mark trees in three manners: by clawing, biting, or scratching their bodies against them. Claws, teeth, and hair leave distinctive patterns. Trees with soft bark, such as aspen and birch, take impressions well. Careful examination may reveal pictures on conifer trees as well, but since conifer bark is harder, markings are less conspicuous. Could it be that as many conifers are climbed by the ursides as birch and aspen, but our eyes simply fail to reveal pictures as well?
To understand tree art, the first order of business is to determine the species of the artist. Some generalities about claw marks help differentiate species. While bears may leave five claw marks per print, often the little toe does not cause a mark. Check carefully to find sets of five claw marks. Cats typically leave four claw marks, while mustelids (weasel family) usually live five claw marks per print. However, cats and weasels both have very sharp claws. Bear claws are blunt, 0.2 to 0.3 inches wide near the tips. The claw marks of cats and weasels leave signature wide-narrow-wide patterns: narrow (0.02 inches) at the beginning before the claws completely dig in, wider in the middle, then narrow again just before exiting. In contrast, bear claw marks are normally wide from beginning to end.

Tracking the Great Bear is not necessarily about how to hunt for bear, but the art of the bear reveals the bear tracking tips that leads us through his domain. You may also want to learn more about [intlink id=”89″ type=”post”]grizzlies in their natural wildlife habitat[/intlink].