I was pretty surprised when the final numbers came in from the Dallas check station for the first day of bear season. At the end of the night, 45 bears were brought into the station on Saturday, down from last season's first day total of 69.
It's a surprise for a few reasons.
This is the third year for the Saturday opener, so it's well-established and hunters are aware of it.
I talked to several successful hunters at the check station and three made it a point to mention that if the season opened on a Monday like it did prior to 2010, they wouldn't have taken off work to hunt.
When it comes to bear season, there's no doubt that the Saturday opener is affording more opportunities for hunters.
Another reason why I though the first day total at Dallas would be higher is the weather. No rain. Nice, cool temperatures and bright, sunny skies. Short of having a couple inches of snow on the ground, it was basically a picture perfect day to be in the woods.
Or was it?
The more I thought about it, I began to believe the nice weather may have actually contributed to a reduced number of bears brought in to the check station on Saturday.
The day before bear season opened, I spent the day in the woods turkey hunting. The weather on Friday was exactly the same as Saturday, and I found it tough to hunt. Sure the sun was nice, but the dry conditions may it awfully hard to walk without making a racket. I located a flock of turkeys scratching under a stand of oaks, feeding away from me.
When I found the flock of about 15 birds, they were roughly 60 yards away and had no idea I was nearby. Hoping to get close enough to either get a shot or scatter the flock, I tried to close the distance by still-hunting.
By moving slowly and stopping behind every tree, I was able to avoid being detected by the turkey's keen eyesight.
But no matter how softly I placed each step, the crisp, dry leaves on the forest floor crunched. The birds heard me in plenty of time to keep moving ahead, staying well out of range.
Perhaps the same thing happened to bear hunters? Sure, plenty of them parked themselves in treestands and sat for the day, but there are plenty who like to walk. With such dry conditions, a bear will hear a hunter coming in plenty of time to vanish.
If you tried to sneak around the woods on Saturday hoping to come upon an unsuspecting bear – which is possible when conditions are right – chances are the dry, forest floor gave any bear in the area plenty of advance warning.
The noisy forest floor may have even impacted the effectiveness of drives – a popular tactic for bear hunters. Bear drives leave a little more leeway for noise – after all, the drivers want a bear to know they're coming in order to push it to the members of the hunting party who are waiting at the other end.
But too much noise can be a detriment, even when it comes to a bear drive.
Surely a group of hunters will make plenty of noise. But when the woods are dry, those noisy conditions may alert bears very early into the drive, forcing them out before the posters are set.
If the number of bears brought to Dallas on Saturday was only a handful less than last year, it wouldn't be a big deal. But when that figure is lower by 24 bears, there has to be something behind it.
We've had seasons where bitter cold, heavy rain and even high winds have led to lower success rates. Now, we may have to add too much noise to the list.
Tom Venesky covers the outdoors for The Times Leader. Reach him at [email protected]