- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Here’s a heads-up for hikers and squirrel or deer hunters in the mountain counties of Maryland and Virginia: This is the time of year when black bears move about more, feeding long and often because they need to fatten up in preparation for their winter hibernation.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, for one, says as the leaves change colors and the mercury begins to drop, mountain residents are urged to take precautions to avoid unnecessary conflicts with the bears.

Even if you believe the bruins to be cuddly live versions of the toy store stuffed variety, never trust a black bear. They can be quite dangerous, especially while feeding and when suddenly surprised by a human. The Maryland DNR says during autumn and early winter, bears may feed up to 20 hours a day, padding the fat reserves that will sustain them through their four-month hibernation, and there are occasions when bears will not be dissuaded from a planned feeding.

Contrary to popular myth that wants us to believe bears will run whenever they encounter a human, it isn’t always so. Just ask the popular Potomac River and Deep Creek Lake fishing guide Brent Nelson.

Nelson, who also is an avid deer hunter, recalls an Allegany County bow hunt when he was firmly ensconced up in a tree waiting for a buck to happen by. He had a visitor all right. A massive black bear showed up directly under his tree and started munching on the thousands of acorns that littered the forest floor.

“He didn’t want to leave,” Nelson said. “That bear even looked up at me, clacking his teeth, looking kind of ticked off.”

Eventually, the bear filled his belly and left, but Nelson says it was a long, tentative walk back to his vehicle.

A whopping sheepshead — A 203/4-pound sheepshead caught Oct. 6 by Arun Nhek of Newport News has been certified as a state record by the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament, a state-sponsored program that encourages fishing.

Nhek made his catch while fishing from the Seagull Fishing Pier at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The sheepshead measured 301/2 inches in length and had a girth of 27 inches. A piece of clam bait fooled the record fish.

The previous state record of 19 pounds, 3 ounces was caught at the Second Island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel by Jeff Hutton of Virginia Beach in the summer of 2004. For more Virginia saltwater information, contact Claude Bain, 757/491-5160, [email protected]

Striper reproduction up — According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the 2005 striped bass (rockfish) juvenile index — a measure of striped bass spawning success in Chesapeake Bay — is 17.8, well above the 52-year average of 12.0.

During this year’s survey, DNR biologists collected 2,348 young-of-year striped bass. The Choptank River index was the highest documented since the dominant year-class of 2001. Striped bass reproduction in the Upper Bay and Potomac River was slightly above average, but reproduction in the Nanticoke River was below average.

Elk Country visitor center opens — If you happen to be hunting or vacationing in Montana after Nov.1, be sure to stop in Missoula, where the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s new visitor center will be open to the public.

The visitor center represents an opportunity for hunters to share their story with a larger audience while exploring hunting traditions. Hands-on interpretive exhibits call attention to the significant role wildlife and their habitats play in our lives.

One of them is an elk bugling interactive game. Participants will hear the bleat of a newborn calf, the bark and squeal of its mother, the grunt and bugle of an adult male. Another exhibit allows visitors to actually lift a bull elk antler and feel its considerable weight.

Hunters will enjoy seeing reproductions of fleshers, scrapers, weapons and other items used by early Americans when hunting. Of particular interest is the center’s impressive collection of elk mounts and Western art.

For additional information, visit elkfoundation.org or call 800/225-5355.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]washingtontimes.com

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