Since black bear should be out and away from their dens by now, I hiked in to my denning area to see which dens were used last winter.
I picked a good day as the sun wa shinning and the wind was calm.
About a mile in, I approached the first den site from above. It was situated at the head of a side canyon just off a small game trail. I saw nothing fresh at the entrance so knelt down and looked inside. Even though it hadn't been used the good news was it hadn't caved in.
Maybe next year?
On to den number two.
This one if farther up the ridge. And I mean up! Steep climbs that benched only to offer still another climb. On the highest bench I slipped over the edge to scramble down into the canyon a bit. There, once again, just above a game trail lay the den.
There was no trail of bedding trailing out of the opening so I looked inside. It obviously hadn't been used but like the first den, it appeared to still be in good shape.
Den number three was quite a walk away, if not in distance, in rough terraine. I actually considered not making the attempt, but I may not be this close again. So down through a steep ravine over deadfall, across a snowfield, up the steep far side and across a steep ridge got me to my objective.
I remember finding this den with my daughter, Cassie, when we worked on "Yellowstone, Battle for Life". We actually came acoss it because we had climbed up here to gain a high point that would give a view at the canyon below.
Once again there was no sign of bears. As a matter of fact, I hadn't seen any sign anywhere on my entire hike. No scat. No tracks. No beds.
The fourth den was out in the trees to the southwest.
Circling around the steep ravine I walked through the trees searching for bear sign. Eventually, a hillside looked familiar.
Now, I'm only able to find this den about 50% of the time. It's not really a conventional den site, as most of my dens are in canyons. I remember when I first found this den, I was trying to decide how to look inside, when I realized the bear had come up beside me. She gave me a look like, "excuse me".
I zig-zagged back and forth, covering the gently sloping hillside. No luck.
I found myself leaving the area. After a few minutes of walking, I stopped, considered and went back for another look. At times I felt like the old miner looking for a mine he hadn't seen for 20 years.
"Now this place looks about right over there, that group of trees looks familiar."
Once again I couldn't find the hidden hole in the earth.
On the walk back to the car I wondered if the sow I first met as a cub had passed. She would be 11 or 12 years old now. Still in her pime. Even then wouldn't her cubs use the dens, just like she used her mothers?
This area is vast. The bears could have simply moved into another canyon.