Bear sighting in Crawford County: A surprise evening visitor at the cabin

This was no furry, oversized Easter Bunny.

I was working in the woods in southwestern Wisconsin’s Crawford County, trying to eliminate some areas where garlic mustard had infiltrated the woods.

It was March 23. Snow had disappeared and the ground had softened up. Some of the first forest plants were starting to emerge.

It started to rain at about 3 p.m., so I put things away and went inside the cabin to warm some soup on the wood stove.

I went to bed early that evening, listening to some NCAA basketball games on the radio.

But before falling asleep, the outside motion detector light came on, and I went to see if a raccoon was up on the porch, as has sometimes happened in the past. Nothing there.

Back to bed. But when the light came on a second time, I saw movement on the porch and went to the glass door to look outside.

There was a large, adult black bear standing sideways on the narrow porch. It turned its head toward me. The bear was no more than four feet away from me, though we were separated by the large glass door.

The bear did not seem upset, but I realized if it put its paw up on the glass door it could accidently open the door lever, which was unlocked.

I quickly slid the deadbolt lock as the bear ambled off the porch and down the stairs. I noticed two white spots or tufts of hair on its right side, and saw large, wet paw prints on the porch floor.

I don’t know who was more surprised, me or the bear.

I am very careful not to discard food outside and do not feed birds in the wild, knowing it can habituate larger animals to the bird feeders.

With every noise outside the cabin that night, I wondered about the cause, but never saw the bear the next day.

Talking to a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist up north afterward, he said they are seeing bears go into hibernation later in the fall and come out earlier in the spring. He also noted that Crawford County is not typical bear habitat, although bear numbers seem to be slowly increasing in southern Wisconsin.

An interesting experience in southwestern Wisconsin, to be sure, but not one that can top the incident a friend had while turkey hunting up north. He was sitting at the base of a basswood tree when he saw a sow bear and cub at about 20 yards to his left. Suddenly, a second cub appeared only five yards away from him.

Though he was in full camouflage, the cub was curious. It walked over, lifted his snout, and touched the hunter’s left shoulder to get a whiff of the strange being. The cub then went to play with my friend’s inflatable hen turkey decoy, puncturing the decoy.

The bears started to walk directly at the hunter, but abruptly altered their course, fortunately, and walked away with the other bears.

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