Hunter becomes the hunted

By: Greg Bird 4/17/14

Typically every hunter has a story about “the one that got away.” 

But for local sportsman Johnny Barnett, the one that got away was actually himself.

Calling it an amazing and unbelievable experience, Barnett was attacked by a bobcat during a hunt, and quick action by his hunting partner and son may have saved him from serious injury at the very least.

Barnett and his 16-year old son Aaron were turkey hunting early Sunday morning in the woods of northern McCreary County, near Goodin Ridge, on their first hunting trip of the young turkey season.

Around 7:30 a.m. Barnett had spotted a hen a short distance away and began calling the bird with a striker, hoping to draw it closer so his son could get a clear shot at the bird.

Turkeys are notoriously keen to notice movement, so both hunters, bedecked in full camouflage, were as still as possible. As Barnett worked the call as stealthily as possible, a bobcat must have thought he had cornered breakfast and jumped at the hunter.

“I heard something in the leaves and looked to my left,” Barnett said. “The cat was already in the air. I just had enough time to duck my head and it landed on my back.”

Barnett’s son witnessed the attack and acted bravely, firing his shotgun off to the side to scare the big cat away. 

Barnett praised his son for his quick thinking and heroic act.

“If it wasn’t for his gunshot, it could have been worse,” he said. Barnett was wearing a padded turkey vest at the time, and that extra layer prevented the cat from inflicting any injury from his initial pounce. 

Estimating the bobcat as weighing between 20 and 25 pounds, Barnett said he distinctly felt the back paws push off his back as the cat leapt away.

The gunshot managed to scare the cat away, but a single pellet did ricochet off a nearby tree and ended up striking Barnett in the wrist. 

The wound was minor, and both hunters exited the woods and went to Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital where Barnett’s wrist was x-rayed. The pellet had not hit bone, nor caused any serious damage, so doctors opted to leave it in. 

Barnett said he would cherish the small wound as a reminder of Aaron’s quick thinking in an emergency.

Barnett said the event would not dissuade him from hunting again in the future. 

“You have to be so still when hunting turkeys, but it will be hard for me not to keep looking around me the next time we’re in the woods,” he laughed. “When you’re hunting, you never know if you’re the one being hunted.”

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Biologist Mike Strunk said Barnett’s encounter was rare, but not an unbelievable occurrence. 

“You don’t think about it, but a lot of times as hunters, we are making calls, and the bobcats are out hunting for prey,” he said. “It makes sense, a turkey hen would be a natural food source for a bobcat.”

Bear Proof!

By: Eugenia Jones 4/17/14

With spring’s arrival comes a predictable increase in reports of nuisance bears throughout McCreary County.  According to Mike Strunk, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife biologist, the agency has received nine reports of nuisance bears in the last week with one 360 pound male bear being hit by a rig on Highway 27 at Greenwood.

“At this time of year, black bears are beginning to be more active and are out looking for food,” Strunk commented.  “Although the male bears remain fairly active through the winter months as long as they have a food source, the reports of nuisance bears pick up in the spring because it is the worst time for availability of food.  The bears cover more ground looking for something to eat.”

According to Strunk, black bears are very timid creatures who are normally scared of humans.  Generally, black bears will run off when they come close to people.  Problems arise when bears become acclimated to humans and their food sources.  It is usually when bears lose their fear of humans that problems arise.  

“It’s a lot easier to take steps to avoid a nuisance bear problem than it is to correct it,” Strunk, who handled or assisted with more than 110 nuisance bear complaints in McCreary County last year, commented.  “Once bears lose that natural fear of people and get accustomed to looking for easy food sources created by humans, it’s hard to correct the problems that occur.”

According to Strunk, who reminds the public that the feeding of bears is illegal and punishable by fines and/or imprisonment, the simplest way for homeowners to avoid a nuisance bear problem is to simply avoid providing an intentional or unintentional food source for the bear.   It is best to be proactive and take the steps needed to prevent a first time visit by a hungry bear especially since bears have a highly developed sense of smell and remarkable memories, often recalling and relocating garbage cans raided in the fall and returning to them in the spring with hopes of finding additional tasty treats.

“Over ninety percent of nuisance bear reports in Kentucky are garbage related,” Strunk shared.  “If we could get a handle on the garbage problem, we would eliminate the bulk of our nuisance bear problems.”

Strunk has several handy tips for those wishing to avoid a nuisance bear.  

First, homeowners need to avoid keeping any type of garbage outside.  Garbage prepared for garbage pickup should not be placed curbside overnight but should, instead, be placed out on the day of pickup.  

Pet food should be kept indoors, and animals being fed outdoors should be given only the amount of food they can eat.  Automatic feeders are discouraged as they provide ongoing temptations for hungry bears.

Food scraps should not be tossed in a yard or “over the hill.”

Bird feeders should be taken down at night or hung high enough with rope so as to be out of reach of bears.  (Since birds naturally have a ready supply of food in the spring or summer, it is advisable to remove feeders during these times of year.)

Keep BBQ grills, picnic tables, etc. clean and rinse out garbage cans.

Electric fencing can be used to discourage bears from roaming around honey bee hives, gardens, and fruit trees.

It is much easier to avoid a nuisance bear problem than to correct it.  According to Strunk, nuisance bears who have become acclimated to humans and human sources of food are called “James Dean bears” or “live fast, die young bears.”  They typically reproduce earlier and at a higher rate, but don’t live as long as bears surviving in the wild using their own natural instincts.  Instead, the nuisance bears die younger because of human related problems such as being hit by automobiles.

Strunk also voices concern over mother bears who become dependent on human food sources such as dumpsters and garbage cans and who, in turn, teach their young cubs to rely on these food sources as well.  

“These cubs really don’t stand a chance,” Strunk said.  “Once they get a taste and start depending on human food sources, there is not a lot we can do to break the bad habits and save the cubs as they get older.”

When responding to nuisance bear complaints, officials first work with landowners by conducting a visit or providing technical assistance over the telephone.  During the visit or telephone call, efforts are made to make landowners aware of any potential food attractant on their property that may increase the chance of continued issues.  Efforts to correct the problem include removing any food sources, assisting with fencing, etc.  

“Typically, if a landowner removes the attractant, the bear will move on,” Strunk stated.  “If we are notified that a bear is on-site, we respond and try to haze the animal with non-lethal ammunition.  By using non-lethal hazing, we hope to break the habit of receiving a food reward without any negative human interaction.  But hazing only works if the food attractant is then removed.”

If this step does not work, the bear, as a last resort, may be trapped and relocated, however, Strunk points to the limited success of relocation.

“Relocation typically puts the bear in harm’s way,” Strunk shared.  “No matter how far away the bear is relocated, it will typically try to find its way back home.  In the process, the bear gets hit by traffic, or since it is already acclimated to humans and human food sources, it simply finds another place to become a nuisance.  In a lot of cases, the bear, with its remarkable sense of smell and amazing memory, will find its way back home to the same human food source and resume the same behavior.”

As proof, Strunk noted one relocated bear who travelled through five counties in three days to return to its original feeding site. 

While some might argue that learning to co-exist peacefully with black bears in McCreary County is more of a nuisance than it’s worth, Strunk pointed to some of the benefits of the black bear population. 

“The potential for tourism is unbelievable,” he said.  “So many of us drive to the Smokies, just to see a bear.  Of course, the hunting season has a lot of the public support behind it and when you look at the amount of public land we have, hunters are definitely going to be attracted to this area.”

However, beyond the potential for economic benefit to McCreary County, Strunk feels the aesthetic and educational opportunities available to those living in “black bear country” are the most positive and most important.

“The successful presence of black bears is an important indicator that our forests are in optimum condition, and that means we, as state and federal agencies along with the public, are doing a good job,” Strunk explained.  “In addition, our children get to grow up learning about and experiencing wildlife and nature in ways other children don’t experience.”

Strunk encouraged the public to report any sighting of bears because those reports help wildlife management officials determine the location and number of bears in the area.  Most importantly, Strunk stressed the importance of individuals reporting nuisance bears immediately.

“Immediately reporting a nuisance bear helps us help the landowner quickly,” Strunk emphasized.  “And it helps us correct the problem with the bear before it becomes impossible to solve.”

Bear reports can be made by calling 376-8083 during normal business hours (M-F) or 1-800-25ALERT (1-800-252-5378) for wildlife or law enforcement dispatch at any time 24/7. 

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