I remember when my dad and my grandpa would put an electric fence around the sweet corn patch to keep raccoons out. And I even have a few friends who will gladly fill their deer tags while running combines in the fall just to get the critters out of their fields. But I had no idea how much bears loved corn until I was talking with Wisconsin crop advisor Tom Perlick during one of our interviews for AgFax Midwest Grain.
“Bears will drag the stalks right over to where they are sitting in a field,” Tom said. “Unlike raccoons, which take a bite out of a cob and move on to the next one, bears will eat every kernel.
“They will create huge areas in a field that we call bear circles. I’ve seen 10 to 15% loss in a field just from bears.”
Tom owns Integrated Crop Management in Sarona, Wiconsin and this year he ordered a drone just so he could identify exactly where bears were damaging fields, and set traps to try to catch them. He sent me some footage from a particularly bad field. You won’t see any bears in the video but the amount of damage is scary.
“The only thing we can do is trap them, said Tom. If the DNR says that we can’t control them effectively by trapping, they will issue shooting permits, but that is a last resort.”
Talking about the bear problem with Tom prompted me to do little research. The black bear has been creating havoc in corn fields for as long as the crop has been grown in the U.S. Reports date back to early European settlements. Of course, at that time, settlers just took it upon themselves to eliminate the problem – and get a little meat for winter.
Eventually, bounties were put on black bears causing them to become extinct in some parts of the country. But in the last 20 years there’s been a resurgence of the black bear. State and federal measures have brought them back with a vengeance, and they are very, very hungry.
These days, controlling bears is challenging and varies by state. In Wisconsin, for example, they use a lottery system. A hunter buys a license and a chance to get one of a limited number of tags. If a grower isn’t given a tag, he gets a point. It typically takes 8 to 9 years to accumulate enough points to get a tag.
It’s not unusual for hunters to let the smaller bears pass by and wait on a big one. That means, many times, they don’t end up getting one at all.
Tom enrolled his northwest Wisconsin land in the state Wildlife Damage Abatement & Claims program and, as of mid-September, he had trapped 11 bears and shot 10 on his farm alone. Most are 120-125 pounds, but he had one this year that dressed out at a whopping 320 pounds.
Take a look at Tom’s drone video below to see a whole village of “bear circles.” It takes a lot of corn to feed that kind of appetite.