As it turns out, there’s a variety of bears to hunt in the Wiregrass.

There are tiny koala bears, big panda bears, and even bigger brown bears that sit in front yards and wear Santa hats. There are bears of every color — pink, white, black, tan, and gray. There are bears wearing hats, ribbons and vests. There are bears reading books or chilling on a front porch. There’s a bear wearing snow skis maneuvering the slope of a mailbox.

There also are some non-bears in the mix — some dogs and a blue unicorn, for instance.

There are even bears with messages of hope — “Keep the Faith” and “God Loves You.”

Bear hunts have become a popular diversion for families trying to keep social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Groups have been popping up on social media across the country. The concept is simple: People put stuffed bears out for kids to “hunt.”

Megan Henderson, a kindergarten teacher at Heard Elementary School in Dothan, saw the activity on Facebook and decided to start the Dothan Bear Hunt group. The response has been positive, she said.

“It’s just a way for the kids to get out while still participating with the social distancing,” Henderson said. “The people are putting them in windows and bushes and on mailboxes for the kids to just walk around or ride around with their parents and just find where the bears are. It’s just a way to kind of cure the boredom that we’re all experiencing right now.”

The Dothan Bear Hunt group has 1,344 members and anywhere from 400 to 500 participants who have put stuffed bears out. (The Facebook map will only hold about 200 locations.) There are bear hunts in Dothan and surrounding communities like Rehobeth, Kinsey and Headland.

Families doing the bear hunts have really taken the task to heart. Some children are utilizing binoculars — some real and some made out of empty toilet paper rolls. Others have donned camouflage and safari gear.

Effort’s genesis

As a teacher, Henderson said creating the bear hunt group was a way for her to let her students know she has been thinking of them during the time that schools have been closed.

But she’s also a mother to 8-year-old Avery and 5-year-old Rayleigh.

“They love it,” Henderson said during a Tuesday phone interview. “We went on a bear hunt yesterday. We were going to go today, but it started raining, and we’re going to go on another tomorrow because there is ample amount of addresses.

“We rode around two different subdivisions yesterday and they were thrilled. They would screech every time we would find one. It was just so much fun.”

While some kids track their hunting progress or take pictures of their stuffed animal discoveries, Henderson said there’s no expectation or requirement for them to do anything but enjoy the moment.

“It’s just evolved into something much more than I thought it would,” Henderson said. “As a teacher, it warms my heart to make kids smile — that’s always been my calling is to make kids happy. If that’s what it takes — it has been a lot of work, more than I anticipated — but it’s worth every bit of it if our kids are happy about it and it gets them out of the funk that we’re in right now.”

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