The Spring Bear Hunt
Hunt over bait or spot and stalk? A the question anyone who desires to hunt black bear must ask of themselves? I took my first black bear back in the 1970’s. Since that time I have been on many different bear hunts over a goodly part of North America. I have hunted bears over bait and sitting on western water holes, following well-trained hounds, using predator calls and spot and stalk. Admittedly my favored way of pursuing black bear is by spot and stalk, either during the spring when the bear breeding season is going on and in the fall when bears are feeding on spawning fish in the North Country or berries or acorns.
Next to whitetail deer the black bear is the most wide-spread native big game animal in North America found from the deserts of Mexico to the tundra of the Far North and from the Eastern Seaboard to the western Pacific Rim. The colors of his coat vary from near polar-bear-white to solid black, including blonde, cinnamon, reds and browns in between.
I remember well my first black bear. Using a Ruger 77 in 7x57, shooting 139 grain soft point Hornady ammo, I sat watching a waterhole in south-central New Mexico around which I had found a lot of fresh bear tracks. We were hunting with my Dad’s and ac cousin’s hounds. But we released our hounds only in the morning. During the evenings I sat on the waterhole. About an hour before dark on the third day of our hunt, a cinnamon colored bear walked out of the oak brush and trees to drink. Since that first bear at a western water hole, I’ve seen and taken numerous bears in this same manner.
Some states, thankfully still allow hunting bears with hounds. I dearly love to listen to the “mountain music” serenades of well trained hounds. And…..if someone thinks taking a bear with hounds is easy. Are they ever wrong! I’ve literally run miles, through swamps, up and down mountains many times on the same chase following hounds. Hound hunting for black bears is by far the most strenuous and physically demanding bear hunt there is!
The easiest, but the technique that takes the most patience, is sitting in a tree or ground stand over bait waiting on a black bear to appear. And, then make the right decision on which bear to shoot. This too, can be a great way to observe and learn about bear and bear behavior. My preference when it comes to hunting over bait is to sit on the ground. Since bears have a great sense of smell it can require moving to the other side of the bait if the wind changes, one of the reasons these days I use a Nature Blinds Shield when hunting bears over bait. I also use my Nature Blinds Shield when stalking bears. The best baited bear hunts generally occur during the peak of the mosquito season. Don’t forget to take your Thermacell and a head-net, as well as gloves.
On occasion I have used a dying rabbit call to attract black bears, and where elk and black bears co-exist an elk calf in distress call. In most instances bears continue coming, as long as you call continually. If you stop calling, they seem to lose interest. Lately when calling coyotes, I have used the Convergent Hunting Solutions Bullet HP call, and love it! I have not used my Bullet HP to call black bear, but I will in April when I hunt Alaska for bears.
Spot and stalk, to me, is the most fun of all bear hunting. It sometimes takes considerable glassing to first spot one. Quality optics produced by Zeiss are of paramount importance!
Once you spot a bear, the stalk begins. This means taking extreme caution from which direction to approach depending upon the wind. I love wearing my old brown western hat, my self-camo-ed leather gloves, and my Kenetrek leather boot when hunting. To eliminate as much as possible, the scents on those particular clothing items and my other old favorite hunting clothes I put them in my Scent Crusher bag, which eliminates odors. The West with its more open county where bears can be seen more readily is also more conducive to this style of hunting.
Where and method of hunting are a personal preference. The east and northeast are more typically bait hunted, where the west can be hunted spot and stalk a bit more easily. A great place to book a black bear hunt is at the annual Dallas Safari Club convention held each January in Dallas, Texas. DSC members too, are a great source of information about not only hunting black bear but just about any other kind of game in the world.
I have taken black bears throughout much of North America with the exception of coastal North Carolina where live some the biggest bodied black bear. True 400 pounders and much bigger bears are not uncommon. This is one of the area have on my list when it comes to black bears.
A bear’s size is determined by sex, age, food, and of course genetics. Boars are larger in body than sows. Older bears are bigger than younger bears. The more they have to eat and the better the quality, the bigger they get. Before going bear hunting spend time looking at full body mounts to get an idea what really big bears look like. Best advice for inexperienced bear hunters…pay attention to how close the ears are together. The closer the ears are together, the younger they mostly likely are. Old mature boars generally have wide spread ears and what looks like a crease down the center of their forehead, indicative of heavy muscling.
I am not a bowhunter I have not taken a black bear with either bow or crossbow. I dearly love guns and hunting with them! I have taken black bear with handguns, rifles, shotgun with slugs, and muzzleloaders. I have long used Ruger firearms, Hornady ammo and Zeiss optics, because they work! Too, I have learned most any caliber and round you might use on whitetail deer will also kill a black bear! I personally like the larger calibers such as my .375 Ruger Guide Gun, shooting 300 grain Hornady DGX ammo.
The danger involved in bear hunting, is more perception than reality. But remember, more people are injured each year by black bear than grizzlies, one of the reason I don’t go to the bear woods without my Ripcord card.
One last detail is to contact The Wildlife Gallery to ask for some personal, with your name and contact information on them as well, the Wildlife Gallery’s shipping address so your bear hide and skull can be properly mounted, whether life-size, rug or something in between. Ask them to send you at least four to six such “cards”, one each for the skull and the bear hide, plus extras in case you take something else or catch a fish you might want mounted.
If you have not already planned a bear hunt this spring, now is THE time!