One of my all-time favorite hunts is black bear hunting, not for the activity itself, although it is thoroughly enjoyable, but for the bounty, if you are successful.
Black bear hunting is a great opportunity to get out in the spring. It’s an incredible hunt that will require you to muster up every hunting know-how. Although black bears don’t have the greatest eyesight, they do, however, have an extremely keen sense of smell.
Black bears are widespread, and tags are readily available whether you’re hunting the east or west coast or in Canada.
Methods for black bear hunting
Spot and stalk
This is probably my favorite method of hunting black bears. Although it’s not the easiest as it means getting out there and putting in miles, you get to cover a lot of country and enjoy the scenery.
To be successful in this method, you need to know where the bears are. What I like to do is E-Scout an area before heading out. Although it doesn’t work 100% of the time, it does give me a good overview of the area I’m going to be hunting.
To E-Scout I use Google maps with ON-X or Gaia and mark my locations.
When I’m E-Scouting for black bears, I’m looking for two things. One is the area for black bear, and the other is a glassing knob.
The area I like to look for black bears is grassy areas or meadows with plenty of blueberry cover. Typically I look for south-facing slopes and avalanche chutes.
Another option, although not a favorite of mine, is somewhere with access to salmon runs. I don’t particularly like this method because I find a black bear that feeds on fish is not as tasty as one that’s full of blueberries.
Now, this is a topic of much debate, and depending on where you are, it may or may not be legal. For some hunters living in dense and inaccessible locations, this may be the only way they get to see a bear.
Baiting does offer some advantages, such as positive identification of the bear. It’s also a good way to introduce new or young hunters to black bear hunting.
Old fryer grease, dog food, pork fat will generally draw in bears quickly. It wouldn’t be unusual to see bear signs after 2-3 days in a good location. Bears will establish a predictable pattern, so after you attract a bear to your bait pile, you’ll be ready to hunt the next day.
Place your pile along a well-used bear trail or in the vicinity of a natural food source. It’s a good idea to try and use an area with dense cover, so the bear feels secure.
Seasons for black bear hunting
Generally, most places have a spring bear season. While many hunters are eager to get out and get a bear, more like to wait for fall bear season.
There is nothing wrong with a spring bear, and it makes for good dining. However, fall bears have a much better hide and a thick layer of fat from gorging on blueberries.
Generally, spring bears are feeding on anything they can scavenge. Food is usually in short supply this time of year. This is a good time to find them on the south-facing slopes searching for overwintered berries.
Some bears will also be heading towards meadows and open wetlands this time of year, looking for sprouting grasses and sedges.
Another option is in lower river valleys, where they will be looking for salmon carcasses that died after spawning the previous season.
This is your chance to get a nice healthy black bear with a thick hide and plenty of fat.
Black bears enter into a state of polyphagia in the fall. This means they go on a feeding frenzy, consuming large quantities of food. They are trying to put on as much weight as possible before winter.
Bears are quite active this time of the year, and they roam the landscapes looking for anything to feed on. This could be insects, seeds, carrion, or wounded animals. Whatever they can find protein in, they will consume.
This is a good time to find a good glassing spot as the bears will be feeding for about a third of the day. If you have identified your area with E-Scout, get up on a high ridge, and monitor that food source.
Before you pull the trigger or let that arrow fly, be sure of what you’re aiming at. Black bears are not always black as the name would have you believe. Relying on color is one of the least reliable ways to identify a bear.
To try and age a bear, looking at the head is usually the best method. Small bears have pointy ears that sit on top of a narrow head, where larger bears have a broader head and smaller ears that stick out towards the sides.
Older bears will have legs that appear short, whereas younger bears will have long gangly legs. An older bear’s belly will be sagging, and they will look powerful with thick rumps and shoulders.