Isn’t It Time You Bowhunted Black Bears? – Bowhunting black bears offers pure excitement and a unique prize no trophy room should be without. While not all states and provinces offer spring bear seasons, black bear hunting is available in a few Western U.S. states and many Canadian provinces through the months of May and June. Opportunities range from affordable guided hunts throughout Canada, to DIY options in key Western U.S. states. Here’s what you need to know.
Canada offers some of the most productive and trophy rich black bear hunts in all of North America. Ideal habitat and vast wildlands mean Canada bears are more plentiful and oftentimes wear larger skulls than in the remainder of their range. That’s the good news. Unfortunately for the do-it-yourselfer, all Canadian provinces require that non-resident aliens employ the services of a licensed outfitter.
Fortunately, in the big picture these hunts are relatively affordable, at least in relation to other big game hunts such as white-tailed deer and especially elk. I hesitate to offer exact prices, as everything from groceries to fuel has escalated in price in the past two years, and as a consequence so have guided hunts. Outfitters still must feed you, and the bears, and burn fuel to run baits and get hunters into the field. The more remote the camp, the higher these expenses run (and, in general, the bigger the bears routinely bagged).
Canadian spring black bear hunts are some of the most enjoyable bowhunting adventures you can possibly enjoy. Hunts are conducted evenings, guarding bait (spot-and-stalk hunts can be arranged if baiting puts you off), while mornings and middays are wide open for shed antler hunting or fishing—sometimes world class fishing for walleye and monster northern pike. Canadian spring bear hunts are pure relaxation. You will certainly see bears. Success rates are very high, often including 100 percent shot opportunity and 80-plus percent success rates—which generally translates to 100 percent success if you are mentally prepared and ready to do your part as a bowhunter.
Shots won’t be overly challenging, typically taken at less than 25 yards, but you must be mentally prepared to shoot under intense pressure. Bears bring out the worst “buck fever” with some hunters, something no doubt linked to the understanding a wounded bear can maim or kill you. Arrive prepared to take a high-pressure shot from an elevated position. This includes ridding yourself of any visage of target panic before arriving on Canadian soil. There’s no need to rush any shot or force the issue on any given bear. A Canadian black bear hunt is seldom a one-opportunity deal. Plenty of shot opportunities are offered on better quality hunts.
In my experience, the very best Canadian black bear hunts are found in Newfoundland in the east, Manitoba in the middle, or Alberta and Saskatchewan in the west. All of these provinces produce solid Pope & Young quality bears, even the occasional Booner. Even so, before booking a hunt depend on solid word of mouth referrals or an extensive list of references (both successful and unsuccessful hunters) and careful research before committing to a hunt deposit.
Western DIY Hunts
Isn’t It Time You Bowhunted Black Bears? – Spring black bear hunts can be done on your own for less money, but a much higher investment of time and research. Your options include Oregon, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho. Oregon does not allowing baiting, though spot-and-stalk hunting can prove productive for those willing to put their time in. Utah requires winning a lottery tag, but trophy quality is as good as it gets, and baiting is permitted. Draw odds are steep for non-residents. Wyoming tags are more easily won, trophy quality is good and baiting allowed in select units. Finally, Idaho allows baiting in a long list of “backcountry” units—most found in the northern Panhandle—licenses are cheap and purchased over the counter, and trophy quality (in regards to record-book skulls) is fair. Overall, Idaho is the easiest state to set up a spring bear hunt, especially if you wish to bait. Spot-and-stalk hunting can also prove productive, though thick vegetation complicates matters.
Baiting bears is a bit more difficult than most realize—and involves a hell of a lot of hard work. The biggest problem with baiting is working around houndsmen. If they—or their dogs—find your active bait, they will run your bears, even if inadvertently, and ruin your efforts. You must situate baits at the edges of topography so rough houndsmen refuse to turn their hounds loose, or in areas not frequented by hound hunters. The latter can mean traveling deeper into remote areas where fewer hunters venture—especially during these times of skyrocketing fuel prices.
The bait proper must then be placed where approaching bears will not get a nose full of human scent. This means a ridge point, or rapidly falling ground below a bench or ancient logging road where the falling thermals of late evening will carry your scent away from the bait. You want a flat spot where bears can feed leisurely, overlooked by an elevated stand located 15 to 25 yards away.
My preferred method is to place bait in a 55-gallon barrel cabled or chained to a solid tree to prevent it from being absconded with. Cut a 12-inch hole in the top of the barrel to help slow bait consumption and keep bears on site longer. Some hunters simply dig a 3-foot deep hole in the preferred spot, fill it with bait and cover it with logs to deter crows, ravens and other scavengers. The barrel route requires less frequent refills as scavenger loss in minimized, especially when operating several baits, while the pit method will generally require daily visits. A trail camera is normally deployed to take inventory of bears and get a better grasp on what you are holding out for. Take care to keep bait scent off the camera, or bears will certainly destroy it. I normally don surgical gloves before touching a bait-site camera.
The bulk of bear bait is usually comprised of cheap kibble dog food, bulk jugs of cooking oil and day-old bakery goods. Having connections who can provide restaurant scraps or used cooking oil saves money. I’ve not been too proud in the past to go dumpster diving behind bakeries, fast food restaurants and grocery stores, as we throw out more food in this country weekly than most countries produce annually. A pile of bowfished carp is also a great way to jumpstart a bear bait, sending out a powerful stink that draws bears from a wider area. Commercially made bear scents are also welcomed. Remember, sticky, greasy bait components are tracked off on the paws of visiting bears, also casting a wider net for outlaying bears to trail in.
Isn’t It Time You Bowhunted Black Bears? – The rest is sitting—normally 3 p.m. till dark—waiting quietly and patiently. Western public lands bears, especially in over-the-counter Idaho, are understandably wary. It might take them a couple nights to make an appearance. Then you must keep your nerves tightly wound and make the shot—remembering to stay away from the shoulder, aiming closer to the bear’s middle.