Spring Black Bear Bowhunt: There is something truly enchanting about bowhunting black bears—coming face to face with an animal both capable and willing to kill you under the right circumstances. This gives bear hunting an added degree of excitement and adventure. They also make beautiful trophies, and no trophy room is quite complete until it is graced by a prime bearskin rug. And spring produces the most gorgeous. Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is more than one way to collect a bruin. How you proceed depends largely on finances, available time, and your willingness to work hard for success.
When contemplating spring black bear hunting there are three avenues to success: Canada (which requires the services of an outfitter), Alaska (which may require a float-plane or boat ride), and the American West (Eastern black bear seasons, as far as I can discern, occur only in the fall). Let’s take a look at each in turn and see which fits your budget, time constraints, and willingness to put in the extra effort required.
Spring Black Bear Bowhunt: Canada Bruins
Canada spring black bear hunts are fully guided affairs generally including high success rates, bonus fishing, and a true sense of adventure. No matter which province you might consider, hiring an outfitter is a legal requirement for nonresident aliens. In the grand scheme of things Canada bear hunts are relatively affordable, which should not be mistaken for cheap. Relative to trophy whitetail, elk, or moose hunts, they are affordable. On the right hunt, with the right outfitter, success rates can be quite high—as much as 100 percent opportunity when everything falls together. I’ve been on seven Canada black bear hunts in various provinces, these hunts ranging from complete jokes, to the most incredible adventures of my life. Everything depends on the outfitter and the area they are hunting. Some outfitters are fraudsters, others impeccable professionals. Some areas have been shot flat; others are otherworldly.
Booking a hunt starts with either a reputable booking agency (Safari Bowhunting Consultants has never steered me wrong) or doing a lot of homework. Word of mouth is always best in these scenarios, but interviewing several outfitters, requesting references (both successful and unsuccessful), and finding a business that meshes with your expectations is necessary to finding the hunt you want. For the most part, the western provinces of Alberta (where hunters may tag two bears), Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are most reliable in terms of numbers of bears and trophy quality. If hunting from the East Coast, Newfoundland is pretty reliable. British Columbia offers exciting, and hugely productive, spot-and-stalk hunting along its coast.
Arrive ready to deal with an ungodly number of biting insects—fewer in May, more in the productive month of June—pack fishing gear, and be prepared to be scared out of your wits at least once during your visit. Western Canada black bears aren’t particularly afraid of humans, doing things like climbing into the stand with you. Spend the first night, at least, simply looking at bears, and for the love of God and all that is holy, do not shoot the first bear you see. I assure you; a bigger bear will show.
Spring Black Bear Bowhunt: Alaska Black Bears
Alaska has much to recommend it, including numbers and exceptional trophy quality. Black bears can also be hunted without an outfitter by visiting Americans, offering true DIY adventure. But it is time consuming, and not especially cheap. Getting into productive areas, with exceptions, can require a float-plane ride or ferry to a remote island. Baiting is legal, but must be brought with you, as local provisions such as dry dog food or bread are off-the-charts expensive. As are groceries and fuel. Spot-and-stalk hunts can be quite productive, in the right areas. This makes the southern portions of Alaska most practical to visiting hunters, where driving a supply-filled truck is possible. Obviously, there are some involved logistics at play, which means this is a hunt for someone with plenty of time.
Baiting is exceptionally productive in Alaska Southeast, as bears are numerous and lightly hunted. That said, spot-and-stalk hunting along the ocean from a rubber dingy can also result in plenty of bear sightings. Haines and Skagway are places that can be reached by highway, but the best bet for quality black bear hunting is Prince of Wales (accessible by vehicle after a ferry ride) and surrounding islands (accessible only by air). The reward is exceptionally large bears, many making Boone & Crockett. Permits are issued through a lottery drawing. Contact Alaska Fish & Game for details.
Spring Black Bear Bowhunt: Western DIY
DIY black bear hunts are available in only a handful of Western states. Washington and Oregon spring hunts are spot-and-stalk affairs, glassing logging clear cuts for bears emerging to graze on fresh grass to jumpstart their digestive tracts. Success rates are fair. Some Indian reservations in the region also offer spring bear hunts, with baiting possible, such as the Quinault Tribe on the Olympic Peninsula. A native guide is required.
Utah allows baiting, but you must first beat steep draw odds to win a limited tag. Wyoming allows baiting, but requires claiming an area before season opener, with previous hunters of that site given first right of refusal. That complicates matters somewhat. Non-residents may not hunt in wilderness areas without an outfitter. Spot-and-stalk hunting can be good.
Idaho is the easy choice if baiting is on your agenda. Idaho’s best bear-baiting areas include Backcountry Units farther from civilization, where seasons run through June, and two bears may be tagged. Areas closer to civilization, many of these only opened to baiting recently, close the end of May, which on a heavy snow year can leave many areas inaccessible. Backcountry units, on an average year, generally aren’t vehicle accessible until mid- to late-May.
Spring Black Bear Bowhunt: This is another time-consuming proposition. The best approach is to arrive as soon as areas are accessible, setting up a bait site using dry dog food, used cooking oil, day-old baked goods, and whatever else can be scrounged via dumpster diving. Placing bait in a 55-gallon barrel chained to a sturdy tree and including an 8-inch access hole to slow consumption is best. Now you spend your days trout fishing and spot-and-stalk hunting, waiting for your bait to spark off. Two to three weeks is usually required to get things rolling, including the arrival of trophy bears.
Many deem this shooting fish in a barrel, but unlike Canada and Alaska where black bears are not afraid of humans, Idaho bears are hunted and quite wary. A perfect stand set-up on the correct side of the wind, a strict scent-control regimen, taking pains to park well away from baits before hiking in and climbing aboard, and plenty of patience are required to earn a clean shot. But when it all comes together and you tag a bear completely on your own, the satisfaction can’t be beat.
Learn more about hunting black bears at www.insidearchery.com