Spring bear hunting has grown exponentially in popularity in the past handful of years. Inexpensive licenses are the answer to winters spent waiting for the thaw. Idaho offers reduced price tags and the ability to buy two. Montana has the highest concentration of color-phase bears just about anywhere. And black bears across the west have increasing numbers. If you need a reason to put on your boots and venture away from civilization, you have plenty of options.
Become a Student Of the Game
Bears are different animals than other big game. As omnivorous predators, they have different behaviors and patterns. Understanding these will help focus your search areas and refine stalking strategies for bear hunting. Following the “green up” as grass expands into retreating snow lines is a good place to begin. Later as elk start to drop their young, calving grounds can be highly productive. Bears can take some time to get moving in the morning and I’ve found them to be more active after midday. Resources that will help you know more of the biology of black bears are widely available, but I would recommend Doug Boze’s Ultimate Guide to Black Bear Hunting will greatly shorten the curve.
This Is a Glassing Game
Finding bears is first locating vantage points that give you eyes on areas likely to hold bears and then planning the stalk. As light fades behind ridge lines, good quality glass will hold the light better and give you more time to locate a bear. Spotting scopes and tripods are well worth the weight in your pack. The deeper look into draws can help eliminate areas without moving. They will also give you the detailed inspection you need to check if there are cubs hanging around. A sitting pad or even a mountain chair will give you an edge to stay longer on the mountain.
Bear Meat is Excellent
Once you get past you are eating a bear , you’ll find it to be great fare. The recommended internal temperature to cook to is 165° to render any parasites dead. The two easiest ways to ensure your bear is safely cooked is to grind it or in a sous vide. Ground, or in sausage, allows it to cook evenly and get that tasty caramelization. Sous vide can get your cut of meat to temp and keep it there for some time without allowing it to dry out. Once it reaches your desired temperature, you can finish in a cast iron pan for a nice sear. The debate continues whether a bear tastes better in the fall or spring, but I’ve not been able to tell much difference.
Don’t Rush the Hunt
Bear hunting is largely a test of patience and endurance. We are all eager to begin the hunt and when we get out the truck there is pep in our step. But the excitement really starts once a bear is spotted. Until then, learn to enjoy the peripherals of hunting. Spring is the time when everything begins to awaken and migratory birds return to the area. Morels and other forageables will appear and make a very nice addition to your future bear dish. Learning more about the natural world around you will deeply enrich your experience.
More Tips for Success:
- If you are hunting in Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming make certain you can differentiate between a black bear and a grizzly bear. Montana and Wyoming both offer online identification courses. (Montana’s is required prior to purchasing a license).
- Know how to identify a female and spend time looking for cubs.
- Cool your hide and meat quickly, but don’t let it sit in water.
- Learn how to skin a black bear, leaving the paws and evidence of sex naturally attached.
- Aim forward of where you would on a deer or elk; vitals on black bears sit just a bit more towards the front.
About the Author: Everett Headley is an outdoor writer and educator. He was raised hunting and fishing in Montana. He lives in the Bitterroot with his Chesapeake Bay retriever, Cane, and his peregrine falcon, Freyja. You can find more of his work on his professional page, on Instagram and his podcast Elevate the Hunt.