April 24, 2023
By Scott Ergas
Hunting bears can be an extremely challenging but also incredibly rewarding. It’s an art and a science—a balancing act of annual predictability and contingent variables. What is certain is that black bears or Ursus Americanus are ruled by two things—food and the urge to procreate. The following are six helpful tips to help you notch your bruin tag.
Play The Snowline
Early spring melt-off coincides with bears shaking off the frost by replacing dormant tendencies with increased activity searching for food. Bears will have to pass their fecal plug—a gummy and tarry blockage they purposely create and endure during hibernation. They are lethargic when they first emerge and seek to find lush, new growth to help facilitate this necessity. The elevation band you will start finding them is predicated on the snowline. The ground recently blanketed with snow is moist and the warm spring sun helps new growth emerge. Concentrate below the snowline and look for the areas with rich new life. As snow recedes, bears will follow it back up in elevation.
Target South-Facing Slopes
South-facing slopes receive the most amount of sunlight during the day which stimulates snowmelt and promotes food growth such as nutrient-rich grasses and flowers. Although bears can be located anywhere, certain habitats are more productive than others. Look for a glassable hillside with chartreuse-color feed and timber pockets or strings of trees. Bears just got finished pseudo-sleeping for five to six months, so they want to conserve energy while packing on the weight. A hillside that offers feed and easy access to bedding areas is prime. Add a nice creek below and you have the trifecta.
Recognize Their Favorite Snacks
Bears have specific plants they like to gorge on during the bloom of spring. Being able to spot them and discern if they are still unmolested will give you good insight into bears frequenting the area. Flowers such as dandelions, arrowleaf balsamroot, and glacial lilies are all preferred treats. It’s easy to tell if a patch of flowers has been getting gnawed on—look for nonuniform rips in the stems and for missing flower buttons and petals. During the fall season, make sure you can identify huckleberries, service berries and chock cherries, and if you are at an elevation that has oak trees, acorns are your friend.
Don’t Disregard Fresh Sign
If a “smoking gun” is a cliché tell-tale clue in colloquial mysteries and suspense thrillers, then a steaming pile of bear scat should never be overlooked. Not only can it indicate how recently the bear was there—it can also reveal to you what the animal has been eating and its potential size. It is said that the “bigger the bore, the bigger the bear.” While this may not be true and purely anecdotal, it makes feasible sense. Another thing to look for is a stomp path. Many dominant bears will carve out these trails by repeatedly walking in their same footsteps over many years. If you see this, there’s a good chance that the trail is highly trafficked.
Find Where Elk Calve
As it gets deeper into spring and late may rolls around, bears will be less concentrated due to abundant access to food. Near this same time, their modus operandi starts to switch as the become more focused on the rut—which starts to take them places in search of suiters. While their hormones are shifting gears, simultaneously their tastebuds do, too. Around the end of May and the beginning of June, elk start to drop their calves. The first 36 hours is an extremely vulnerable time for the fresh baby ungulates as they don’t have their legs under them yet. Bears are the one predator whose olfactory senses are potently strong enough to smell the unscented calves. There have been stories of black bears taking matters into their own claws and ripping calves from their birthing mothers. If you are aware of an area where cow elk seclude themselves yearly to birth, be there the first two weeks of June and a bear will surely show up.
One caveat—please be sure to check your states hunting regulations regarding the use of bait. Bear baiting is far from easy and requires much backbreaking work. Just because you place a bait, doesn’t mean bears will hit it. Using some of the above tactics, form a hypothesis of where the bears will be and place a bait there. A 55-gallon drum is the norm as far as containers go (as they are durable and strong enough to hold up to thrashings), yet, some hunters elect to construct a bait site utilizing logs or other found materials layered over the feed in a way that benefits the shooting lane of your set-up. Bears like to work for their food—a six- to eight-inch circle is commonly cut into a metal drum so that the bears can get their paw and forearm partly in and it takes multiple feedings to deplete it. Popular bait concoctions are popcorn, dog food and old pastries with fryer oil poured on top. Also, spray attractants in the Anise variant work well.
Whatever strategies you end up deploying—make sure they work in unison with what the terrain and animal behaviors allow. Study the techniques, hit the field and try your luck for a big bruin this spring.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.