April 27, 2012
By Patrick Meitin
Here's your playbook for western spring black bear hunting.
Spring seasons offered on a tightly-controlled basis: Oregon (April 1 -- 15 or May 31, controlled tags, good draw odds; no dogs permitted), Utah and New Mexico (Valle Vidal/Greenwood unit only, April 15 — May 15, 20 lottery permits).
Baiting allowed during spring seasons: Idaho (specified units, April 15 — May 31 or June 30, unlimited tags), Utah (April 7 — June 3, limited entry hunts) and Wyoming (roughly April 15 — June 15, specified units, abundant tags).
Indian reservations sometimes offer spring bear hunts as well, so check tribal web sites for possibilities.
I'll just touch on hound hunting -- it's highly specialized and most don't have hounds or access to hounds. If you do, you won't need instructions from me. It's wildly exciting, by the way, and should be experienced by every hunter; if only to dispel the notion it's an "easy" avenue to bear-hunting success.
Spot-and-stalk spring black bear may sound intimidating — in terms of success rates or perceived dangers (via exaggerated "This Happened To Me!" tales) — but can prove a productive (and safe) avenue to collecting a trophy bear rug. During early spring seasons glass regenerating clear-cuts, avalanche chutes, alpine meadows, lake shores; basically anywhere spring green-up brings bears into the open. Bears need this vegetative matter — grass or skunk cabbage, for example — to jumpstart digestive tracts after hibernation.
This is no different than bowhunting early-season mule deer; finding vantages to glass likely areas with quality optics-- except a black "grub" against new green shows up much better than distant deer. Stalking is also easier. Bears have little to fear so they're seldom as edgy. Their strongest defense is a highly-developed olfactory system...their eyes are fair at best. Keep wind in your favor and move slowly and getting within bow range is much easier than approaching deer in like habitat.
Baiting on your own is, put simply, very hard work, but quite rewarding. The "easy" shot is earned through weeks of hard work. The key is finding a site with abundant bear sign, where scent management comes automatically (ridge points or steeply-falling ground taking advantage of prevailing wind), that also won't be disturbed by the public or hound hunters. Bait is placed regularly -- day-old bread, dog kibble doused in used fry grease, non-game bowfishing spoils, expired grocery fodder -- until a desired bear establishes a regular schedule. When this happens, hang a stand within range and begin the waiting game. Were legal, cabling a 55-galon steel drum to a tree can save fuel and time by requiring less frequent visits. One thing is certain; when a trophy bruin ghosts into view, nerves are certain to redline€¦