Spring is in the air. Grass is sprouting, flowers are blooming, and the mountains in general are really coming back to life after the winter months. For a hunter, this is really when we get to dust off our gear from last season, and hit the hills again. We are in a way “coming back to life” as well. Across a good portion of the country, spring time means turkey time. Hunters far and wide are grabbing their shotguns, box calls, blinds, and decoys with the goal of sweet talking in a strutting tom. I don’t blame them, as turkey hunting definitely holds a worthwhile set of excitement. Seeing a fired up tom come into your set up and give your decoy a whooping is enough to rile up any hunter out there. While that is fun, turkey time isn’t the only time there is during spring. Personally, I look at spring time as bear time.
Why Hunt Bears in the Spring?
So, that begs the question, “why hunt bears in the spring?” I know it may sound crazy to break away from the excitement that comes along with turkey hunting, and maybe for some it is. For others though, bear hunting is worth it on so many levels, but here are some things that stand out.
If you’ve never spent any time watching bears, you are missing out. Just seeing one lumber across a hillside is mesmerizing. They can move with a fluidity that resembles that of a yoga master, seamlessly and effortlessly floating across the landscape. And when you are watching one, it’s really up in the air on what that bear might do. They could just simply walk by or they could climb a tree, roll around like a dog, or rip open a fallen tree in search of bugs to snack on. You also never know what color bear is going to pop out. Could be black, red, brown, blonde, etc. Bear hunting is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
Hunting bears in the Spring rather than the Fall also gives a hunter a much easier task of focusing on bear hunting. During the Fall there are so many other hunts going on for different species, whether it’s elk, deer, pronghorn, etc. During these times, bear hunting seems to become more of an opportunity hunt, rather than an actual bear hunt. There’s nothing wrong with that, but spring let’s one focus on just bears, which is a whole experience in itself.
Alongside what’s mentioned above, this is truly a big game animal that provides a healthy amount of meat. And a big game predator to be more exact. Whether you are shooting across canyon, stalking into bow range, or calling, hunting a black bear provides an adrenaline rush like no other. Laying your hands on them for the first time is a different feeling than that of a deer or elk.
Spring Bear Hunting Tactics
Now, that we’ve discussed the “why” let’s dive into the “how” for a minute. There are several proven tactics for hunting spring bruins. A hunter can really mold the type of hunt and experience they want to them and their style. Say you are mostly a treestand archery hunter and ambush hunting is what you’d prefer to do. For that person, a baited hunt or hunt sitting over water might be the best option. Baited hunts might get looked down upon by some, but they are a great way to be selective and see a lot of bears. And in some areas, where the forest is as dense as dense can be, baiting is really the only way to effectively hunt bears.
If sitting in a treestand or ground blind isn’t your thing, then perhaps you’d be more accustomed to spot and stalk hunting? Sitting up high on top of a vantage point and scanning the surrounding hills for roaming bears with your optics is a tried and true bear hunting method. When doing this, focus your glassing efforts on food sources, be it green grass, berries, etc. While the best time for spotting bears is usually in the evening, I’d glass all day long during the spring. Bears can be spotted coming in and out of bedding areas to feed throughout the day. If you happen to see this, a good approach would be to set up on that same feeding feature and wait for the bear to come back out. That is of course if you don’t get a shot right off the bat.
And now for what is probably the most exciting and adrenaline filled way to hunt these animals. Calling for bears is a next level adrenaline rush. It is the ringing of a dinner bell, and you my friend are the dinner. Bears are opportunistic feeders and if they hear the sounds of a dying rabbit, or other tasty animal, they are likely to come investigate for a possible easy meal. Call for at least 30 minutes at a time, but more preferably 45 minutes to an hour. Bears have a short attention span and need to keep being told “come over here.” Be at the ready when calling as well. Bears will more than likely come in cautiously to check things out, but sometimes they’ll come in hot and fast. If hunting with a partner, sit back to back so nobody gets snuck up on. If solo, sit with something to your back, like a big tree, bluff, etc. Maybe, bring an extra pair of undies as well.
But, the MEAT!
The fruits of bear hunting don’t stop at the excitement. Bear meat is some of the best out there, despite what you may hear. I personally know folks that prefer bear meat over elk. With so many rumors about the stuff though, it keeps many at a distance. Things like, “it’s too greasy, too “gamey,” tastes like garbage, and then the most famous of all, “you’ll get sick with trichinosis.” Aside from the rubbish listed before getting sick, a more accurate statement would be “you CAN get sick.” Yes, if you undercook bear meat, contracting trichinosis is a very real thing. So, what do you do? DON’T UNDERCOOK THE MEAT. Cook the meat well done and this whole thing isn’t an issue at all.
Back to the tasty bits of this section. Bear meat really shines in slow cooked meals. Things like stew, chili, or shredded meat dishes like tacos. One year my Mom actually made bear tamales for the holidays. They were an absolute hit and were gone in no time. Ground dishes are also great for things like bear meatballs or bear burgers. I’ve never met someone that didn’t like a bear burger after trying one. Bear can essentially be used in place of any beef recipe, as long as the meat is cooked all the way through. No medium rare bear steaks.
The more the years click by, the more I crave hunting experience rather than just filling tags, and bear hunting lends to that tenfold. Yes, this spring bear business is hard, but what one gets out of it is so much more than just a hunt. Bear hunting is always an adventure. They are one of the most iconic animals of North American Wilderness and will bring you into some places that will always stay wild. So, think about putting a spring in your step for spring bear. I’ve gotta run though, cause I’ve got a bear tag burning a hole in my pocket. It’s bear time.