Are you excited for spring bear season in 2021? Spring bear hunting has become one of the most anticipated hunts of the year for me. A few short years ago, there was nothing to hunt in the spring time for me except for spring gobblers. Now don’t get me wrong, we LOVE chasing thunder chickens around the farm in Western Pennsylvania each spring. It’s the closest thing we have to elk hunting in the east (don’t judge me for that comment elk hunters!). I don’t care who you are, the gobble of a fired up tom turkey at 20 yards will get your heart thumping! Don’t knock it til you try it elk hunters. I couldn’t think of a more fun thing to do on a crisp spring morning…until Ryan Lampers (@Sthealthyhunter) opened my eyes to spring bear hunting.
When I went on my first spring bear hunt, I didn’t know where to start. I had many questions and not many people to ask them to. There were not that many resources online besides a few articles and the Westen Hunting Summit had not started yet. Now, the Western Hunting Summit (https://westernhuntingsummit.com) is your single best source of information for hunting bears, elk, and mule deer. If you want to learn from the best and accumulate an extensive amount of knowledge from decades worth of experience in the field, it is your one stop shop.
For those of you looking to tag a bear this spring, here are some of the basics that I have learned from those more experienced than myself. I outlined a few questions that you may be asking yourself if you are new to spring bear hunting like I was, in addition to a few tips to take into consideration.
When is the best time of year to go?
The answer is dependent entirely on the area you are hunting and the weather that year. I know this answer is a cop out, but it’s true! On my first bear hunt in Montana we hunted fairly high (for a spring bear hunt) around 8,000 feet. It was a late winter that year and there was still quite a bit of snow up high. Depending on the elevation of the area you are hunting, the conditions could be completely different. Driving through some mountain ranges that time of year, it is like time traveling. You enter the mountain range and it looks like springtime with the trees budding, lush green grass, and fairly warm weather. By the end of your drive through the mountain range as you climb in elevation, there may be a foot of snow! For you easterns out there, this can be an unusual phenomenon so it’s extremely important to know the elevations you plan on hunting. For whitetail hunters, it would be like driving from September to November. The bears may be rutting down low or conversely just climbing out of their dens up high.
What elevations should I focus on?
In my limited experience, as long as you are in dense bear country, the actual elevation doesn’t matter as much as being in the right environment as a function of time of year, elevation, and weather. You want to hunt around the snow line in search of new growth vegetation. If there are a lot of flowers, I have heard to look higher for daytime feeding activity. As the snow line recedes, bears will feed in new green shoots on grasses, forbs, onion, or other newly sprouting vegetation. If you are hunting lower in elevation (say around 4500’), you can go earlier in the season and still hunt around the snow line. If you are hunting around 8,000’, you will need to wait until later in the season to hunt around the snow line. Either way, you want to look for the right weather and features to hunt feeding bears.
What are the right “features” to look for?
FOOD. Find the most desireable food in an area where there is not a lot of hunting pressure and you will likely find some bears. If you are hunting around the snow line, look for south facing avalanche shoots because they can be some of the first places to green up in the spring. You can e-scout for some of these locations by using the historical mapping feature on Google Earth to scroll back in time. During spring bear season in previous years, look where the green ups are occuring on the map and mark the time of year. They just might lead you to a bear on your next hunt.
Is it best to hunt bears during the rut just like whitetails or mule deer?
No, my recommendation would be to try and hunt spring bears before they start rutting hard.You might be able to see a lot of boards during the rut, but they will be covering country looking for sows. Finding them is one thing, but if they are covering ground, it can be extremely difficult to stalk into range for a shot. You are better off hunting bears during a time of year when they feed heavily rather than chase sows (i.e. shortly after coming out of hibernation).
What are some of the best signs to look for?
There are a couple key foods that can be excellent indicators of active or likely bear actively. Some of these include flipped over rocks (indicating feeding), chokecherries, elk calving areas, and wild onions. Some of these are more identifiable to the untrained eye than others, but if you catch a glimpse of any of these in your spotting scope, it may be worth a closer look. Here is a link to a great article on hunting bears in calving areas: https://westernhunter.net/tactics/hunting-bears-in-elk-calving-areas/.
What is the best time of day to hunt bears?
Some of the more experienced bear hunters I know say that bear activity tends to be fairly minimal in the morning. Evenings can be phenomenal, but don’t overlook midday activity. Bears tend to be fairly active midday, especially during times of year when they are feeding heavily.
Is calling a good tactic for bears?
I strongly caution anyone trying to call in black bears with a predator call while in grizzly country. This can be extremely dangerous. Even if you are not in grizzly country, it can still be dangerous if you are in dense black bear country! But yes, it can be a very effective strategy. Spotting and stalking is a much more common strategy, but sometimes if you already know of a nearby bear, having a predator call can help seal the deal. Check out the Gritty Film on Brian Call’s youtube channel. There are some unbelievable hunts on there – two of which are with Ryan Lampers (@sthealthyhunter) and Brian Call (@brian_call) for some giant spring black bears!
Is bear meat even good to eat?
Yes, it is some of the best! Like many animals, bear meat can be specific to the individual bear and what it has been eating. Generally speaking, mountain bears are the best and can have some high quality meat – particularly in the fall. Ryan Lampers likes to reference blueberry bears that he has harvested in the fall. I have not taken one for myself, but he claims it’s some of the most delicious meat you will find anywhere, and can even have a bluish color in some instances from all the blueberries they gorge on that time of year! Also rendering down bear fat into a cooking oil or tallow is becoming more and more popular. It is not as common to find a lot of fat reserves on a spring bear as it is on a fall bear that is fattening up for the winter. One of Ryan’s favorite ways to cook black bear on the mountain is to render some bear fat down in his mini mo jet boil, cube up some bear meat, and cook in the oil.
There is one thing to be cautious of when cooking bear meat, or any predator or scavenging animal, and that’s trichinosis. Always cook bear meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit as a precautionary measure, and you don’t have to worry about it.