Mar 20 2023

In the Montana Wild

If you were to go back three or four generations, hunting was not only a way of life but a necessity to prolong life and fuel one’s self and family. In recent years, hunting has been under attack with extreme force coming from the anti-hunting community. As a Washington State resident who enjoys hunting bears, I know this all too well. Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Bob with Pacific North Wild. PNWILD is a group of sportsmen from the northwest, dedicated to being involved in the process of where our food comes from. Our goal is to share with you our passion for wild places and the  adventures we seek. I would like to take you along with me on my journey hunting Montana for the first  time, and how bear hunting in my home state has changed. 

Even as I am writing this, I still cannot believe it. In my home state of Washington there is no spring bear hunt for 2022. Since 1999, Washington has allowed bear hunting by permit only during the spring. This is all due to our governor, Jay Inslee, appointing ignorant people who have a bias against hunting as members of the fish and game commission. There are nine members on this commission and when it came time to vote on whether we would have a spring bear hunt or not, it got voted down 5-4 on Saturday, March 19th. Disappointing and frustrating to say the least. The fish and game departments' very own biologists provided the commission members with science and data that supports having a  bear hunt in the springtime. I might add that this hunt is not over the counter and you have to apply for  it, which usually takes three to four years to draw on average. Their reasoning for voting down the hunt  is that bears are lethargic and vulnerable in the springtime, cub orphaning, and inadequate data on the  population. If you have ever hunted bears during the spring, you know that there is nothing lethargic about a black bear. They can smell you coming a mile away, quite literally. As far as cub orphaning, there  was only one lactating sow that was harvested in 2020 out of 45 female black bears harvested. It is  unknown if she had cubs or not. There are an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 black bears in Washington State, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website. These estimates have been taken throughout years of hard work and research, and it is a huge slap in the face to the biologists who have gathered this data to say the data is inadequate. It would be like canceling fishing season because you don’t know exactly how many fish are in the water. 

As frustrating as it is, you just have to adapt. That is why I decided to purchase a black bear tag in the State of Montana and, additionally, fund their game department and manage their predators. Ever since I was a kid, I have always dreamt of hunting in big sky country. In recent years, watching GOHUNT spring bear hunting videos has made that dream even stronger and, as of writing this, has become a reality. The crazier thing is that the PNWILD crew and I actually got to share camp and hunt with some of the guys who work for GOHUNT. It all started when we found out that hunting bears during the spring in our home state was not going to happen. But if you love something enough, you will find a way to make it work.

We then did some planning and e-scouting on our GOHUNT maps, set a date, and made it happen. For a non resident Montana hunting license and bear tag, it will cost you $350. You will also spend that on fuel depending on where you live. Not a cheap trip, but well worth it in my opinion. It took roughly seven and a half hours of drive time for us to get there, and when we arrived late in the night it was raining. Being the hardcore hunters that we are, we decided to get a hotel for the first night instead of setting up camp in the dark and downpour. After a good night’s sleep we drove out into the hills, set up camp, and hiked out to a pin that we dropped on our maps that looked like a good spot to glass for bears. The weather that day was absolutely beautiful and the south facing slopes were starting to green up with fresh grass. A perfect scenario to find a hungry bear grazing away. We had just started boiling some water to make a dehydrated meal when Jeff said the words, “Hey Bob, I’ve got a bear.” A couple hours of glassing had gone by, and multiple burnt tree stumps had fooled us already. So, when Jeff said those words so calmly, I really didn’t believe him. But sure enough, there was a nice jet black bear munching grass on an old decommissioned logging road about two miles away. Even from over three thousand yards away, this bear looked worthy of going after. We had two options of how we were going to close the distance. Option one, go straight at the bear by dropping 2400’ in elevation, cross a river, and then go up another 500’ of elevation. Option two, run back to the truck which was a couple miles behind us, then drive fifteen minutes to get to the base of the hillside where the bear was. We chose the latter. 

After making the decision to head back to the truck and drive around to get closer to the bear, we literally jogged our way back in our hunting boots, full packs, and gear. We knew that the bear could  disappear at any time, so that put a little spring in our step. Most people will tell you that I drive like a  grandpa, but on the way to go find that bear I was in a rally truck racing in the Baja 1000. Before we left  our glassing spot we had dropped a pin on where the bear was with our GOHUNT maps. Doing this  made it very easy to know where to park on the road below and start making our way up and into  position. From when we spotted the bear to when we got into position, it took about forty five minutes.  Looking back at the hillside that we were on, we realized we had made the right decision by driving  around instead of trying to drop a ton of elevation and cross the river. That would have most likely taken  us hours and no way were we crossing that river. We ascended the 500’ of elevation to get on the same  level as the bear was and put our glass to work. But, no bear. In the time it had taken us to get into  position, the bear had most likely gotten his (or her) fill of green grass and moved on. Hours had gone by  with naps taken, snacks eaten, and still no bear. Finally, as the sun was starting to get low in the sky, we spotted him/her! The bear was about nine hundred yards away in a shale rock avalanche shoot, and with  time not being on our side we had to hustle to close the distance. Since we were already on the same  elevation of that decommissioned logging road, all we had to do was move a few hundred yards to our  left and use the road to wrap around to where the bear was in the shoot, and we’d be on top of it. As we made our way over there we had lost sight of the bear, but quickly picked it back up as we peaked over the ledge and ranged it at 293 yards. I found a shooting lane and dropped into a prone shooting position, dialed my scope, and let one fly out of my Tikka 7mm. Zack had the reassuring words of “Rolled him!” The shot felt good but knowing how tough bears are, I wanted to get hands on before celebrating. 

It is worth mentioning that the teamwork that went into play while this all unfolded was nothing short of outstanding. From getting a range to having cameras setup on the shooter and the target, everyone knew their role and executed it perfectly. We gave it a little bit of time and then made our way down the steep hillside in hopes of finding a dead bear. Upon arriving at the kill site, a nice blood trail led us down the shale rocks and thicket until we found a piled up dead bear. Hands on! It felt great to notch a tag, but I knew we had to be quick about breaking down this bear and packing it out, since it was getting dark and there was the possibility of grizzlies being in the area. We got the bear cut up and into our packs, and then made it back to the truck as quickly as possible behind headlamps. Dropping a pack full of meat on a tailgate has got to be one of the best feelings in the world.

I have been hunting with these guys for years now, but this trip just reiterated the importance of having good hunting buddies. Bear hunting is often overlooked by hunters and for people that don’t hunt at all, it seems downright foreign and intimidating. But bears must be managed and I feel the best way to do that is by hunting. Plus, the meat is delicious and my family will enjoy many meals from my harvest. From a Washington guy who’d always dreamt of hunting big sky country, it was a dream come true. Until next time, Montana.