Archery seasons for the bruin can be sketchy at best in the southwest. That is because there are a lot of variables that come into play that a hunter would not encounter in other parts of North America.
Drought/water supply, available food sources, weather, concurrent hunting seasons for other big game, bear hunting pressure and legal/non-legal hunting methods all influence whether an archery hunter (or even a gun hunter) will achieve success.
The good news is that New Mexico, Arizona and southern California all have separate archery seasons for a hunter to pursue black bear. The bad news is that these states do not permit dog pursuit during these seasons, and hound pursuit is the number one means of taking a bruin.
The following schedule for archery season is as follows; California bear hunts start the third Saturday in August and go for 23 days; there is no spring hunt. All-weapons season goes from August to December 25.
In Arizona, the archery season begins in August and ends in mid-September, with an all-weapons hunt beginning in September and going to December 31; there is no spring archery hunt.
In New Mexico, the archery season is the first three weeks of September with general hunts starting in mid-August and going to mid-November; again, there is no spring hunt.
The problem with all of the archery hunts in these states is that they are during hot weather when hides are far from being prime.
In New Mexico, most success with the stick and string comes while hunters are after elk, which, by the way, is when the archery-elk seasons are open too.
You see, most hunters are out calling elk with a cow or calf call, and bears come in seeking an easy meal, only to find a hunter. So, if I were seeking to kill a bear with archery equipment, I would be looking for some place that has plenty of elk and a smattering of bears while having one or two cow calls in hand.
By the way, this is where a good outfitter comes in real handy. Even though the outfitter will have all of his resources committed to elk hunters and a deer hunter or two, they may be very cooperative in locating a bear or two for you and making arrangements to set you up in a drop camp to hunt on your own.
From late summer to late fall, southwest bears are on the move seeking forage and are very transient, so it is very hard to pick any one area where bears are constantly remaining. Because an outfitter or his guides are out in the field every day, they know where the bruins will be on a week-to-week basis.
Hunting towards the end of the archery season, or even the gun seasons, will help you to get a bruin with a prime hide as they are very thin in the early part of the fall season.
October is the best all-around month for hunting in these three states, but be advised this is also the month when elk and deer gunning seasons are going on too and most outfitters will be catering to these hunters.
Early November sees the deer hunts as paramount, so I like to pursue bears during mid to late November; hides are at their best then.
A recently conducted bear study by the Hornaker Institute in New Mexico concluded that by the end of October, the sows and cubs are denned up. That means the big boars have the woods to themselves and are eagerly foraging most of the day before they den up in December. Even though seasons are still open in California and Arizona, chances are slight, at best, in taking a December boar.
If an archer is not into hound hunting (usually during November), this can be the ideal time to locate feeding areas on south-facing mountain slopes while sitting on the opposite vantage point and glassing for bear.
That means you need to bring really good binoculars of at least 10 power. Along with those, bring one or two heavy, large pair of wool socks to slip over your boots to make a silent stalk in noisy, dry and brittle vegetation. There are far too many thorns and needles to go bootless.
Another tactic for hunting these bears that sometimes brings great results, is to contact the local national forester and find out where and when the last fires have occurred (these areas are called “burns”).
Find a burn on a north face that is two to four years-old and you have prime bear feeding territory. These are good locations to place a treestand to glass for the big predators, then climb down and make a stalk on the critter.
If you can find a water source near a burn, you have a great chance of using a treestand or a ground blind to ambush an unsuspecting bruin.
A manual elk or predator call will work here, but use it in the treestand and not in the blind! Why? Have you ever had a charging 400 pound killer coming at you and all you have is a stick and string? Not me.
Keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you out there.