By Clay Newcomb

It may seem out of timing, but now is the time to start considering a spring bear hunt for 2017. The primetime for hunting Canadian bruins is going to be mid-May through mid-June. However, in the United States many spring seasons start in April. If you’ve never considered a big-game hunt during this “off season” time, 2017 may be the time to start. The peak of all most all of our big-game hunting is in the fall, but how unique is it to be able to hunt in May and June?

 Things to Consider and Tips for Planning a Spring Hunt:

 

Outfitted or Unguided?

 

You’ll need to make up your mind if you’re going to use an outfitter or go on a do-it-yourself hunt. Most outfitted bear hunting takes place in the Canada, but there are many good outfitters in Idaho, Montana and Maine (and other states). Bear hunts range in price from $900 (semi-guided) to fully guided wilderness hunts in trophy destinations at $3,000-plus. Most hunts are 5-7 days, and all vary in what they provide. You can find some quality outfitters that are priced cheap, but usually you’ll be hunting smaller animals. Higher-end black bear hunts usually mean bigger animals.

 A DIY hunt pretty much means it will be a spot-and-stalk hunt. This will take a lot of planning and will be a lot more work, but that’s what makes it fun. Montana and Idaho are great DIY states with liberal bear seasons and lots of public hunting ground. Basically, most public ground in the Rocky Mountains that is open to hunting is going to have bears, however you’ll need to do some research on specific locals. I’ve found that you’ll spend about ½ as much on DIY hunt.

Bear Pro Safaris

Jared Sommers killed this bear in Saskatchewan with Bear Pro Safaris in June 2016. This hunt cost around $3,500 and was a wilderness, boat-based hunt. 

 Which Canadian Province?

 

            Each Canadian province has a reputation for the type of bear hunting that it provides. Here are some generalizations:

 

British Columbia has expensive hunts, big mountain bears, and spectacular views and landscape. Known for its spot-and-stalk hunting with prices ranging from $5,000 to $7,000. Most known for the beauty of the landscape in the bear hunting regions.

 Alberta is known for its two-bear spring baited hunts, spectacular wilderness camps, and color-phase bears. Hunts are typically $3,000-$5,000 USD. The two-bear hunt is probably what this province is most known for. 

 Manitoba is known for large bears, lots of color phase bears, and baited hunts. Hunts will range from $2,500-$5,000. Probably most known for its color phase bears. 

 Ontario has a lot of outfitters, a lot of bears, and the hunts are cheaper. Expect to spend $1,500-$2,500 on a hunt in Ontario. Also expect some fishing opportunity. For the price this is a great province with great opportunity. 

Quebec is known for its hospitality, fishing combo hunts, quantity of bears, abundance of outfitters. You’ll spend between $1,000 to $2,000 on a hunt in Quebec. Known for its well-priced hunt and opportunity. 

 Newfoundland is known for its two-bear baited hunt and big bears. You’ll spend around $2,500 on a guided hunt here. No color-phase bears to speak of. Newfoundland is known for bears with large skulls. 

 Nova Scotia (only fall hunting) and New Brunswick are relatively new to the bear-outfitting scene, but offer some great hunting at a great price. These areas are easily assessable from the New England states. No color phase-bears to speak of.

bear skull

Bear tags are relatively cheap. They usually cost between $150 to $200 in Canada. 

What if I want to stay in the United States?

 

            There are some great guided spring bear hunting options for those who don’t want to cross the border. To make a long story short, Idaho and Maine are going to be your go-to states for a guided spring bear hunt. In Maine, there is a spring hunt on a few Native American reservations. Several outfitters have outfitting rights and this is a coveted hunt. Most of these are baited hunts. Secondly, Idaho offers spot-and-stalk, baited and hound hunts in the spring. There are lots of great outfitters.

 

How Can I Trust an Outfitter?

 

            If you’re going to entrust a week of your life and a chunk of your change with an outfitter you’ll want to be 100% convinced in their ability to do what they say they’ll do. The two best things you can do is call the outfitter and talk extensively with them. Let your gut tell you if the outfitter is legit or not. Never be afraid to ask any questions, don’t assume anything, and let them know what is important to you. Whether it’s big bears, great fishing, wilderness experience, comfy lodge accommodations, color phase opportunity, food, travel distance to the hunting area, access to the Internet, or whatever it is. Your definition of a “bear hunt” may be different that theirs. This is important and many people don’t understand this.

            Secondly, the other thing you’ll 100% want to do is call their references. Any good outfitter will have references available. Talk to people about them and ask that person the same questions.

Clay Newcomb bear hunting magazine

 Accomadations will differ with each outfitter. Be sure to quiz them on the details and check all their references. 

What to expect in bear quality?

 

            Basically, spring bears aren’t going to have the weight that a fall bear will. Don’t think that you’re going to be hunting 500-pound bears in the spring. There are a few that will get that big, but it’s rare. A male that weighs over 300 pounds in the spring is a big bear, especially in the far north. Secondly, hide quality is going to be at its peak in the early spring. Expect long guard hairs and thick under fur. Bears will start to rub later in the spring when the temperatures are warm. This usually doesn’t start happening until late June or July in most parts of the bear range.

 

Bear Rut?

 

            The bear rut is a great time to hunt. Expect to see boars cruising for sows starting in late May and running through the month of June. Anything could show up at anytime. That being said, early May is often a great time to catch a big old boar locked down on a feeding pattern. They’ll be eating a lot trying to catch up on weight before the rut. It’s a toss up when the best time to go is. My favorite time to bear hunt in the northern Canada is the last week of May. You start to get into some rutting activity, but you’ll also catch some boars locked on food.

Bear Pro Safaris 
Fishing can be a great perk of spring bear hunting. Ask the outfitter is you should bring your own gear or if they'll provide it. 
 

By Clay Newcomb

 As an update on our Arkansas bear baiting, four of five baits have been hit, and hit hard. Our new bait has yet to produce a bear, but that isn’t too surprising at this stage. We’ve got some really nice bears coming in and I’ve included a few pictures from one of our baits. Within a short period of time we had at least six different adult bears coming, including one giant (but only at night). This bear has been coming to this bait for years and only once during legal shooting light have I gotten a picture. This isn’t necessarily our best bait, but it’s the only pictures that I’ve personally seen, as James has been checking the other cameras. As some of you may know, I bait about two-hours drive from where I live here in Arkansas. James reported four of five baits were completely cleaned out with lots of bears on every camera. 

arkansas black bear

This is a double-decker barrel so the picture is decieving. This bear's shoulders come almost even with the rim of the 55-gallon drum. This is a good male. 

Our season opens on September 24th, so we’ve got less than 10 days. Next week I will start adding pork fat to keep the bears interested.  This is what I call a “bait switch” technique. I will keep feeding them the same thing, but add something totally new from a different food category (protein). You can buy pork fat from just about any butcher. Secondly, my 13-year old daughter, River will be hunting my number one stand this season. I will be sitting with her in hopes that she’ll get a crack at her first black bear. That being said, I’m not going to let her shoot a giant if one walks in. I’ve never been the type of parent that wanted my kid to kill a giant animal on their first hunt. My kids will have to earn their big bears, and I don’t want to make it too easy. My dad helped me a TON in my hunting, but nothing was ever handed to me on silver platter and I think that has made all the difference. River has killed several deer, but this will be her first bear hunt. If a big one walks in I will be shooting it and she’ll be watching. This has been clearly stated from the beginning and I am not the slightest bit ashamed of my position.

arkansas black bear

Bears are thriving in Arkansas. This healthy sow has two first-year cubs with her. A friend is currently feeding 14 first-year cubs between three different baits in Zone 2 in Arkansas. Is hunting hurting bear populations? Nope. 

In the Ouachitas and Ozarks of Arkansas, the mast crop seems spotty. There are plenty of acorns, but they aren’t everywhere. This should make for a good season opener, considering that it will be “early” this year – September 24th. The AGFC has decided to let our bear season open with the deer season, which is now the fourth Saturday in September. In the cycle of the calendar, this is probably the earliest season opener we’ll have until the AGFC gives us back our September 15th opener in Zone 2. I do believe that we’ll have it back one day, because it does make management sense. In Zone 2 we’ve only meet the quota two years in the last 15 seasons. The most recent population studies indicated an increasing bear population all across the state of Arkansas. Thirdly, from a boots-on-the-ground management perspective, I’ve talked with multiple people in Zone 2 that have LOTS of young bears on bait. One of my friends currently has three baits and is feeding 14 first-year cubs. It appears that the population is expanding rapidly.

arkansas black bear
Two more bears on the same bait. One has double-yellow ear tags indicating that he was trapped in some type of study at one time. Red tags are nuisance bears. 

Thirdly, the data from the last several years has indicated a healthy sow harvest. This was originally why they took away the September 15th opener – too heavy of a sow harvest. The earlier in the fall you hunt, typically, the heavier the sow harvest. However, hunters are becoming more conscious about not harvesting sows and targeting males. Additionally, the years of heavy sow harvest were only on years when we had a gun season during the first two days. Since they did away with the gun season, the sow harvest has been reduced to acceptable numbers. We appreciate what the AGFC is doing with our bears, and we hope that they’ll realize the early opener is beneficial in Zone 2 for us to kill mature boar bears and reach the target harvest goal of 150 bears. This would be a management win for parties involved.

arkansas black bear

The image quality is poor, but this is a giant male bear. From other pics I've seen I would guess he's over 500 pounds. He's been on this bait for years and I've only had one day-time picture of him. This is pretty typical of some bears that are getting some pressure. I'm pretty sure there are a few other bait sites within a 1/2 mile of this one. 

 

Baiting Oklahoma

 

            We started baiting Oklahoma this week, too. The Oklahoma season opener is a week later than the Arkansas opener, so we started baiting a week later. If you watched Bear Horizon last year, you would have seen me arrow a Boone and Crockett bear which is currently ranked #2 in Oklahoma in the BC record books. I will be baiting the same spot, but we moved the bait about 50 yards away. I believe the new location will be slightly better for scent control, as it’s right on top of a knob. Secondly, the stand was directly in the sun last year and it was hard to make a long sit staring directly into the sun. I have high expectations on this site, so we’ll see if some big bears show back up this season. I will show you some pictures next week.

*We've really enjoyed using the quality baits from Big Woods Bear Baits in Wisconsin. I am a strong believer that quality and diverse bait is essential for holding big bears in the fall. 

clay newcomb bear baiting

Gary Newcomb (my father), James Lawrence, and myself stand proudly by the bait in Oklahoma. It took us about 3 hours to move the stand and trim out the new stand site. Baiting bears is an extreme amount of work and it's an extremely challenging hunt - especially if you are targeting big males. Those that talk negatively about baiting bears have most likely never done it ON THEIR OWN (ask them). Don't knock it until you've tried it. It's a powerful management tool. 

oklahoma bear bait

We moved the bait about 50 yards away and filled it with Big Woods Bait from Wisconsin. 

 Gary Newcomb

My dad comtemplating the stand placement. It was a little bit close, but I may be using the traditional bow this year.