By Clay Newcomb

Editor, Bear Hunting Magazine

Mechanisms of human communication are at a disadvantage and merely scramble to describe the week we had in Northern Idaho. Leaving early Monday morning from Arkansas, Forrest Teeter and I drove 26 hours to Clark Fork, Idaho to meet up with friend, Leon Brown of Clark Fork Outfitters. We returned yesterday afternoon with an ice chest full of lion-related wildlife assets not excluding tooth, fang, claw and meat. The wildlife conservation components of legally harvesting a mountain lion over hounds in an ungulate-rich region of the North American West have left my mind and spirit idling near giddy. This isn’t the whole story, but the highlights will do for now as we’ll be running a feature article on this Mountain Lion hunt in Bear Hunting Magazine in 2017.

clay newcomb mountain lion

In preparation for "shooting up" the author hoisted a black bear target into a tree for practice. It paid off when a similar shot presented itself in the Idaho wilderness. 

clay newcomb mountain lion

A 26-hour drive to Northern Idaho from Arkansas ended up being well worth the effort. The author hunted with friend and outfitter, Leon Brown of Clark Fork Outfitters. 

To expel any urban myths, hunting with hounds can be one of the most physically demanding and difficult hunts available to the North American hunter. Cold temperatures, long snow mobile rides, steep/snowy mountains and rangy cats are the tetrad of foes to overcome. However, defeated foes are the fuel of satisfaction craved by all hunters. Don’t let the difficulty, however, deter you from attempting a hunt like this. I’ve found that a positive attitude and a never-quit demeanor are more valuable than six months of cross fit training. You need to be in good shape, but don’t wait for the mythical “sheep-shape” syndrome to overtake your existence before you try a hunt like this.  That being said, this hunt was physically challenging.  Maybe one of the most I’ve been on.

clay newcomb mountain lion

Temperatures hovered in the single digits making quality cold weather gear a must. First Lite Sanctuary bibs and jacket were critical along with the Grizzly Cold Weather gloves. 

The real heroes of this hunt were the hounds. A historical appreciation of hound hunting is necessary to comprehend the breadth of what you’re partaking of. Leon and his family have bred Plott hounds since the 1960s and they aren’t just a means to end, but they are the end. The relationship of a houndsman to his hounds is unique and reflects a powerful component of our humanity. The ability to leverage the strength of domesticated animals to achieve goals unattainable by our natural capabilities is unique to our species and in essence defining a component of our humanity. Shooting a lion over the baying of a treed hound is in the same category as other human-only activities like “making fire” and altruism.

leon brown and plotts
Leon Brown and his family have been breding Plot big-game hounds since the 1960s. Bootjack, Leon's go-to 7-year old hound, prepares to be released on a lion track on the first day of the hunt. Clark Fork Outfitters guides for Mountain Lion between the first of December and February. 

clay newcomb mountain lion

Outfitter Leon Brown and the author in route to a treed lion on the first afternoon of the hunt. They ended up passing it because they couldn't get a bow shot. 

On this hunt I used a 64-pound takedown recurve bow made by Kent Roberts of Timberghost Archery in Springdale, Arkansas. I have to admit that it was the most stressful archery shot I’ve ever taken. Traditional bows have a knack for making a hunt special. A lot of investment was at stake and there was no room for error. However, the shot placement was excellent through a softball-sized hole between the cat’s shoulder and the tree. You’ll be able to watch the entire hunt on the next episode of Bear Horizon that will be released this coming Friday (December 23rd).

clay newcomb mountain lion

The author with his Northern Idaho Mountain lion on the third day of the hunt. He used a Timberghost takedown recurve at 64-pounds to make a complete pass through on the male cat. 

clay newcomb mountain lion

We treed two male Mountain Lions in three days of hunting and I passed the first, and larger, cat because I couldn’t get a bowshot. Northern Idaho is a mecca for Mountain Lion hunting, features spectacular American wilderness, and Leon Brown and Clark Fork Outfitters are the real deal. You will not want to miss the full article and the episode of Bear Horizon.

clay newcomb mountain lion

clay newcomb mountain lion

The Idaho wilderness was spectacular.  

*Gear Note: First Lite gear was made for a hunt like this. An arctic blast of cold air made daytime temperatures dip into the single digits during our hunt. Base layers of Merino wool and the Sanctuary bib overalls and jacket were the foundation of my warmth strategy. Secondly, the First Lite Grizzly Cold Weather gloves performed flawlessly on long snow mobile rides. However, my favorite piece of gear is the North Branch Soft Shell pants. They are water resistant, tough and were perfect for long hikes in the snow. I often slide down the mountains on my rear and they never tore or got wet.  I wore the Soft Shell Pants under my Sanctuary bibs. Gaiters are also crucial for traveling in snow by keeping it out of your pant leg openings.

forrest teeter Mountain lion

Forrest Teeter traveled with the author and filmed the hunt for Bear Hunting Magazine's show, Bear Horizon. The video will be released later this week.  You can watch Bear Horizon on Carbon TV, Vimeo, or on the home page of Bear Hunting Magazine. 

Leon Brown and Clark Fork Outfitters:

www.clarkforkoutfitters.com

208-266-0795 (office)

plottpower@gmail.com

clay newcomb mountain lion

All the meat from the lion will put to good use. Lion meat is a white meat and known for its great taste. 

By Clay Newcomb

Idaho is a refuge for trail-worn, old school American hunters that love wildlife, conservation, and large doses of hunter opportunity. As it stands, Idaho has almost every big game animal in the Big 10 excluding Musk Ox, Bison, and Caribou (some migrate in at times I hear). They’ve got moose, elk, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, mountain goat, antelope, whitetail, mule deer and most importantly to me this winter, mountain lions.

First Lite Clay Newcomb

The First Lite Sanctuary jacket and bib overalls will be a critical key to staying warm on my mountain lion hunt with Clark Fork Outfitters. My Plott hound, Jedi, isn't going but we'll be hunting with Plotts in Idaho. 

Good friend, Forest Teeter, and myself will be making the 28-hour drive from Arkansas to meet up with Leon Brown of Clark Fork Outfitting in northern Idaho. Leon and I had many mutual friends in the Plott hound circles and we hit it right off nearly charring the phone lines with excessive boredom with our near endless banter of Plott hound bloodlines. However, that was our connection point. We don’t have mountain lions in Arkansas, but I do hunt my Plotts on raccoon. They did, albeit, come from a long history of big game bear and mountain lion pedigrees. And some of our dogs even have similar pedigrees. I’m looking forward to seeing his dogs work.

First Lite Clay Newcomb

The new Grizzly Cold Weather Gloves are a great addition to my gear this year. Also, looking forward to wearing the new First Lite belt!

We’ll be cruising the roads next week hoping for fresh snow and lion tracks. If we need to get into some deep country to find lions we’ll be on snowmobiles pulling trailers carrying the hounds. On this hunt I will be carrying my trusty take-down recurve made by Kent Roberts of Timberghost Archery. As a backup however, I’ll be carrying the Ruger .44 Magnum Super Redhawk that my father gave to me as a high school graduation gift. If the cat is in bow range, I’ll take it with the bow. If the shot is questionable, I’ll use the pistol. I’m happy with either option. Getting a clean kill is critical with a cat, because you don’t want a wounded animal jumping out and scrapping with the hounds.

I just got a new order of clothing in from First Lite. My primary jacket that I will be wearing is the Sanctuary jacket in Fusion camo. This jacket is extremely warm, too warm really for active hunting. However, long rides on snowmobiles will require heavily insulated clothing. Secondly, I’ll be wearing the Sanctuary bib overalls, even though I got word from Ryan Callaghan suggesting they’ll be too warm, I plan to bring them. Ryan suggested I wear the North Branch Soft Shell pants, which I do plan to bring.

I’m quite impressed with the new Grizzly Cold Weather Glove. They’ve got a weatherproof outer shell and a removable glove liner on the inside. This is the ultimate cold weather glove that’s got leather palms, an articulating trigger finger, hang tabs, a “snot pad”, wrist and arm cinches and solid construction.

I’ve got in the line up for head gear First Lites Tag Cuff Merrino Beanie, a trucker hat, and an orange Brimmed Merino Beanie. I will bring more clothing than this including Merino base layers, Corrugate Guide pants, and multiple Merino wool tops. The key is going to be to use the Merino for my “on skin” layer. For a hunt where you may be sweating climbing a mountain, and then be on a snowmobile riding two hours out, you’ll need something that wickes moisture and keeps you warm even when damp. I find First Lite’s gear to be just right for this.

I will keep you posted on the Mountain Lion hunt, and hope to run an article in Bear Hunting Magazine sometime next year. This will be my first trip to Idaho and my first lion hunt, so I’m quite excited. 

Clay Newcomb Plott Hound

Leon Brown's Plott hounds he uses for bear and mountain lion in Idaho share some of the same pedigree as my hounds I use on raccoon in Arkansas. Mountain lion hunting is as much about the dogs as anything. If you've never tried hound hunting, you're missing out on a very traditional American hunting method that is crawling with excitement. 

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.