Aug 04 2023

Western Bear Hunting

Back To Basics

There’s a reason you are a subscriber to Bear Hunting Magazine. Maybe you are an avid, experienced bear hunter that enjoys escaping into the pages of the magazine to read about exciting adventures that fuel your passion for bears and bear hunting. Maybe you are searching for other hunting opportunities or knowledge when it comes to specifics in baiting, bear behavior, or hunting with hounds. Whatever the case may be, whether you are new to bear hunting or are a seasoned veteran, one thing’s for certain: bear hunting is one of the most thrilling hunts you can experience! 

For this issue, I decided to go back to the basics and write this column toward those readers who are new to bear hunting. I talk to many hunters as I travel throughout the country during expos, trade shows, and conservation banquets, and I often hear the comment, “I love to deer or turkey hunt, but I’ve never bear hunted and have no idea where to start.” Some interested hunters go with an outfitter, especially if they are looking for an out-of-state experience. But in this article I’m going to break down some simple basics if you’re thinking about planning a DIY spot-and-stalk style Western bear hunt. 

??One of the first things to consider is whether or not bear hunting opportunities are OTC (over the counter) or if you need to put in for the draw. Some states like Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, and Alaska have OTC bear hunting opportunities depending on the spring or fall season. Some states like Idaho, Washington, and Alaska even have areas that o?er multiple tags per season. Another important thing to be aware of is that some states require a bear identification test before purchasing a bear tag, which can be taken online. Every state has di?erent regulations when it comes to bear hunting and it’s extremely important to become schooled on the rules when you decide ?where to plan your adventure. And keep in mind that the regulations can change year to year, so depending on when you’re reading this, I’d still recommend double-checking each state’s website for current information. 

After you’ve decided on where, there are many “tools of the trade” needed when it comes to planning and preparing for a DIY spot-and-stalk bear hunt. The first obvious tool needed is a reliable, worthy weapon that can get the job done. If you are planning a spot-and-?stalk archery hunt for bears, then you’re adding an obvious element of di?culty to your hunt. While bears are known for their poor eyesight, they do have an almost superhero sense of smell and hearing. It can be challenging getting within bow range on a crunchy logging road or hillside but not impossible when the wind is in your favor. Shot placement on the bear is key?, of course, and keep ?in mind that it is slightly di?erent than on a deer. “Middle of the middle” is a phrase I’ve heard often, but I personally like to then add a couple of inches toward the shoulder. ?However their hair often hangs down up to six inches past their bodies. Bears are tough animals and can leave little or no blood trail to track when a shot is less than perfect, so aim small, miss smalland familiarize yourself with a bear’s internal anatomy. 

If you’re planning on using a rifle, there are a few factors to keep in mind. Know what your caliber is capable of and remember that your shot may be from a steep angle, far distance, or from a prone position. Practice at the range is always crucial but also know that angle, winds, ?and shooting positions are factors that are all going to make a di?erence in a precise shot. I could write an entire article about di?erent rifle and ammo capabilities, but I’ll save that for another issue. I have taken bears with my .300 wsm, 26 Nosler, 28 Nosler, and 30 Nosler rifles at distances from 80 yards to 450 yards. There are many calibers that can get the job done but know the maximum distance you’re comfortable with when factoring in angle and windage, and stick to that. If you use a Kestrel to help calculate ballistics?, you’re going to take most of the guesswork right out of the equation. I also like to use an app called Shooter. After chronographing your ammo and figuring out your exact speed and weight of your bullet and plugging that info into the app, Shooter calculates your exact location’s altitude, barometric pressure, temperature, humidity, and winds (according to the nearest weather station)---?all factors that make a di?erence. If you’re going to be hunting where you won’t have service, I recommend printing out a dope chart and keeping it on your rifle stock.? 

With today’s technology it’s easy to do some virtual scouting before going into a new spot. Make sure you do some research on the areas you plan to hunt. I love to use the OnX Hunt 3D layer on my laptop before going into new areas. It’s like having an actual bird’s eye view of the mountain or canyons. You can measure distances and use the radius tool to map out how far you want to hike in or even mark great areas like south facing slopes that will contain a lot of grass or sources of water. And it’s now easier to see the terrain by using the tiltfeature. The OnX Hunt app is going to give you unit boundaries, tell you which kind of public land you are on, and dispel private landowners names in case you need to get permission. It’s also possible to cache the maps into your cell phone when you’re in service so that if you head into an area without cell coverage, you’ll have the maps available no matter what. Make sure to mark your vehicle every day before you head out. There have been many days that we hiked into the mountains, found success, and had late night pack outs. Knowing exactly where your camp or vehicle is can save you from getting turned around in the dark. 

You’re going to want a good pair of binoculars for any spot-and-stalk style hunt. A lot of bear hunting is spent on your bum glassing the opposing ridges and logging roads for that black stump that suddenly moves! I’d recommend a pair of at least 10 power binoculars with either a rangefinder built in or you can carry a separate range finder with you. Distances can be so deceiving, therefore it’s best to take the guesswork out of the equation. A good pair of bino’s are a must. I also carry a spotting scope in my truck but I admit I don’t always tuck it in my pack if I am concerned about weight. It often depends on how much other gear I have along, which often includes cameras, extra lenses, a striker water boiler, food, and water. 

The weather can drastically change in a matter of minutes when you’re in the mountains. 

I’ve often experienced 50 degree temperature swings in a day, and nothing can ruin an adventure quicker than being cold, wet, and miserable. Even the best weathermen are routinely wrong, but being prepared with an insulated, moisture-wicking layering system and good rain gear will be a game changer. Nowadays there are many great brands to choose from, but I’ve been a fan of Kryptek’s for over a decade. They not only have a great variety of camouflage colors and patterns to choose from depending on the terrain, but the quality of their clothing is impressivebuilt on tactical military apparel and using the most technologically advanced materials on the market. Whatever brand you choose, make sure you have a system that can be easily layered and packable. Don’t rely on the forecast but pack for the “just in case”. 

Speaking of packs… you need to be prepared for a long, heavy pack out after you notch your tag. Choose a pack that is not only spacious but comfortable for the long hike out. It’s easy to remember your extra clothing, food, water, headlamp, skinning knife, and emergency kit, but is your pack capable of adding a bear hide, head, and meat? I always recommend trying on a variety of packs to make sure they fit your torso and ride nicely on your hips. Many packs nowadays are adjustable not only in the shoulder and waist straps but in the entire shoulder system. I love the Eberlestock F1 Mainframe with either the batwings or vapor 5000 pack when it comes to bear hunting. It’s a system that has plenty of cubic inches for gear, but allows a hide or meat quarters to easily be added with some extra straps (which I always carry). Also, don’t forget the game bags; they help keep your hide and meat clean and make the pack out so much easier. Just like clothing gear, there are a lot of great companies out there, but make sure you choose a quality backpack that fits your body and has the capacity to help you pack out a bruin!  

I realize these tips are basic knowledge for many of you, but it’s my hope to inspire new bear hunters to join in on the passion. There are many ?states that o?er bear hunting not just in the West as mentioned in this article, but across the country. I strongly believe in the benefits of sound predator management for the survival of other species, but I also want readers to understand that bear hunting is well within their reach. Best of luck to everyone?!