It is that time of year again and the kings of the spring are about to emerge from their dens and roam throughout the mountains of the western United States. Hunters from all over the world will be flocking to small mountain towns in search of some of the best bear hunting the West can offer. In fact, nine states offer spring bear seasons with a range of hunting styles: spot and stalk, baiting, and hunting with hounds. All of these hunts can produce some of the biggest bears of the year. Even the wise old bears have a few weeks where they seem to forget their instinct to survive with the overwhelming desire to eat in order to rebuild their fat supplies from their winter state of torpor. What can get confusing for a lot of newer western hunters is that bears in the state do not follow the same winter schedule. Even bears in the same mountain range emerge from their dens at different times of the year, differing by months in some situations. Below is an in-depth look at some of the variances of each spring and how they can affect your hunt as bears emerge at different times and change by elevations.  

Understanding Spring in the West

The elevation in which a bear lives can affect what they eat, where they live, when they den, and when they emerge from their dens. Though the science of a bear's winter denning experience is not entirely clear, it is a well known fact that bears choose to den for the winter after a hormonal change, shorter days, and a scarcity of food trigger them to find a safe place to spend their winters. What is interesting is that this can happen over months for bears in the same mountain range because conditions are so different depending on where they live. Bears that live at lower elevations tend to enjoy longer summers and shorter winters which could keep them from denning until late in the year, sometimes as late as December. Bears at higher elevations can often be observed denning in late September or early October, depending on the conditions during the year. The same goes for spring: bears at higher elevations will often stay in their state of torpor later into the spring and bears at lower elevations can be seen out and about significantly earlier. This can be very important to understand if you are trying to find a place to hunt during a fall or spring bear hunt.  

Though bears at different elevations emerge at different times, they all have one to two things on their mind (depending on their sex). The number one goal of an emerging bear is to eat and rebuild some of their lost fat reserves. The number two goal only applies to male bears, and that is to start finding a female partner to court. The bear mating season occurs as early as May in some areas and runs through mid-July. Since bears all have the primary goal of eating, both males and females are drawn to areas that have good food sources, even if their normal home turf is not greening up yet. Bears will use their nose and natural instincts to move into an area that has food—which can include grasses, berries, bugs, and other mammals that can provide the much-needed nutrients to regain strength for the upcoming summer. To a hunter, this means that some areas will have a concentration of bears while other areas will be barren. 


Conquering the Variances of Spring and Achieving Success

Since you know that spring starts earlier in the lower elevation and later in the higher elevations, you can understand that the bear hunting can be vastly different depending on the elevation you are hunting, even in the same mountains. Since the weather at different elevations cannot be predicted year to year, a hunter must be flexible in their planning if they wish to find success.  This means that a hunter who seeks out prime hunting habitat instead of getting stuck on a certain spot will not only find bears, but find a lot of them if they hunt hard enough. To plan a hunt that will successfully find bears, a hunter will have to plan multiple hunting spots at different elevations and then use trial and error to find what spots have the appropriate level of spring to hold bears. What I like to concentrate on is the highest elevations that have good vegetation and buzzing insect life. This area will hold bears from that elevation and also attract bears emerging from higher elevations as they drop down to find food. 

Some hunters assume that they should just hunt lower elevations but this is often a mistake. Bears are primarily nocturnal animals, however the spring is the one time of year that they seem to forget this for a few weeks in order to eat aggressively and regain their strength. Once they have been out of the den for a few weeks they start to remember their nighttime instincts and go nocturnal again. If you are hunting too low, there may be good bear signs but the signs are most likely made during the night hours and you will struggle to find daylight sightings of bears. On the opposite end, bear hunting too high will put you in areas with no vegetation, brown grasses, and too much snow to hold bears. If you find that sweet spot of vegetation, note that elevation, and then move from drainage to drainage to find some bear populations at that elevation, you will eventually find a honey hole.  



To be a successful spring bear hunter, a hunter must understand that each year, each state, and each mountain range will all have “spring” at different times of the year. Each of these areas could be great during any given year but be under a foot of snow the next year or even next week. Since a different elevation could be prime hunting during any given year and a hunter can not predict this, it is always encouraged to plan for multiple spots at multiple different elevations and then be mobile. If I am hunting an area for a morning and evening hunt and do not see a bear, I swiftly make the decision to move to another spot with the understanding that there are easier bears to hunt. If I run out of spots, I then go back to the first one and start the rotation again. Bears emerging in the spring will be out and about in the daylight more than any other time of year, so take advantage of that and find bears that want to play instead of sitting by an area that looks good but lacks bears. I find that bears that are feeding in an area will feed there for days, taking advantage of the good food source and lack of hunting pressure. Successful bear hunters adapt so you should adapt too, understand that “spring” in the mountains can be vastly different from spring anywhere else in the country. Find the correct habitat for bears for the week you are hunting and you will come home with bear meat instead of just your bear tag.