Photo Credit: Jason Loftus of Untamed Images

If you start discussing bear hunting with a western hunter, especially one that lives or hunts in the northern part of the country, they love talking about spring bear hunting. Though spring bear season gets a lot of attention, most western states also have a fall bear season that hunters shouldn’t overlook. In fact, there are only a handful of western states that have a spring bear season; however, nearly all western states have some sort of fall season. In the fall bears have great meat, lots of fat for rendering, their hides are in excellent condition, and they’re active while storing up reserves for winter denning.

If you do not have plans this fall, consider heading west and buying a fall bear tag. Hunters can purchase many fall bear tags over-the-counter and they can be a great reason to get into the mountains this fall. If you already hold a western tag, a bear tag might be a good add-on to your current tag. Bears can also be a good excuse to get into the mountains to scout for other species. It also can be an excellent way to tag along with your hunting buddies if they drew an elk or deer tag that you didn’t draw. Here are some tips to finding bears this time of year that will be better than just relying on good old fashion luck. 


Where to start

Success in hunting is all about preparation. Aside from financial costs and time off from work, the biggest question is where to hunt bears. Since nearly all western states have a bear season, you need to look at which one is right for you. However, if you are heading out west solely to hunt bears, you can pick whatever state suits you and gives you the best chance at a punched tag. 

The first thing you need to determine is tag availability. Most western states have an over-the-counter season, but some are drawn or have specific drawn units. If you are looking to go hunting this year, ignore those drawn units and concentrate on over-the-counter units.

I find that over-the-counter units typically have healthy bear populations, which is why the local fish and game do not regulate the number of tags sold. To determine which states and units within those states offer over-the-counter tags, you can use a tool like GoHUNT. GoHUNT is a western-oriented company that compiles the data for all western states and species, including bears. GoHUNT makes this information readily available to subscribers for a one-time annual subscription fee. You can use this data to determine tag availability, harvest statistics, and season dates, plus more detailed information on bear hunting in the area. I recently started using this tool for my bear seasons, and it has allowed me to quickly pick an excellent bear unit in any western state. Once you have found an area with good statistics, you need to dive into e-scouting and determining where to find bears. 

Where to look

Whether it is spring or fall, bears love to hang out in hard-to-reach areas in higher concentrations. Typically, it is suggested to look deep and steep and try to locate green slopes near thick timber. These slopes usually provide an excellent food source, while the timber provided security during the day. Steep basins also provide a way to spot bears and hopefully get a shot at a bear. From my experience, start by e-scouting for open areas in the back of drainages lacking trails or easy access. Except for problem bears, most black bears stay far away from human interaction. You may be wondering what food sources western black bears eat in the fall and how to determine where that is. Determining food sources that are active in the fall requires you to find open side hills but then put your boots on the ground to determine what is available during the time you wish to hunt.   

 Finding the best fall food

 Similar to the spring, the fall has bears mainly concentrating on food. They need to get their fat reserves up if they are going to make it through the hard western winter. As you know, bears are omnivores and will eat anything from birds, mammals, fish, plants, and insects. In the fall, bears in areas with high ungulate populations are lucky because hunters often harvest animals and leave the carcass leftovers in the mountains. Bears love to find these carcass piles and will feast on them for days. Since we can never really know where a carcass will end up, this is a tricky food source to hone in on, so sticking with the more stable food sources will help you find more consistent success. The most significant food sources that bear use in the fall are not animals or carcass piles but instead are berries, pine nuts, acorns, insects, roots, white bark pine nuts, and other plant life found on open sidehills. These food sources are readily available and allow bears to build up their fat reserves prior to denning for the winter, which usually happens between October and November. When a bear finds an area that seems to have good plants, berries, or nuts available, they will stay there day after day. After all, why would they leave food to find food? This is excellent news for a hunter because if you find an area with this forage and good bear sign such as uprooted plants, flipped stumps, or bear scat; you could find success by hunting there in the mornings and evenings. A bear’s day revolves nearly entirely around food, so your hunting should revolve around a bear’s food as well.

 When to hunt them

Though bears can be active any time of day, they do not usually find themselves out in the sun during midday. During this time, they primarily will forage in dense timber where they are safe from hunting pressure and the hot sun. If there is high hunting pressure in the area, bears may turn nearly entirely nocturnal, which means the best time to see them out and about will be at dusk and dawn. Depending on the elevation, snowfall, temperature, and food supply, you may see bears still out and about into late November; however, typically, bears will start denning between late October and early November. Usually, the bears that live at higher elevations will den up first since their food is the first to disappear. 

The spring might be the most popular time to hunt western black bears; however, the fall is a great time to chase them as well. Some states only have a fall season which means that it is the only time to hunt bears. Before you buy a tag, do some research, do some e-scouting to find hard-to-reach trail-less basins, and give yourself an ample amount of hunting time to find and harvest a mature bear. Once you arrive to hunt, look for active food sources and concentrate your hunting on them. Dusk and dawn are the best times of day to have bear sighting though it is possible to catch them in the open, moving from place to place at any time, especially if hunters are moving through a bear’s daily timber patch. Bears can be creatures of habit, especially if there is a good food source, so find the food, and you will find the bears this fall.