Bowhunting Spring Black Bearon Jun 19, 2013
After another long, lingering winter, the arrival of spring hunting seasons is a welcomed time. And nothing seems to help dust off the “off-season” blues like hunting for spring black bear. The spring season brings a time of growth, new life, and an abundance of encounters with wildlife when we step out into God’s country. There’s no doubt a spring black bear hunt can provide some of the most exciting memories of the season. However, the same hunts can also be some of the most frustrating moments in the backcountry as we experience the highs and lows of successful black bear hunting. So, how can we tip the odds for success on bears in our favor? The answer can be found in the following 7 habits. Follow them, and you will be well on your way to filling your spring bear tag.
Black bear success isn’t easy, especially when spot-and-stalk is the name of the game. However, with the right game plan, the results can turn out great!
For many, black bear hunting consists of sitting over a bait site that is being frequented by local bears. Such hunting draws folks from around the country to places like Idaho, where baiting for bears is king. However, in states like Montana, where baiting for bears is illegal, spot-n-stalk hunting methods are the norm. While baiting for bears is no easy task, and weeks of grueling work is involved to make it happen, I have to tip my hat to the hunter that effectively gets the job done on black bears at eye level…one on one…spot-n-stalk style.
Several guys come to mind when thinking about passionate bear hunters. One is Jason Matzinger. I was immediately impressed when I witnessed Jason’s passion for hunting spring black bear in Montana several years ago. Jason is the host of “Into the High Country with Jason Matzinger” airing on the Sportsman Channel. Jason admits that spot-n-stalk hunting for spring black bear ranks at the top of his list. He displays the habits of a highly effective bear hunter. His methods and techniques allow him to consistently be successful on black bear hunts each spring. The guys at Trophy Taker in Plains, MT also know what it takes to get the job done on bears in the spring. Zach Butcher of Trophy Taker hunts some of the toughest country each year in search of big black bears. Zach and Jason are both quick to share a few of their habits that have led to more effective black bear hunting.
#1 Finding the Food
Like many of the animals we pursue, bears will live and die by their drive to fill their stomachs. Finding the preferred food source is critical. And not just finding the kind of food source that bears typically feed on…but finding the exact food source that bears are feeding on right now. “In the early spring, focus on the south facing slopes first,” says Matzinger. “These are the first areas to be free of snow and will green up the fastest, concentrating the bears into smaller areas. This makes for one of the best times to locate and ultimately kill that bear, because they will stick close to that food source. As the season progresses and temperatures begin to warm up, more and more fresh grass is exposed from the winter snow. Bears are like any other animal that grazes…they want the freshest, greenest grass chutes they can find. So concentrate your efforts at snow line as the snow works its way back up the mountains.
Bears, like any animal, live and die by their stomachs. When hunting without the aid of a bait pile it is important to always locate the freshest food sources available. Do that and the bears will find you.
Zach Butcher of Trophy Taker in Plains, MT also places a big emphasis on hunting adequate food sources for bears; particularly the freshest food available. “Find areas that have good grass, like logging roads and old clear cuts,” says Butcher. “Some of the hotspots may include a spring that has good cover around it, but is open enough to glass from a distance. I also look for deep, dark draws with old growth timber close to open hill sides or clear cuts. Bears like the security of the dark draws, but stay close to the open hill sides for the green grass.”
#2 Being Patient
You’ve heard it said before, “Patience is a virtue.” And nothing could be truer for the hunter…particularly the bear hunter! Matzinger recommends being patient and spending lots of time behind high quality optics. “I will literally spend 4-5 hours spotting and glassing one hillside with my binoculars before moving to a new vantage point. I will make a grid system, starting at one point and working my way across the hillside in a methodical pattern making sure to cover all the areas. As soon as I get done, I start all over again. So be patient!”
#3 Hunting Low-Pressure Areas
“Go where people aren't,” says Matzinger. “This sounds pretty standard but it really took me years to get past this one. One evening after work my camera guy (Jeff) and I, decided to go and try one of the popular bear areas around Bozeman. When we arrived at the trailhead there were 7 other trucks already there. I was so discouraged at this that I decided that for the rest of the year I was going to just go where I knew there was no people around. That's when I found my best bear spots!” The bottom line is hunting pressure on the bear population is a deal breaker. Like other game animals, bears simply won’t tolerate the pressure from people…particularly during hunting hours. Get away from the crowds and you just might find yourself in an overlooked hotspot for your next bear.
Accessing “out of the way areas” sometimes requires “off-the-wall” techniques. Use whatever means you have to get where other hunters aren’t and the bear are.