Hunting for black bears in the Spring of the year has been a passion of mine for the past two-plus decades. The excitement and the thrill of seeing a large black bear virtually and silently materialize out of the thick underbrush is an unforgettable experience, one that has kept me coming back for more year after year.
Although most bear hunting is done from the relative safety of an elevated tree or ladder stand, my first choice for that very challenging task is a commercial, camouflage ground blind. There are some very well-defined advantages in selecting this particular method when trying to ambush a wily and wary black bear.
Perhaps the first and most obvious benefit, particularly for a man of my advanced age, is that it is a very short fall to terra firma from a chair placed in a ground blind, especially since that chair just happens to be resting solidly on that very terra firma of which I write. A fall from an elevated stand can cause severe disability or even death, and sadly, those falls happen each and every year.
Hunting from chair that is resting solidly on the ground has virtually no risk at all, even if one falls asleep during the hunt. Not only is napping allowed in a ground blind, but it is definitely recommended for those that may have stayed up too late the night before doing whatever things they should not have been doing. We all know that boys will be naughty in bear camp.
Another benefit to this style of hunting is that the ground blind cloaks the hunter’s movement while sitting in the blind. When I hunt from a ground blind, I close both sides, as well as the back side of the blind’s windows leaving only the side facing the bait open. At best, I will allow only a small crack in the windows to the left and right sides for an occasional peek, but most often, for the pursuit of any wild game, I will have three sides closed. This allows one to move about slowly in the blind without broadcasting their presence to any creature that may be circling the area in an effort to determine whether or not it is safe to come into the bait and eat… and experienced bear hunters know that this does happen, especially with larger bears.
Most ground blinds are lined with black material on the inside so the appropriate camo color for the bear hunter should obviously be black… right down to his black face mask. This makes the hunter much less visible from the open front window of the blind when the quarry enters the field of battle. Depending upon your ground blind, the window should be opened to provide as wide of coverage as necessary; I prefer blinds where the height of the window nay be carefully controlled so that the opening can be narrowed to a slit at the proper height to allow my crossbow perfect access when placed upon my shooting stick.
A word of advice… double check to make sure that your arrow has just as clear of shot at your target as your scope does. Remember, your arrow’s position is an inch or two lower than that of your optics and an arrow that has been shot through the wall of a blind will be far less accurate than one that is given free and unobstructed flight.
The ground blind will also somewhat limit your scent, especially if incorporated with a general cover scent such as earth or pine scent. I would not recommend a cover sent like bacon or any other food scent as you and your ground blind could end up as a very larger gringo taco for some hunger bruin. Wind will have far less of an effect distributing your scent around the bait as it has nothing to catch if you are secluded in the confines of a well anchored and sealed ground blind.
Another benefit is that you have a roof over your head should the weather turn cold and wet. You are out of the wind and the moisture will roll off the roof provided it is free of holes. If you do have holes in the roof, remember that they do sell camouflage duct tape now days and even a larger hole can be quickly healed with a roll of this miracle adhesive. It is common knowledge that, unless it is an absolute down pour, bears do move in the rain; especially in the spring… they are hungry and filling their bellies if far more important to them than a little rain. And if you are hunting with an outfitter and you get dropped off at your blind, you are going to have to sit there until your ride comes, but in a ground blind, you are going to sit there dry and in comfort as long as you have dressed properly.
One aspect of your hunt will still be a concern in a ground blind however, and that concern is noise. Bears are equipped with a keen sense of hearing and any noise, especially on a very still evening, is going to booger your prey… more than ever if it is a mature, man-sized bear. One should refrain from making any more noise than absolutely necessary, especially during in “prime time”, which is the last two hours before darkness devours the waning daylight. Little things like opening a package of crackers or any other munchies can be all the noise necessary to prevent the arrival of the creature you are most yearning to see.
When choosing a chair for your hunt, make sure its seat is high enough to match the windows of the blind and that it is comfortable for a long stay. Another very important factor to consider is the material that the chair is constructed of. Nylon can be very noisy, so try to find one that is made of a quiet material; if you can’t find one, then bring a cotton, or better yet, a polar fleece garment to throw over the back of the chair so that when you move there is no telltale noise that will booger your big black bear back into the bush.
When hunting with a crossbow in a blind, I use a shooting stick to stabilize my bow. The sheer weight of holding a crossbow in the shooting position can quickly turn into a very shaky task, not to mention the added effect of throwing a quart or two of adrenaline into the mix. Once in the blind, you should place your crossbow on the shooting stick and adjust it to the proper height to provide the best coverage of the bait area. If necessary, the crossbow can be set down by leaning it against the wall of the blind in a manner that will allow quick, easy and silent access should you get caught by a black bear that has suddenly and magically appeared from seemingly nowhere. Preferably, the majority of the time, the butt of the crossbow will be resting comfortably in your lap while the fore-stock is resting on your shooting stick so that when the hapless bear enters the scene, you will be able to quietly and quickly raise the stock of your bow to your shoulder and squeeze the trigger thereby killing the biggest black bear you have ever imagined. Again, this preparedness is especially important during prime time.
Your equipment is important to the chase as well. A lighted reticule in your scope is an important feature when bear hunting with a crossbow. Most bear blinds are located in heavy timber and darkness comes early in the thick forest. That is also the time of day when most big bears prefer to approach the bait. With a lighted reticule your hunt will be enhanced with a bright pinpoint aiming point when the black lines of your scope may be hard to see because of the declining daylight.
There is no need for a more powerful than average crossbow to successfully hunt bears, as a matter of fact, on the black bear it is easier to drill the boiler room with an arrow than it is on a whitetail deer. A whitetail has flat ribs, but a bear has round ribs so that when struck by an arrow, the broadhead is allowed to roll through the rib cage. On a whitetail, if the broadhead hits center rib, the arrow must break the rib, thereby greatly draining the kinetic energy of your projectile.
Shooting at a live target at eye level is another undeniable advantage that is provided by hunting from a ground blind. It is very important however, that you understand a bear’s anatomy (see illustration) in order to know exactly where its vitals are located. And, as with most animals, a slight quartering away shot is preferable. You do not want to be forced to track a wounded bear, instead you want to discover the body of your bruin very dead and rapidly turning cold.
Choice of broadheads is entirely up to you, but I strongly recommend a fixed blade model regardless of brand for a more dependable tracking experience. Fixed blades can change direction because of the way one or more of the blades may open up. A fixed blade is going to continue in the direction it enters the body so if the vitals are missed, it will not be the fault of the arrow… did I mention to you that when bowhunting for bear it is IMPORTANT TO HIT THE VITALS WITH YOUR BROADHEAD?
Many hunters are skeptical of hunting black bears from a ground blind because they fear an attack from an belligerent bruin. Remember, 99.9% of the time a bear is scared to death of a human being and the true challenge lies in trying to get that bear to come into the bait while you are there. I have never, ever heard of a bear attacking a hunter in a blind. I had a sow poke her nose into my blind one time, but she just moved back to the bait in an apparent lack of interest so all was well in spite of my messed pants.
It would seem to me that the benefits of hunting bears from a ground blind greatly out-weigh those of hunting from an elevated stand, but that is just my opinion… and I could be wrong.