Choosing the Right First Western Hunt: Black Bear

Black bear provides an affordable hunt good success rates. My first bear season started just as the COVID lockdown began. It became a two-month chess match played in the mountains. As I split time between glassing nobs and bait stations the bears seemed to stay one move ahead. In the end, I harvested two bears but not before learning a few valuable lessons in the process.

It’s difficult to interpret bear hunting statistics. Some states allow the use of dogs and bait while others do not, and success rates may be contingent on the style of hunt. For instance spot and stalk hunters won’t have the same odds as those using bait. To add to the confusion, many hunters buy bear tags during elk season just in case they bump a boar but never specifically target them. Keep this in mind as you research units.

Attracting bears during daylight hours takes determination and skill. Don’t expect a herd of bears on the first evening. Last year I spent several weeks baiting before filling my tags.

For those with one week to hunt, consider a hybrid strategy. Set up a barrell and trail camera, but spend the evenings glassing open hillsides. Check the memory card and bait each morning. If a bear shows up, sit on the site. If not, play the spot and stalk game.

Though some baiting areas will become crowded, spring won’t draw nearly the number of hunters as fall. On public land you’re welcome to bait where you choose, but remember to respect other hunters as well. Keep an eye out for ribbons in trees and other signs that another hunter has already established a bait station.

If you choose to chase bears, check the weather regularly. Spring conditions can rapidly shift from beautiful to deadly. Spending time in the mountains as they transition from winter to spring will make the trip worth it. Just don’t let your guard down after a few warm days.

Like antelope, bear tags don’t cost a fortune. Idaho sells wilderness unit tags for $41.75 and statewide tags for $231.75. Nonresident hunters will need to pay for a hunting license ($185) and depredation fee ($10) as well. A few hundred bucks and you’re set.

A bear hunt will demand more patience and stand time than elk and antelope, which may bode well for eastern hunters. Unpredictable weather and rough country will also push hunters in ways that antelope does not. Good luck to those of you that choose to hunt bear.

Next Week: Elk

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