Black bears are one of the most actively pursued big game in North America. While every state has different hunting regulations for bears, the focus of this article is to shed light on spot-and-stalk spring bear hunting techniques.
Spot-and-stalk black bear hunting is challenging for even the most experienced hunters. Black bears are inherently hard to find, as they prefer dense timber and have keen noses and ears. With a little attention to detail and a lot of patience, these spring black bear hunting tips can help you tag out every year.
Play The Weather
Weather is a factor that plays a huge role in when you choose to black bear hunt. Certain weather conditions lead to bears grazing for foliage, while others lead to them hunkering down in the timber. Try to bear hunt on a sunny day after a long period of rain when they are eager to get out of the timber and feed on southern-facing hillsides and clearcuts. These areas produce the rich, nutrient-filled foliage that bears live on in the spring months before their guts are ready to move on to the next phase of feeding.
Start Early, Stay Late... Near Clearcuts
Like many other game animals, bears will feed during the early morning and late evening hours. With that said, don’t quit come lunchtime. If you have an open day to hunt, regardless of the time or weather, go sit and glass your favorite spots and you just might spot a bear grazing across a hillside or sunning itself on a nice day. But when it comes to glassing, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of watching clearcuts.
With the tree canopy gone, ground foliage in clearcuts has a better chance of growing into the early-season feed a bear will be searching for. Of course, bears will sometimes feed in the timber, but the canopy of mature trees prevents sunlight from reaching the ground. Open spaces without tree cover get more light which leads to more green grass. And more green grass usually means more bears.
Look to the South
Find a handful of clearcuts using your map of choice and then narrow it down to the ones with south-facing slopes. Why? Simple: The sun always tilts to the south in the western hemisphere, which means stronger light will hit south-facing slopes and lead to better foliage for bears to feed on. If you spot a bear, they’re almost always going to be eating or on their way to eat. So pick a spot on a north-facing slope with a decent view, get comfortable, and wait for a bear to walk out of the timber and feed on a south-facing slope.
Putting yourself in the right location to start with can save you unnecessary miles in the backcountry. My typical hunt starts with a hike into a great vantage point on a north slope, overlooking a chain of alpine-covered south-facing hillsides. I set up my rifle on the bipod, my Leupold spotting scope on the tripod, and begin to range the top, middle, and bottom of each slope where I believe a bear is likely to graze into. Then I settle in for a long glassing session and wait.
Pay Attention and Close The Distance
As the season progresses and the weather begins to warm, the bears near their rut. By the middle of May, you will typically see boars covering a lot more land quickly as they begin to seek out sows. Spotting a bear from distance becomes common and you'll need to get creative on closing the distance. Always play the wind, as bears have an extremely keen sense of smell.
Knowing if a black bear is even worth pursuing also becomes more difficult at distance. You should always sit and watch a bear for a few minutes before making a move. This gives you time to make sure it isn't a sow with cubs and also allows you the opportunity to properly size the bear. Ground shrinkage is real when it comes to bears. My rule of thumb is that it’s going to be 25% smaller than it looks on its paws. So if you’re on the hunt for a mature boar, be patient and discerning.