Hunting Black Bear By Spot And Stalk
By Bryce Wells
Hunting black bear can be a very rewarding experience. Some of my fondest memories have been from spot and stalking black bear out west. Black bear numbers are steady to increasing in all the western states. I myself like to kick off my spring with a spot and stalk bear hunt. There is way less competition in the spring and bear that are just out of hibernation are easier to find. My spring bear hunts start in the middle of April and will run until the 31st of May in most areas.
I start the season out looking over both clear cuts and natural clearing that offer a southern exposure. Bear will only be able to eat tender grasses when they first emerge from the den until their system adjusts to more solid type food. Find fresh green grass and oftentimes there will be bear in the area.
During this type of hunt binoculars and a good spotting scope will be your best friends and help you locate bear. I myself use Minox brand of optics. I find them to be of the highest quality and their weight is also pretty light. I use a 15x56 pair for long range work and a 10x52 or 10x43 pair for the closer stuff. For extreme distances I use a Minox ED 62 spotting scope which features ED glass, that rivals anything in its class and is still lightweight enough to pack with you. I like a spotting scope that is of a variable type. Anything that goes from 20X up to 40x will work fine and up to 60x if you don’t have to sacrifice too much in the way of weight. You will know when you are using great optics because your eyes do not tire as easily. Your eyes will thank you for buying quality glass.
Along with good glass you must invest in a quality tripod.
You should also really carry a good rangefinder, not only to range your bear, but also to help with where you want to get to for a shot. I have used all of them and you get what you pay for. Swarovski and Leica lead the way in the under $1000 price range followed by Zeiss, Bushnell and Nikon. Of course there are others, but these are the best of what is currently available. I would buy the best one you can afford.
Oftentimes I will range a place I would like to shoot from and then try and figure out how long it would take to get there and set up. I will give myself enough time to get there and set up and get relaxed. The last thing you want to do is get over to your chosen spot breathing hard and then try a shot. Give yourself time to calm down and make a good shot.
I will try to find an area that has quite a few clear cuts and climb as high as I can on an opposite hillside to look them over. The last 2.5 hours of light is the most productive time, so keep this in mind when you find a bear to stalk. Give yourself plenty of time to get over to where the bear is. Often I will spot a bear late in the evening and just watch him to see where he feeds. I will then plan on being there the next day within shooting distance of where I saw the bear come out to feed. This technique has netted me some monsters over the years.
Bear will generally stay close to water and the grass they eat at this time of year. If you find southern exposure in the spring with nice green grass, most likely a bear will be working it. They tend to be a little lazy, so if they find grass to their liking, they will camp out on it. Bear tend to like the freshest shoots of grass and will often be found following the snow line up as it recedes.
I have a favorite spot in northern Idaho that I like to hunt that has everything big bear want. We have taken a number of bear that will go over 21 inches in the area, and it seems to always produce good bear for us. We will get to our area and walk any logging roads that are gated and start looking for fresh sign. If you find green scat you are in the right area. Once in an area that has sign it will work better if you have 2-4 people to help watch clear cuts and openings. Once set up, stay until dark. Some of the big boys will not come out of the dark timber until right before dark This is when my Minox shines. If you can see where a big bear has come out, go back the next day and set up on a good shot location. Most likely he will be there again the next day.
If you have access to Google Earth, you can really help yourself out. Google Earth is great for finding out of the way places bear may feel comfortable in. The more comfortable they are, the more likely you are to see them while there is still good shooting light. Many times in the spring I see as many as 5-10 bear in a day while driving around and looking clear cuts over. Just remember you need to have time to make a good stalk. If you don’t have ample time, wait and return the next day so you don’t blow them out of the area. We all have our favorite spots, but don’t be afraid to go and try out other areas. I have enjoyed great success with finding probable spots and getting out and working them over. I have found that when you are onto a good area it will continue to produce for years.
For fall spot and stalk I change things up a bunch. Bear will be much more spread out and a little tougher to find, except that you will find them feeding almost all day. Bear getting ready to go into hibernation are eating everything they can find. Whereas they are more concentrated in the spring, they will be found everywhere in the fall. The fall is when you start hearing about nuisance bears that are at low elevations. In the fall you can find them almost anywhere. Once you find a spot where bears are, concentrate on that area.
When it comes to good long range calibers, look for something flat shooting with good punch. My personal favorite is the 7mm Ultra Mag. Other great bear cartridges include .300 win mag, .30-.378 Weatherby, .300 wsm, 270wsm and 7mm Mag. Bullet selection will have a huge effect on the distance you will be able to make clean kills at. I love Berger Bullets myself and speak highly of their performance downrange.
My favorite scopes are in the 4-16 range minimum, and I really prefer something in the 30 range on the top end. I have had great luck with the March scopes and also recommend Schmidt and Bender and Minox. Schmidt and Bender is about as well respected as they come, with March really shaking things up in the last couple of years. If you own either of these brand scopes you will be extremely happy. They are not cheap, but they offer the best in low light performance. Minox has a really nice scope in the new 6-30x56 30 mm tube that is quite good for the price. The March 2.5-25x42 is a fantastic choice for longer shots and I love the ED glass. There are also many others that will get the job done. I have the March 5-50 x56 on one of my custom guns and love it. I also have a Schmidt and Bender. I find comparing the two brands of scopes is like comparing a Ferrari to a Lamborghini. They are just that good..
Leupold, Bushnell, Nightforce, Swarovski, Zeiss, Burris, Valdada and Zeiss all offer fine products as well. Vortex and Huskemaw have also had success more recently. I would look for something in the 5-15 range at a minimum if you are looking at longer shots. Huskemaw has done a great job with their turrets and is becoming quite popular. There are a couple of them I have not had the honor to use yet, but have heard great things.
My family has used all of these with great success. Just remember to practice shooting from different angles. Know your caliber and your limits. Bear is one of my favorite animals to hunt and the reward is great. Contrary to some people’s opinions, bear meat can be quite good. Our favorite way to have bear done is in cheesy smokies. I have never given anyone one that did not enjoy it.
Put some time in and bear hunting will get under your skin. Besides, every bear you take saves quite a few elk and moose calves as well as deer fawns.
So shoot straight and reward yourself with a big bruin………
Bryce Wells is a sponsored hunter and shooter From Sagle, Idaho. He is married to his great wife Sabrina and has two kids. His wife and kids also get in on the hunting, and enjoy long range shooting and bowhunting. Some of his sponsors include Kelbly's custom rifles, March Scopes, Minox, Rivers West, Limbsaver, Rocky Mountain Packs, Berger, Trophy Taker, Tru Glo, Sabermaxx, Wolverine, Day 6 Outdoors, Spypoint and more. You will find Bryce out each season hunting across the West. He spends at least 200 days in the field each season. Bryce has been fortunate enough to have taken many world class trophies over his career. Many consider him to be one of the best black bear hunters on the planet.