The sport of Bear hunting is growing in popularity, but also growing in difficulty. Bear hunting can be a huge investment of both money and time, especially if you hunt in a state that allows the use of bear dogs. Bear dogs are expensive, and require a lot of training to keep them well trained. But they are well worth the money spent.
Black Bear Hunting in California
With recent changes in the laws in several states, bear dogs are not allowed to be used, though a lot of states do still allow it, so you will want to check your regulations for your hunting area. In California, for example, bear dogs are not allowed. Most deer hunters will see a few bear when they are out hunting deer in California, so they tend to buy bear tags the more they see them. So for us, it’s more of a combo hunt. We may pick up a bear once every five years as we target deer as our primary big game animal. Buying a bear tag in California to have it on us for when a bear presents us with an opportunity to hunt bear.A lot of Bear hunters in the United States may only kill a couple of bears in their lifetime. The reason why is because it is more of a novelty species for them to break up the cycle of just hunting deer or elk. But for some hunters they focus on bear hunting, fine tune their skills in doing so, and can get themselves onto bear each season. They look forward to bear season all year, and they plan, and prepare for it. One of the things that grabs people’s interest in starting out with hunting for bear is that the hide can be tanned into beautiful bear skin rugs, super warm throw blankets, and wall hangings. Then, of coarse, there’s that amazing trophy in getting the bear head mount that is a great addition to any trophy mount wall.
Typically, black bears have a small home range for an animal of their size. They may stay within a five mile radius of where they were born for their whole lifetime. During the summer, they will typically spend it on a single square mile of land. Black bears have strong navigational skills. When they are trapped and relocated they have been known to travel back over unfamiliar areas to get back to where they were picked up from back in their home territory. They can also swim long distances as well.
Black Bears Appearance
Black bears range in appearance from black, brown, cinnamon, blonde, blue-grey, and white. Though in the United States you will typically find the black, brown, cinnamon, and blonde bears. The wet coastal environments tend to have the black shades, while the dryer inland climates will see more blonde and brown bears with some black, and cinnamon, ones in the mix. The other colors are typically outside of the United States. Except for Alaska, as they do have the blue-grey colors in some areas.
Black bears are omnivores, and they are opportunistic feeders with a wide varying diet. They will eat acorns, beechnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, and berries like cranberries, huckleberries, bear berries, salmon berries, wild strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries. They will also eat insect larvae such as bees, ants, beetles, and bees. They will eat fruits like apples, and peaches. They also like grasses, tree buds and shoots, forbes, corn, alfalfa, and honey. They also enjoy meats like deer, ungulates, fish, sea mammals, elk, and moose. They prefer the fawns as easy prey, but will also eat the adults when they can get them.
Black Bears are killed by people, whether for protection or for hunting for food. Their natural killer is their own species, as big boars (males) will eat baby cubs. In some states where the black bear territory overlaps with the Brown Bear (Grizzly Bear), the Grizzly Bears will easily kill black bears. Most black bear breeding happens between June and July, but the implantation is delayed for four months. The baby cubs are mostly born between January and March. They can have anywhere between one and five babies, with most bears having an average of two cubs. Each family will give birth about once every two years.
In the East, they will live in forests and wooded swamps, and in the west they will live in the forests and timbered mountain range. They do venture out of those areas in less habitable areas around humans as well, such as farms and orchards.
When you are looking for signs of bear activity you would want to look for shredded stumps, rotten logs that have been pawed through, overturned rocks, pawed up ground, scratched tree trunks, discarded fish carcasses along streams, and the scattered remains and crushed bones of other animals. They mark their territories by scarring up trees with their teeth and claws, and they rub their backs on tree trunks where you will see their hair stuck to the bark.
How Does Bear Taste?
The taste of the bear will vary according to what they have been eating. Black Bears that have been feeding on berries and fruits have a delicious taste like you get from a beef brisket when cooked. These bears make for great sausages, and other slow cooked meats. Some people specifically target bears that feed in apple orchards for this reason. When bears feed on spoiled dead animals or fish instead of fresh kills, you get a nasty smelling, and nearly unedible meat.
Black bears are increasing in numbers in the United States. Getting bear tags is fairly easy in most states. Each state has their own seasons, and regulations around what you can use to hunt bear. Some states allow hunging bears with dogs, and some allow baiting bears, so you will need to do a little research for your hunting area to see what you can and can’t do.
With bear hunting, you won’t have good luck just walking through the forest. You may get lucky, but it’s not the norm. You should avoid walking through a bear’s bedding and feeding areas. Your scent, and the act of disturbing the area they inhabit, will get bears to clear out of those areas. The best way to hunt Black Bears is to find and patiently watch their feeding areas from a position where the bear won’t be able to detect you.
How to Locate Bear Feeding Areas
The Black Bear’s feeding areas can come in many forms. They like to feed in apple orchards, berry patches, streams with loads of spawning salmon, big game gut piles, and man made bait stations placed by hunters where baiting is legal. If you locate prime natural bear feeding areas, you will increase your odds of finding bear. In the coastal areas during the late summer, you can target salmon spawning streams. Bears tend to use the same feeding areas from year to year. If you do find a good feeding area, you can probably use it every year because they will come back. Most spot and stalk bear hunting takes place in the western states of the United States, and Alaska. Bears will typically emerge from hibernation between April and May, as the weather starts to warm up. When they leave their dens they typically come out to a a bit of a winter wondeland with snow still on the ground on the north and west facing mountains. This is a good time to start scouting for bears because their feeding areas are limited to those snow free areas that have been able to absorb enough sunshine to start a frenzy of new plant growth.In the coastal areas in southeast Alaska and British Columbia, the plant growth will start to emerge on the grass flats that form on the alluvial fans around the outlets of streams and rivers. You should watch the areas where you can find the beach rye grass, horsetail, and skunk cabbage. The timbered edges of the grass flats are where bears the bears feel they are more protected and like to hang out around there. You can glass spring bears in the Rocky Mountains in the late morning and early afternoon, but the coastal bears prefer feeding in the open during the last hour or so of daylight. The exception to this is at low tide, when the bears will work the shorelines to graze on mussels and small crabs.As we start to settle in to Fall, you can glass to find bears in the berry patches. Some berry patches are quite large, and may hold several bears feasting on the ripened fruit. This is my favorite type of bear hunting because it’s fairly easy, but most importantly the bears that feed on fruits have a great tasting meat. Also in the Fall months, in areas that have a spawning salmon creek or river, the bears are gorging on Salmon. These bears are also easy to find, but be careful because if the bears are feeding on the rotting salmon on the edge of the water, those bear will taste as rotten as the salmon. In the lower 48 states, the berry patches are more dispersed and can be found on ridge tops and hillsides mixed between the timber and brush. You should get up into a high position where you can overlook these berry patches to find your bear. The bears will disappear for an hour or more throughout the day as the get their bellies full and take a nap. You can hunker down, and just wait for them to wake up and continue feeding to get your shot.
Sizing Up Your Bear
When trying to size up a black bear, there are a few tricks to help you. Small bears have pointy ears that sit high on top of the head, and they have long thin legs. Large black bears (left) have proportionately smaller ears that sit off toward the side of the head; their belly seems to sag, giving their legs a shorter appearance; they have thick rumps and shoulders and heavy legs. They seem to have an overall powerful appearance and a ponderous gait.
Black Bears Are Opportunistic Feeders
Keep in mind that bears are opportunistic feeders, they will be found in the most productive food sources that are available to them at that point in time. They are lazy, so they want to find rich food sources that are abundant and easy. In one part of the country they will feed on things that bears in other areas have never seen before. In the dryer parts of the Rocky Mountains, for example, the bears in the fall can be found while they feed on pine nuts. Bears will also turn up in apple orchards, stands of live oak, and near mountain ash trees when the berries are ripe and ready to be eaten. In the southwest, you can find them on hillsides of prickly pear cactus where bears will come out to feed on the blossoms. One thing that often gets overlooked, is the big game gut piles that are left when hunters field dress their deer, elk, or other big game animals. Bears love these gut piles, so if you know there are areas with gut piles, you know you may be able to find a bear sneaking in to get some of that.
Bear hunting over bait stations (where legal) is one of the most common black bear hunting methods in most states. It’s a fairly easy mothod of hunting because all you do is dump some bait and then keep watch over your bait, and then pick the bear you want to shoot as they come strolling in and get your bear. It does require some know how that you will learn over time to perfect what you put in the bait pile to make it enticing for the bears you want to hunt. The first thing to do is find the right location where your bait scent will reach some bears. It needs to be placed in an area where the bears will feel secure enough to come browse through your bait during daylight hunting hours. You can place your bait near frequently used bear trails, or near their natural food sources that they frequent. You should place place your bait near dense cover where the bears will feel secure, but not so dense that you won’t be able to see the bears feeding on the bait. Bears depend almost entirely on their sense of smell to find food, so your baits should have a strong scent to bring the bears to your bait. Some hunters use dog food, and they pour molasses over the top. You can also use carcasses of beaver or muskrats that you can get from your local fur trapper. Some use fish. Donuts, bacon grease, or other strong smelling baked goods, and apples are also a good choice. Used cooking oil works great for bears as well. You can get some corn and just pour the oil right over it, and you can toss some in the bushes, trees, logs, and branches if you have a bunch to scatter it around. White bread, and biscuits also work well.You can choose to dump the bait on the ground to keep it simple, or dig a shallow hole and place it inside. Some hunters will take a bit more time to conceal the baits so they are less likely to be eaten by birds or other small scavengers that may eat it all up. You can place your bait in a burlap sack, or take a small bucket or barrell and place the bait inside with access holes to let the bears get their snout and paws inside to get some of the bait. You can also pile up some old logs and make a criscrossing stack of the logs and pour your bait to let it slip down and between the logs to make the bears have to spend some time getting it out that gives you some time to get the perfect shot. Keep an eye on your bait, and when it starts to get low you will want to add some more to keep the bears coming until you get your bear. Stay clear of the trails and routes that the bears take to get to your bait so you don’t disrupt their path with your sounds and scents. You will need to be concealed, but able to get into a position to see the bears and take your shot. As for any hunting, an important thing to keep in mind is where your scent travels. Do not hunt your bait pile where the wind is bring your scent towards the bears. If they catch wind of you, your hunt is over. Now get out there and get your bear! About The Author Mike Mendenhall is the the founder of Mendenhall Outdoors. This website is an extension of the Mendenhall family’s lifestyle and passion for the great outdoors. Everything that they learn, and experience, along the way that they find may be valuable to our website visitors is on the site for you to enjoy. We highlight products and services that you might find interesting. We frequently receive free products from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. If you click a link on this page, then go on to make a purchase, we might receive a commission – at no extra cost to you, and does not impact the purchase price of any products that you may purchase. The Best Bear Hunting Experience Awaits!