Why we love black bear hunting in the spring

I watched as the big cinnamon bear flew about 300 yards from the two orange dots that made their way up the mountain.

“There goes that,” I said, looking at them through my spotter.

I waved a white play bag back and forth over my head until those little orange dots seemed to take notice and started drifting back down into the valley below. I was hunting with our MeatEater Community Coordinator, Cory Calkins, and my friends Mike and Jenna from the East. Cory and Mike had gone after the bear while Jenna and I stayed behind, using a game bag and hand signals to help guide their stalk.

The knob from which we observed them marked the confluence of two basins. By walking 50 yards from one side of the knob to the other, we could glass a recent burn carpeted with lush new growth.

With an hour of shooting light left, Jenna and I decided to move the 50 yards and check the burn for a last minute hit. Just as I was about to take off my backpack, she grabbed my elbow in that universal way that says, “I see something, don’t move.”

Sure enough, across the valley, about a half mile away, a bear was moving among the blackened tree trunks.

the value of a bear
There may not be a more pervasive misconception among the general American public than the idea that bears are only hunted as trophies. While it’s hard to argue with the beauty of a bearskin rug, there is much more to bears than their skins or skulls.

You’ll often hear people debate the quality of bear meat, but dissenting attitudes are a more recent phenomenon. When I asked Clay Newcomb, our bear enthusiast, he said, “Black bear meat was the fuel of the American frontier, particularly from the 1760s onward. It was the preferred food source.”

While it’s true that you must cook bear meat thoroughly to kill the parasites that cause trichinosis, and that a bear feasting on dead salmon will taste fishy, ​​many of us find bears excellent to eat . The flavor is remarkably similar to beef and lends itself well to stews, chilies, barbecue, and other low and slow preparations.

Along with ducks, bears have some of the only truly desirable cooking fats found in game. Unlike the waxy fat found in ungulates, bear fat can be turned into a snow-white lard. This lard is clean, smooth and, in the fall, can even be imparted with the flavor of berries that bears gorge on before hibernation. It is often used as a medium or low temperature cooking oil or as a secret ingredient in a homemade pie crust.

“The pioneers used to turn bear fat into fat, and a tub of bear fat in those days was as good as cash,” Clay said.

All of which is to say that I find it strange that people consider killing a bear to be a waste. When you consider fat and skin, in my opinion a bear carcass sees more use than the average whitetail, mule deer, antelope, elk or moose.

Affordable and accessible big game hunting
Nine states offer spring bear hunts, including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Arizona, Alaska and Maine. These opportunities are more common in Canada and occur in the provinces of British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick.

For people who want to hunt larger animals in the West or North, the mountains are the least of their obstacles. More often, you’ll find that it’s the sheer cost that puts a distant hunt out of reach. Elk and deer tags are expensive for non-residents, and prices only seem to be going up.

Bear tags, on the other hand, are relatively affordable: most are only a couple of hundred dollars. For example, a non-resident Wyoming bear tag costs less than $400. Compared to a Wyoming moose tag, which costs almost twice as much, it’s a steal. In Idaho, a licensed non-resident can pick up a reduced bear tag for as little as $42. Alaska gives away black bear tags for $450, far less than most species the state houses.

While a Wyoming bear tag is comparable in price to a Wyoming deer tag, they do have one big advantage: Most bear tags are sold over the counter, meaning hunters don’t have to deal with the process. application or point system barriers to go. hunt. This makes bear hunting a great starting point for hunters interested in hunting in the west or north.

Another plus for the DIY hunter, particularly out-of-state hunters, is where the bears tend to live. In the West, Canada, and Alaska, most public lands are mountainous. Bears, unlike moose and mule deer, tend to live in the mountains year-round. They do not migrate (although they will follow the best food sources up and down the mountain as the season progresses) and are generally not attracted to private land dominated by agriculture. This means a greater concentration of hunting on public land, which translates into more opportunities for those without private access.

You probably have the team
Bear hunting is relatively simple and does not require advanced calling skills or highly specialized equipment. If you’re a turkey hunter on the east coast, dress like you would for the early spring turkey, pack rain gear and a padded jacket, a good pair of boots and a good pair of binos, trade in your 12 gauge for a .270, and you’re pretty much ready to roll. As with all big game hunts, a sturdy pack, hunting bags, and bear spray are a must.

Another item I would suggest looking into is a quality spotting scope and tripod setup. Bear hunting requires heavy use of lenses, bears are often seen over 1,000 yards away, and bears are difficult to judge, especially at a distance. Before you start stalking or shooting any bear, you should always be sure of two things. First, you need to make sure the bear isn’t a sow with cubs, and then you need to confirm that it’s the size you’re looking for. Shooting a sow with cubs is illegal in most states, and there’s not a more disappointing feeling than walking on a black bear and realizing it’s smaller than a pronghorn. While I wouldn’t say an observer setup is an absolute necessity, it’s pretty close. At a minimum, a tripod with a binocular mount will help.

Break the ice
Jenna and I ended up killing that bear in the last few minutes of light shooting. She was a dry bristle, about 5 1/2 feet and 180 pounds. While I wish Jenna and Mike could have ended their journey with a bear of their own, they seemed more than pleased with the outcome.

In the end, it was less about killing a bear for them, and more about going out West and just doing it. They achieved what they set out to do: they broke the ice.

Ever since I moved west, many of my friends from back home have been asking the same question: “When can I go out and hunt with you?”

I tell everyone the same thing: if you want to come elk or mule deer hunting, you’ll have to apply for tags, which you probably won’t draw. But if you want to hunt this season, you should think about spring bears.

Featured Image via Sam Lungren