Bears have a way of sneaking up on you. There’s something about the predator that fires a spark inside the hunter’s brain. You may not have ever even considered hunting them, but one day there they are, padding quietly into your dreams. Next thing you know, you’re reading every article you can find about bear hunting and researching areas and outfitters.
Do enough research and you’ll see that baiting bears is by far the most popular way to hunt them, and with good reason. It’s exciting and typically you’re guaranteed to see lots of bears, many of them up close and personal. But, there’s another way to hunt black bears that doesn’t get as much play in the media, but is just as, if not more, exciting and puts your woodsmanship and nerves to the ultimate test. Hunting bears on the ground satisfies a primeval urge to test both patience and courage in a ground-level game where predator becomes prey.
Perhaps more than any other place, Alaska and Canada’s Prairie Provinces included, British Columbia is known for its black bears. Bear densities here are among the highest in the world; it’s estimated nearly one-fifth of North America’s black bears, upwards of 160,000, live in Canada’s western province. In a day of hunting, it’s not unusual to see a dozen different black bears, many of them trophy quality. With these kinds of numbers, it’s not hard to be picky and hold out for that big boar you’ve been dreaming about. And since, unlike much of Canada, baiting is illegal in British Columbia, you have to hunt them on the ground.
Coastal British Columbia, including Vancouver Island, is a popular destination, but don’t overlook the interior, where you’ll see plenty of lack bears and large ones at that. There’s also a greater chance of taking a color-phase here than on the coast, where the black bears are primarily, well, black. I’ve hunted interior B.C. twice, once with Dennis Smith of Bear Paw Guide and Outfitters in an area bordered by the Omineca and Osilinka Rivers of north-central B.C., where I took a 6’-6″ brute with my Browning BLR. I also hunted the area near Prince George with Opatcho Lake Outfitters, where I stalked several bears with my bow, but was never able to take a shot. I can’t recommend either outfitter highly enough, especially Ken Watson at Opatcho Lake if you want to hunt bears with your bow.
On this side of the border, several states offer great options for spot-and-stalk bear hunting. While there are outfitters that specialize in bear hunting out West, hunters wanting a do-it-yourself experience can do so in Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Washington and other western states.
“A DIY bear hunt out West is definitely not out of reach for the average guy,” said Mark Boardman, marketing manager for Vortex Optics. Boardman planned a successful DIY hunt in northwest Montana, where he was able to tag a fine black bear with his father.
“Before the hunt, I did a lot research, both on-line and by calling outfitters, state biologists and experts like Eric Pawlak at Cabela’s T.A.G.S.,” said Boardman. “With all that information in front of me, I poured over Montana maps, found a likely spot and went for it.”
Boardman said the key to his successful hunt was finding an area that offered access to large tracts of wilderness via gated logging roads. He spent a lot of time scouting these, and after finding fresh sign, returned the next day to find his bear. He also stressed timing is everything.
“It was a late spring that year” said Boardman. “A lot of the hunters we talked to said their traditional hunting hotspots were still under a foot or more of snow. Instead of glassing the slopes, we spent a lot of time and effort to get way back into the country.”
Boardman’s strategy paid off and yours will too if spend much of the long spring days traveling logging roads, glassing clear cuts and scouting for fresh sign. Good optics are a must. Bears fresh out of hibernation love the new green growth and what’s remaining of last year’s berries and you’ll find many of them feeding on south-facing hillsides and along roads. Spring bear hunts, especially the DIY variety, can be time consuming, but are well worth it when your press your hands in the thick fur of that bear of your dreams.