11 Tips for Spring Bear Hunting
SPRING BEAR SEASON IS HERE
To help you prepare, we asked our in-house bear experts for some of their best tips. Learn from KUIU’s Brendan Burns and Justin Shaffer—as well as Allen Bolen. Read on to learn their proven tactics for spot-and-stalk hunting spring black, brown, and grizzly bears.
Spring bear is a great time of year to get out, burn off some winter fat, test your hunting gear, and help the local ungulate population. Bears are extremely hard on spring calves and fawns. As for your gear system, it should be all about being light and mobile. Spring rains are a constant so keeping warm and dry are vital.
1. 95% LOOKING, 5% HUNTING
It’s been my experience that spring bear hunts are 95% looking for a bear to go after and 5% hunting that bear. I try to cover as much country as possible and glass as many prime spots as I can during the best times to hunt, which is usually the last four hours of the day. I’ve never had much luck in the mornings, or in the early, cold days of the seasons.
2. FIND THEIR FEEDING AREA
Once the mountains lose most of their snow, and the new green growth starts showing up in large areas, bears are easier to find. It’s also nicer weather the later you hunt, which is a plus after a long winter. A bear on the move can be nearly impossible to catch up with, but a big boar feeding in one area has a good chance of being in the same spot when you get to him.
3. BEARS RUT IN LATE SPRING
Mating season occurs in the spring for bears. After a month or so of getting as much food consumed as they can, big boars transition into looking for a sow. This is the time of year you can find a big bear anywhere. They wander far and wide looking for a receptive mate. The later it gets, the more you want to revisit spots you have seen sows, as they tend to live in a core areas. If you find a boar and a sow together you have a good chance of getting on them. If you find a big boar by himself, you should make a move on him immediately as he will most likely not be there long.
4. PLAY THE WIND, STAY QUIET AND OUT OF SIGHT
For archery, finding a bear in a good, stalkable spot is paramount. Hunting decommissioned logging roads and trails has been the most effective for me. As you can see in this hunt film, keeping the wind in your favor and staying quiet are the keys to killing a bear.
Contrary to what many people think, bears do have good eyesight when alerted, but rely on their nose and ears to keep them safe from danger. Fool those two senses and the odds are in your favor.
5. BIG BEARS LOOK AND ACT BIG
Sizing up a big bear is easier than you may think. Big bears generally have a wider head, smaller looking ears, and a “big” swagger to them. It has been my experience that you rarely have to look a big bear over more than once. If you must look a bear over and convince yourself it’s a shooter, it’s probably best to pass.
"Contrary to what many people think, bears do have good eyesight when alerted, but rely on their nose and ears to keep them safe from danger. Fool those two senses and the odds are in your favor."
6. BE PERSISTENT
Spring bear hunting can be a grind sometimes based off factors that are out of your control. Long late winters and snow depths can play an integral part in your success from year to year. This is where persistence is huge and tends to pay off more times than not. Bears emerging from their dens after a long winter sleep have 2 things on their mind, food and love.
They become nomadic and can travel large distances looking for the best of both. So, just because you didn’t find them the first time that you covered an area doesn’t mean you should abandon it totally. You typically won’t see bear density numbers you would on a baited hunt or in the fall when they’re in concentrated areas gorging themselves on fish and berries. Don’t get frustrated and put your time in behind the glass, eventually you’ll turn them up.
7. LET YOUR EYES DO THE WALKING
When it comes to spring bear hunting, you make your money in your glassing sessions. Once you’ve located the area you want to hunt, it’s time to put the time in behind your optics. The adage let your eyes do the walking for you is an absolute must in this type of hunting scenario. You can cover far more ground with your optics than you could on your feet. Additionally, it keeps you from tracking up prime feeding areas with your scent and bumping bears that you didn’t know were there.
This is also where top shelf high dollar optics earn every penny of what they cost. Spending hours behind high end glass can be tedious and test your patience but that same time spent behind cheaper inferior glass can be downright miserable, making you question why you’re even there to begin with.
Figure out a glassing routine or pattern and stick to it, don’t just randomly look across a basin hoping to get lucky. Come up with a system that breaks the area down and can be systematically picked apart maximizing your time and effort in the area.
8. WHEN TO MAKE YOUR MOVE
You can fool a bear’s eyes, but you cannot fool his nose. I’ve found that bears are not very observant. They are much easier to stalk than a deer or an elk. Often, they’ll put their nose in the grass and not look up for ten minutes. During these times you can quietly walk straight in on them—no need to crawl around. But make sure the wind is right. Their sense of smell is off the charts.
9. DOES A BEAR CRAP IN THE WOODS?
I like hunting bears early in the spring because if I locate a big boar, he will usually stay in that general area, and I might get a couple of stalk opportunities. During the rut, they will be on the move. Years ago, one of my guides found a bear crap the size of a Nalgene bottle. He forced his client to sit with him on that cut block for four days without seeing a single bear. They were rewarded with the giant 7 ½ footer that had left the sign.
10. WHERE TO AIM
Aim a little back. Over the years of guiding hunters, I’ve seen several bears lost that were shot tight to the shoulder. A bear’s vitals start a little further back and extend back to at least mid-body. I started instructing my clients to change their aiming: instead of aiming behind the shoulder, think of aiming six inches in front of dead center. My recovery percentage has gone through the roof with this method. Quartering away shots through the diaphragm are also devastating.
11. THE RIGHT BROADHEAD
Use a big broadhead. While guiding, I’ve also lost quite a few bears with small 1 1/16” diameter broadheads. I recommend shooting as big of a fixed blade as you can get to fly or shoot a reliable mechanical with as much cut as your kinetic energy can handle. I shoot 70lbs and have tremendous results with a 1 ½” to 2” broadhead on black bears.