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Both the opportunity and popularity of black bear hunting out West is at an all time high with many hunters hitting black bear country for the first time. Bear hunting can be intimidating for a lot of reasons. It’s a new species with unfamiliar behavior in different habitat as compared to the big game most hunters are familiar with. Don’t worry about the uncertainty of being a beginner black bear hunter though. It’s one of the most doable hunts for any newbie. Here are some tips, lessons, and tactics we put together from our own experience as newbie black bear hunters in the West.
Do I Need to Build Points First
Nope. Many states have limited quota and limited hunter areas that do require drawing but by no means does that mean you can’t get out and black bear hunt. Over-the-counter (OTC) hunts are plentiful around the West for black bears. Find out later in this article where some of those opportunities are.
In addition to OTC hunts, if you want, you can also start applying in states and build points for some of the more regulated hunting areas for the future.
Generally there are 3 different types of bear hunts. 1) Spot-and-stalk, 2) hunting over a bait station, and 3) using dogs. What to recommend for the beginner is easy, do a spot-and-stalk hunt. If you’re a beginner you don’t have specially trained dogs and hiring someone with dogs will cost a lot. Baiting is very time intensive and unless your bait station is right near your house you won’t have the time or money.
Spot-and-stalk style of hunting is a skill most hunters already utilize for big game. It’s also a method that can be well suited for western black bear hunting.
If you big game hunt you have most the gear you’ll need. Since many of the hunts happen in the spring you can expect down right frigid weather all the way up to tee shirt weather. Be prepared for it all.
If we had to pick one piece of hunting gear that is most essential it’d be QUALITY high powered optics. Hunting bears will exercise your patience in glassing like no other hunt. If it isn’t, then you might doing it wrong.
Having powerful quality glass will help you judge bears which are extremely hard to judge in regards to trophy quality and sex. Being able to judge a bear from afar will save you a lot of calories and time fruitlessly chasing black and brown dots on far away hillsides. Find out more below on how to field judge a black bear.
Check out this Muley Freak Read article for some States to hunt OTC western black bears. There is vast amounts of public land that hold bears and finding an area to hunt is really not a big problem. Once you pick a state and find an area get where you can glass large tracts of forested land mixed with open grassy hillsides. Talk to state biologists as well to narrow it down. Black bear hunting is part of any states predator management plan and they want to see hunters succeed.
Go into a black bear hunt as an adventure, a challenge and a learning experience. If you have a problem with tag soup maybe this isn’t for you. Bears are a mental and physical challenge. They seem to always be moving and there isn’t herds of bears to look over like elk or deer. You might even wonder if you’ll ever see one. But when you do it’s like nothing else. If you’re a hunter who likes to learn something new, chase an iconic species, and have a chance to see a black bear in the wild then this black bear hunting thing might be a fun new challenge.
Going lightweight is our suggestion. More often than not, our bear hunts have required us hiking a considerable distance from roads and usually in some pretty steep country. We suggest take a gun you enjoy carrying. Black bears don’t require the largest bore magnum you have, any medium to large caliber will do.
Another thing to consider is the loaded term ‘long range’. Those two words will cause any hunter to listen closely for a variety of reasons. Some think long range is 1000 plus yards, others consider it 500 or more. All we are suggesting here is get confident at whatever you feel comfortable shooting. Chances are you will be shooting a few to several hundred yards.
Black bears can be one of the most difficult big game species to field judge, and not just trophy size but also sex. Male and female bears generally look the same, there is no clear and distinct feature like antlers that screams to the hunter you’re looking at a male. It’s more subtle things like shapes and of course the presence of cubs.
Same goes for trophy class of black bears. Again there isn’t a distinct characteristic like antlers that clearly indicate size class. You’re looking at subtle cues again like size of ears compared to head, or legs and belly. Take a look at this field judging black bears article for a comprehensive discussion on techniques to use in the field to size up a bear.
The Buddy System
Being a newbie at anything is always funner with a fellow newbie. We suggest applying the same logic if you’re gonna head out black bear hunting for the first time. Going with a buddy gives you the opportunity to bounce thoughts and ideas about how to reach your goal of harvesting a black bear off one another. It also gives you someone to share in the mistakes, failures, lessons, successes and just plain fun that this new adventure will bring.
Going with a buddy will also help ease the financial burden as you can split costs like gas. That’s always a plus.
Outfitter or DIY
One of the questions that comes to mind for first time hunters of any species, but not everyone dares to say it, is whether or not to do it yourself (DIY) or use an outfitter. Reason not everyone likes to voice the question of an outfitter is because using an outfitter has a stigma in many hunting circles. Some hunters act like it’s DIY or die, that if you use an outfitter you’re somehow cheating and are less of a hunter. It’s more-or-less an ego thing. Well, put ego aside. Outfitters have advantages and aren’t morally wrong. Hunting for your first time with an outfitter is a way for you to hunt with someone you can learn the ropes from. Once you have a hunt under your belt and know the ropes better, then next time it might be time for DIY. With that said doing it DIY is totally doable if that’s how you want to do it, well then, do it. We’re just saying don’t discount the outfitter completely either.