COLUMN: The Bear Essentials

Ask Bwana

An “extremely large black bear” that Larry Hatter photographed during a trip to Alaska.

Contributed photo / Larry Hatter


An “extremely large black bear” that Larry Hatter photographed during a trip to Alaska.

Dear Bwana, It’s bear season!  Can you give me any tips that might help me bag a bruin this spring? Thanks, Earl

Dear Earl,

I am one of those fellows who genuinely enjoys the spring bear hunt, whether it be in Alaska or here in the good old Clearwater mountains. For me, it’s not just about the animal, but also a special time of year when optimism is vibrant in the air. Spring brings renewed hope and vigor to all of nature’s creations, especially after a winter such as the one we just endured.

If you are looking to become a successful bear hunter, you must first learn to think like a bear. To accomplish this initial task, there are two key habitual characteristics every hunter must always keep in mind. Most bears prefer not to awaken before 10 a.m. and enjoy any and all food items that don’t require much effort, on their part, to obtain. With these qualities, one might surmise a run for county commissioner is not out of the realm of possibility, but the bear is not an overly ambitious creature and his tendency to remain concealed would probably preclude any attempts at public office.

The three most popular methods of bear hunting are generally, spot-and-stalk, baiting and pursuit with hounds. Considering not everyone has a pack of bear dogs, let’s concentrate on the first two methods, keeping our unique characteristics in mind.

During the early weeks of spring, bruins emerge from the den and look to feed on the fresh green growth that can be found on most southern facing hillsides or avalanche areas. This is where I would concentrate the spot-and-stalk method. Find yourself a high vantage point with as large a field of view as possible, then glass and glass some more. Once you’ve located a bear out grazing, then make your move into ethical shot distance. I’ve always had more luck in the evening with this method, but you can get lucky in the morning as well.

Baiting is another option we have in Idaho and it’s a very effective tool in bear management. It may be more time-consuming and expensive, but tends to get results as it focuses on a bear’s tendency to seek out an easy meal. I prefer bait locations in heavy cover as bears tend to feel more comfortable coming to and from the bait in a concealed manner. They are not persnickety and enjoy a myriad of different table fare. Pastries, leftovers, anything greasy, it all works if your location is well-chosen and you keep the bait replenished in a timely fashion. I do recommend you check your regulations, as there are precise rules that you must follow when baiting. Distance from a maintained road or year-round creek are a couple of important ones. Also, the use of wild game on baits is prohibited.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about bears is that they possess an unrivaled sense of smell. This is a factor to keep in mind when placing your tree stand over bait. Take some time to discover which direction the wind blows and set your stand with the wind in your face. Likewise, stay upwind when stalking a bruin or eventually his wonderful sniffer will pinpoint you and he’ll fade into the shadows as fast as he appeared.

With the knowledge that a bear’s olfactory sense is ridiculously keen, now comes, perhaps, the most difficult part of bear hunting. No matter how tempting it becomes to stop by Seasons Restaurant before the hunt and indulge your insatiable appetite with a hot, steaming bowl of Dakota Sabatino’s scrumptious navy bean soup, do yourself a favor and quell your hunger until after the evening’s foray into the woods. The only scent wafting through the cool mountain air should be emanating from your bait! If you are looking to gain a few brownie points with the wife, treat her to a generous helping upon your return. She’ll appreciate the gesture, at least until bedtime, but unfortunately, we’ve run out of time to discuss the intricacies of Dutch oven cooking in this week’s column.

Thanks again for your question Earl, and good luck this spring,

Bwana

If you have outdoor questions, contact askbwana@gmail.com or visit Larry Hatter Worldwide Outdoor Author on Facebook.

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