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7 hard-earned bear hunting tips

1. Go prepared for low-light shooting. The big bears seldom appear until dusk has descended. Use a bright fiber-optic, tritium, or lighted sight pin, and a very large peep or no peep at all.

2. When bowhunting bear in the North Country, be ready for swarms of mosquitoes, blackflies and other buzzing pests. The best protection is a fully enclosing headnet, but it can hamper your eyesight and shooting ability. I personally use a partial headnet, leaving my face open, and a repellent with high Deet concentration. Don’t worry the smell will frighten bears. If they smell the repellent, they’ll smell you, and they often don’t care either way.

3. Decide how big your bear must be and learn how to identify it. Generally speaking, big bears appear round, with short legs and nose; immature bears look like they have long legs, ears, and face. Study photos beforehand as well as the real thing once it shows up. All bears look big and it’s easy to be disappointed.

4. If you’re going on an outfitted bear hunt over bait, find out how close your shots will be so you can practice accordingly. Many hunters practice at ranges much longer than necessary and are surprisingly ill-prepared for a controlled, precise shot at 0-20 yards, typical shooting ranges for bears.

5. If watching a bait site is not for you, try stalking. While stalking with a bow is always a challenge, bears can be surprisingly easy to sneak up on. Unlike prey species, they are not perpetually nervous that something wants to eat them. Bear stalking is generally done in the West, where open vistas allow long-range spotting, but it also works in open areas of eastern forest lands, such as new clearcuts.

6. Don’t shoot females with cubs. If a bear has cubs they will usually show up first, but the responsible thing is to wait and make sure.

7. These days, a website search is the best way to start deciding which state or province, and which specific outfitter, is best for you.

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