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Bruins On The Brain?

It’s a glorious spring evening. In the pines, a faint breeze whispers that summer is approaching, though a hint of winter clings here, as it does eternally in northern Quebec.

From my stand I view a vast panorama of stunted pine, muskeg, and sparkling lakes. I look long at the scenery, listen to the chuckling loons, and check the bow. It’s a serene, peaceful setting, until I am interrupted.

Without warning, the bear is before me. He is strolling big and bold through the trees, jet-black fur glistening in the slanting rays. He’s come to reap the bounty that can be found in this meadow, unaware that I have, too.

This big boar is particularly shrewd, and nearly makes good his escape. But he hesitates, and I collect the makings of a beautiful ebony trophy and rich bear roasts.

Another year, another place. Even in late May, it’s more winter than spring in the high Rockies. But the bears have had enough slumber and somehow know that fresh grass and recent winterkills have again made the world inhabitable. Bears are everywhere here in southwestern Montana.

I’m on the edge of a remote, lonely meadow where bears have been grazing. It’s getting near evening. A snow squall hurtles from the cloud-shrouded peaks before me, chased by feeble sunshine. Suddenly, I realize I am no longer alone.

From the soft snow banks of the shadowy forest, a bruin ambles into the park. Silhouetted against the bright Western sky, the cold rays light up a golden halo in his cinnamon-colored fur. Then the bear’s demeanor takes a menacing turn as he begins to stalk me, drawn by the artificial pleading of a calf elk in distress. He enters my little glade on the edge of the meadow. When he leaves, he’s on my packboard.

My best hunts have been bear hunts. It’s a singular sport, spring bear hunting. You can hunt in May and June, an invigorating time of year when no other seasons vie for the hunter’s attention. You can hunt bear in more ways and in more diverse types of habitat than any other big game animal. Bears are ideal objectives for a bowhunter, even a beginner, because they don’t have the constant nervousness of prey species. And the fact that they too are killers adds that element of danger and the incomparable thrill it brings. Bear hunting costs are comparatively low and success rates are high. You collect a unique, useful trophy, and despite claims to the contrary, the meat can be very good.

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No matter where you live in North America, there is a spring bear hunt within a reasonable drive from you. You can have a do-it-yourself hunt or hire a guide. You can hunt with hounds, bait, drives, or still-hunting.

Setting up a trip starts with selecting a region you want to hunt. Generally, the closer to home you are, the more economical the hunt will be. Driving rather than flying saves airfare, allows you to bring more gear, and takes the headaches out of getting the meat and hide home in good shape.

The method of hunting you prefer will have a bearing on where you hunt. Most spring bear hunting is over bait. Bait is not allowed or is restricted in some areas.

The second most popular is hounding. Dogs, too, are outlawed for bear in some areas. Check regulations thoroughly.

There are other factors to consider. License fees vary widely. Some areas have different colored bears, or bigger bears. Of course, you’ll want to pick a region that has a good population of bears for the best chance of success.

Not surprisingly, the best bear hunting is usually in the most remote places. There are pockets of prime habitat throughout the black bear’s range that contain high densities of bears. But because bears are omnivores that can eat just about anything, their populations tend to be highest in areas where remoteness has protected them. Alaska and northern Canada generally have the densest populations of black bears. Middle and southern Canada are next in population. In the United States, the West, particularly the Pacific Northwest, harbors the most bears. While the Eastern and Midwestern states have good bear numbers, bear hunting there is limited to the fall. There are no spring hunting seasons in the U.S. east of the Great Plains.

The Far North has the most bears mainly because of the relatively higher cost of hunting there. Most hunters choose the American West or more accessible areas of southern and middle Canada.

After deciding where to hunt, you must select a local guide. While a hunter might be able to hunt most kinds of game on his own, it is not feasible for the vast majority of bear hunts.

Spring bear hunting is as diverse as it is exciting. You can hunt in the tundra, the forest, or the mountains. You can use baits, dogs, calls, stands, or spotting and stalking. Enjoy!

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