5 Reasons to Experience a Spring Bear Hunt

Spring is a great time to be in the woods and arguably the best time of the year to shoot a mature black bear.

5 Reasons to Experience a Spring Bear Hunt

One of the greatest attributes of spring bear hunting is the number of bears seen and the high success rates. Most good outfitters run 100 percent success rates for spring hunts or close to it. (Photo: Bernie Barringer)

Over many years of hunting black bears I have learned that if you hear a bear coming, it’s because he intended to be heard. Even a 500-pound, sag-bellied edition of this predator can move through the bush with startling silence. Poof! There’s a bear.

I’d been enjoying a beautiful sunny spring afternoon in the treestand, listening to birds chirping and a light wind sighing through the pines when I heard a twig snap behind me. The bear at the bait in front of me heard it too. He stood on his hind legs, peered into the bush under my stand and then slowly melted off the way he had come.

The adult male bear that appeared moments later had gotten the desired effect when he stepped on that branch; he’d announced his presence to any other animals at the bait. When my arrow sliced through him a few minutes later, the surge of adrenaline firing through me reminded me how much I love springtime bear hunting.

In addition to 20 years of DIY bear hunting, I’ve done three dozen black bear hunting trips with outfitters, so I guess you could say I’m pretty well committed to the sport. More than half of these have been in the spring, both in the US and Canada, and I look forward to spring bear hunts all year long. I have a good feel for the differences — some subtle, some pronounced — between spring and fall hunts. Here’s my short list of reasons why I think you should put a spring bear hunt on your calendar.

You’ll See More Bears

A few U.S. states and all the Canadian provinces have spring bear hunting seasons. In general, they occur throughout May and June. This is prime time for bears to be hungry after a long winter’s nap. If you are in bear country, you are going to see bears. They are up and feeding at all hours of the day. They have to be. There is a lack of natural foods at that time and the bears have to work hard to replace fat reserves.

Contrast that to fall hunts where you are competing with natural food sources including berries, acorns, hazelnuts, beechnuts, chokecherries and other fruit. Baiting bears can be a challenge in the fall because bears have so many choices. Abundance of natural foods spreads the bears out across the countryside. In the spring, when bears find your baits, they will continue to come back consistently. Interaction between multiple bears at the bait site guarantees that every bear in the area will be aware of what’s going on there and they’ll usually stay in the area.

I’ve been on spring bear hunts with bait where I saw an average of six to seven bears per day. This includes sows with cubs, but also includes some real giant male bears in the Boone & Crockett category. Spring bear hunts have the highest success rates of any kind of hunting. An outfitter who is in a good area and works hard will give his clients a 100-percent opportunity rate on bears.

On a spot and stalk hunt in the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia, I saw many bears every day. Sneaking within bow range of a feeding black bear is a terrific challenge, but I finally connected on a nice bear on the sixth day of the hunt. It was the 42nd bear I had looked at that week. Find the food and you’ll find the bears. In this case, we found areas where clover had grown up among the stumps at recently logged clearings. Bears were devouring this clover and we had a lot of opportunity to see them.

Wonderful Weather

I love springtime! Being in bear country when the forest is awakening with new growth and color is special. Newborn animals have arrived on scene; the woods are alive with the sounds of birds, frogs and small mammals. Spending an afternoon and evening in the stand is usually a pleasant experience. Spring bear hunts, even in Canada, are characterized by T-shirt weather during the day and cool evenings. It’s ideal for a guy like me who has enough years on me that I don’t like cold as much as I once did.

Of course, there are spring rains. It seems at least one day of each hunt involves taking a rain-suit to the stand. One of the best times to hunt bear baits is right after a rain stops. Give me an all-day rain that ends in the mid-afternoon and I want to be on the stand when it ends. The bears will pile on the baits in unreal numbers following a rain. On one hunt, I saw 16 different bears in five hours during such an occurrence.

Yes, there are nuisances, for example mosquitoes and black flies. It’s not all sunshine and flowers, unfortunately. I have been on Canadian hunts in May and June where I hardly even saw a mosquito and on others where they were around me in clouds. Fortunately, my Thermacell has been running interference for me ever since they were first introduced a decade ago.

Spring bear hunting means long hours on stand. This is especially true on Canadian hunts, where the daylight hours can last well into the night. I have been in a treestand in Northern Saskatchewan where I could easily see my sight pins at 11 at night. Take a hooded sweatshirt or a light jacket for when it cools off.

What Else Are You Going to Hunt In June?

For some of us who think about hunting and predators year-around, there’s not that much to do in May and June. Spring bear hunting fills that niche perfectly. Since I need to scratch my hunting itch more often than autumn and winter, spring bear hunts are a perfect fit for me.

I like fishing as much as the next guy, probably more than most. I have been known to do a little coyote control around fawning time and of course there are groundhogs that need to be shot. But it’s hard to beat the excitement of a bear hunt when there aren’t many other opportunities for pulling the trigger. Besides, my supply of venison is usually running low about that time.

Did I mention fishing? Oh yes, many bear hunts offer the chance to do some fishing while you’re not hunting. Virtually all bear hunting takes place in the afternoon and evenings, so fishing is a great way to spend some time each day.

Fine Fur and Big Bears

If you want a bear rug with thick, luxurious fur, spring is the time to shoot one. Some people appreciate the silky, fine furred pelts of autumn, but the heavy winter coats found on the bears in the spring make for some amazing looking mounts and especially rugs. Bears may have fur as long as six inches on their neck and shoulders in the spring. It makes them desirable as trophies. Be aware that as the spring and early summer wear on, many bears will rub their pelts. Most commonly, you’ll see it in the hips first, but by the latter days of the season, some of them will look rough.

If you are looking for a giant bear that looks like a VW Beetle, you will want to hunt in the fall. It’s common for boars to gain upwards of 200 pounds during the summer months. However, if you are looking for a bear with a big head — if you are thinking B&C score — spring is the time to hunt.

This is due to there not being much for calories in the woods and the bigger bears will be much more consistent on the baits. More B&C bears are shot in the spring. Of course, boars have breeding on their mind in spring as the rutting season begins.

The Rut

One of the biggest bears I ever shot would not come to the bait. He was locked onto a sow like a puppy following its mother, but would hang up when she came to the bait site area. I would see her moving through the bush towards the bait and sure enough, he would appear right behind her. They would both disappear for a moment, then she would step out and start feeding at the bait. I could catch glimpses of him through openings from time to time, and he would have been a goner if I had been carrying a firearm rather than a bow.

This happened three times. On the third time, he made the mistake of walking through an opening only 35 yards away, which gave me time to draw and shoot. That’s the magic of the rut. You’ll see bears, which you might not otherwise ever see moving about in the daylight. Male black bears start becoming seriously interested in the females by the last week in May, but most breeding takes place the first three weeks of June. By the end of June, the rut is over.

The rut makes spring bear hunts all that much more thrilling because a big, mature male bear could show up at any time. When they do, you had better be ready to take the first available opportunity to shoot because they aren’t interested in eating. Adult, male bears know where the baits are, and they will check them for good-smelling sows. Sometimes they just walk through the bait site, making a circle with their nose to the ground and move on. Encounters like these is what makes spring bear hunting so adrenaline-charged.

Spring bear hunting is adventurous. Something exciting could happen at any second. I’ve given you several reasons why you should try it; but be warned, it can be a bit addictive.

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