Bear Hunting 101

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bear hunting
Bowhunting for bears can be a lot of fun and the success rate is really high.

Many bear hunters also bring attractants with them. A bear hunting outfitter provides the bait but in some cases, more is required to entice them in. Burning bacon grease is a popular method of attracting bears. When the wind is right, the smell of burning bacon can be smelled from a long ways off. Many companies make bear attractants that can be sprayed on trees or on the ground that smell like blueberries or pie. Like humans, bears have a sweet tooth and often come into a bait pile if they smell lots of sweet treats.

Some bear hunters prefer not to hunt over bait. Some bear hunting outfitters opt to hunt bears with dogs. Hunting behind a pack of howling hounds can be fun. When using hounds, the outfitter will let the dogs loose on a fresh bear track. The dogs follow the track until they bump into the bear at which point the bear will climb up into a tree or be held up in a rock pile or other type of obstacle. After the bear is caught by the dogs the bear hunter comes in and shoots the bear. Like bear hunting over bait, this style of hunting may sound easy but it isn't. Running behind a pack of hounds through the woods can be exhausting but often bears get away or after a long trail hunters discover the bear is small and don't shoot it. Bear hunting with hounds can be physically demanding.

 If you are up for a challenge, you can spot and stalk bears or drive them like some hunters do deer drives. In some states like Pennsylvania, the only way you can hunt bears is to put on an old-fashioned drive with a few friends or spot and stalk. In Alaska and in western states spot and stalk hunting is extremely popular. Hunters will get on top of a mountain or some type of vantage point and glass for hours until they see a black bear and slowly move in, making sure the wind is in their face until they are within gun or bow range of the bear. This style of hunting can be extremely difficult and rewarding.

black bear hunting
Crossbows are also allowed for bear hunting in many states and provinces. Check the local regulations before bear hunting.

Another increasingly popular way to black bear hunt is with predator calls. Mouth calls like a rabbit in distress or a crying bear cub can attract bears. Legal electronic calls can be very productive. When using a wireless caller, a speaker can be in front of you so when the bear focuses its' attention, it is not focused on where you are which results in safer hunting and provides better shot opportunities. Many bear hunters who hunt with a bear call hunt with a partner have a back-up gun incase a bear approaches from behind the hunter. It is possible to use a bear call while bear hunting over bait. A friend of mine called in a bear with a distress call while sitting in a treestand over bait. The bear snuck in right under his stand. Unlike calling in coyotes or fox, when calling bears, most experienced hunters suggest calling almost non-stop for 15-20 minutes. Calling for 30 seconds to a minute doesn't work well because when the noise disappears, the bears quickly lose interest.

The least discussed method of black bear hunting is trapping them in foothold traps like they used to do years ago. Bear trapping can only be done in Maine because their state is the only one that still allows it. When bear trapping, an extremely large trap is used to keep the bear from getting away. Many bear trappers place the foothold traps near bait piles or on game trails where bears regularly walk. Upon checking the trap, if a bear is in it, the hunter or trapper kills the animal. Maine has lots of large bears and many of them only travel at night. Trapping bears is a great way to catch a big one. I have heard of bears being trapped that exceeded 500 pounds. 

black bear hunting
Good sized black bear captured on a trail camera.

Judging the age and size of bears is difficult because they don't have antlers like many of the critters we chase. The body of a black bear is often relatively small but since they are covered in thick black hair, they look much bigger than they are. Even experienced bear hunters often misjudge the size of black bears. There are a few rules you can follow to determine if the bear you are looking at is small, average, or large. If you are bear hunting over bait, the head of a large bear will often be even or slightly higher than the top of a 55-gallon drum standing upright. A small bear will appear small when standing next to the drum. Many bear hunting outfitters hang bait six feet off the ground. If a bear can reach up and grab it, it's a decent size bear. The head of a small bear will appear large on its body and the head of a big bear will appear small because its' body is so large. The ears on a small bear appear large and close together. On a small bear, the head will appear large on its boy. The head of a small bear appears large and close together where they are small and far apart on a large bear. A large bear often has a large crease going down the center of it’s' head.

Black bear hunting can be lots of fun. It can be inexpensive and the chances of being successful on your first trip are very high. If you haven't tried black bear hunting, go ahead and book the trip. The experience of hunting in the wilderness far from home and hunting a big meat eater like a bear is an experience of a lifetime.

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