graphic of a black bear standing in a forest clearing with snow starting to melt.

10 Tips for Hunting Black Bear In Any Season

Black bear hunting offers an exhilarating experience, and it is an activity more hunters should consider for several reasons. In this article, we discuss the top 10 tips aimed at enhancing success in black bear hunting. Before delving into these strategies, let’s take a look at why a black bear hunt is an experience worth adding to your list as a hunter!

In the book “Hunting the Grisly and Other Sketches”, the late conservationist President Teddy Roosevelt discusses black bears wherein he claims they are one of “the commonest and most widely distributed of American big game.” Black bears are abundant, meaning your chances of seeing a bear and getting a shot opportunity are higher than most other species, which leads to a greater chance of successful harvest.

Hunting black bear is a great way to get more hunting experience and sharpen skills for other big-game species where fewer opportunities abound. Most states and provinces in the U.S. and Canada allow for black bear hunting in both the Spring and Fall. This provides hunters the chance to enliven the often quiet Spring season. Black bear hunting is also perfect for young or less-experienced hunters to introduce them to the sport.

Black bear meat is delicious. Many hunters enjoy making pepperoni and other sausages out of their black bear harvest, saving deer and elk meat for steak and roasts. Nothing wrong with that, but black bear meat can also make mouth-watering roasts and stews. 

Don’t forget about the benefits of rendered bear fat. You can use bear fat as a high-quality grease when cooking and frying food. In the past, it was also used to treat certain leathers or seal wood. 

The black bear skull and hide can make a beautiful trophy to memorialize your hunt. The fur is often turned into a rug or blanket, you can make a euro-mount out of the skull, or you can opt for a lifesize or shoulder mount of the black bear.

There are benefits to wildlife conservation when you hunt black bears as well. Black bears are opportunistic feeders and have an omnivorous diet that includes a mix of wild game, plants, nuts, berries, and insects. They prey on young ungulates such as deer fawns, elk calves, and moose calves, especially in the spring and early summer. Regulated hunting helps maintain black bear populations at levels that are sustainable and in balance with their natural habitat.

Today in the West, most hunters regard black bears as a secondary choice to more prestigious game such as elk or mule deer. Thankfully there is a growing trend of hunters gaining interest in black bear hunting and we hope you consider heading out this season too. 

Here are 10 tips for hunting black bears that may help you seal the deal on a successful hunt.

1. Do Research on The Area

Before any hunt comes the most crucial aspect: preparation. First, decide where you want to hunt. Black bears inhabit 40 of the 50 U.S. states and 12 of the 13 Canadian provinces and territories, so there’s no shortage of options. Eastern states such as North Carolina and Pennsylvania hold monster black bears. 

For the Western hunter, Rocky Mountain states hold plenty of bruins. These states have access to millions of acres of untamed wilderness and bear country. Smaller than the beasts of the East, the bears of the Rockies often yield higher-quality pelts.

Second, decide your type of hunt. Will you be running hounds? Baiting? Spot-and-stalk? Some areas place special restrictions on how you can hunt. These restrictions range from loose in some states to strict in others.

In Colorado, baiting and hounding are prohibited. Yet, Idaho allows for almost any mode of hunting you could want. Know your area and the specific rules that apply to the hunt.

Lastly, be sure to scout your hunting area. Many bear hunters neglect this key element and suffer for it when the season finally comes. Even if you can’t walk the area, apps like OnX and even Google Maps can help you do “digital scouting.”

When scouting, try to locate good territory by identifying areas where bears congregate. This brings up tip number two.

2. Know Your Prey

Depending on the season of your hunt, bears will be in one of two modes. The first is pre-hibernation. This occurs in the Fall when bears are trying to fatten up before the winter freeze. In doing so, they may be active upwards of 20 hours per day.

During this time, bears will be searching nonstop for two things: food and water. We’ll discuss food later on, but water is just as necessary. Black bears often need to drink during their ongoing feasting or need a mid-day cooldown. Wallows and ponds are perfect areas for them to do this.

In the Spring, bears will have emerged from their hibernation. The first order of business during this time is to eat whatever they can near their lairs. Grass is an important part of a bear’s digestive system, meaning they need to consume large quantities of it. 

Grassy fields on southwest aspects tend to clear from snow first. These patches of grass draw in black bears due to their easy access. As such, they make for great scouting and hunting locations.

It is well known that black bears have an excellent sense of smell. They can sniff out and identify potential food sources up to 5 miles away by some accounts. Be sure to keep this in mind while hunting and position yourself out of the wind when possible. 

Despite popular belief, black bears also have excellent eyesight. Meaning hunting in a state that requires blaze orange can be difficult since bears can see in a full range of colors, unlike cervids. The best practice is to conceal yourself as much as possible when sitting. When stalking, take it slow and steady so as not to give yourself away. Which brings up the next tip!

3. Be Patient

It can be easy to get excited at the start of any hunt when fresh sign abounds. This makes disappointment all the more likely when a day later nobody has seen a single animal. Bear hunting is no exception to this. The key thing to remember is to be patient.

I’ve had bears walk straight into camp while cooking breakfast. I’ve also spent weeks on end in the mountains never catching sight of so much as a print in the mud. Some black bears are recorded to have spent their entire lives within a 5-mile radius of where they’re born. When hunting expansive areas it’s important to keep in mind that there’s likely a bear around. They may simply be difficult to find, or they may be easier to find elsewhere.

Success often comes with perseverance, patience, and smart decision-making. Baited and hound hunts take some of the guesswork away but still need patience to be successful. Spot-and-stalking is more difficult, as it does pose more of a challenge to patience. To remove some of the anxiety involved in this, it’s important to hunt in a place where you feel confident bears will be. This leads to the next tip.

4. Find the Food Sources

Baited hunts solve the issue of food location by introducing a food source to the environment. There’s nothing wrong with this, but many hunters either can’t maintain a baited location, or hunt in states that don’t allow baiting. Still, some hunters like myself prefer the Western spot-and-stalk style anyway. If this is the case, then the only solution is to find bears’ natural food sources.

Black bears enjoy a variety of nuts, berries, shoots, and mushrooms that help them fatten up. Any forest with nut-bearing trees will usually yield a high population of bruins. In the West, acorns are usually the easiest nut source and can typically be located easily while scouting most bear hunts. When acorns are less plentiful, chokecherries and raspberries also offer excellent eating. Generally, if it isn’t poisonous, black bears will likely consume it.

an image of an acorn, a nut source for black bears in the West.

One less-known food source is that of gut piles and fresh carrion. In most states, the Fall bear season coincides with one or many elk or deer seasons. A fresh gut pile is an enticing meal for any bear, and when in a full feeding frenzy, it’s almost a guaranteed sighting. If the state you’re hunting in allows it, sitting over the entrails of a one or two-day-old kill is an excellent choice.

In the spring, bears must consume grasses to complement their regular diet. Hunting small grassy areas and locations with lots of shoots to be dug up are good options. Finding good food sources is the start, as the next tip is in some regards even more important.

Image of raspberries, a favourite snack of black bears.

5. Know How to Identify Sign

Just because a location looks good doesn’t mean it is good. Identifying bear sign can help determine whether an area is worth watching or not. Fortunately, black bears offer some of the easiest sign to both track and identify. One such sign is a deep mud wallow, often found around river runoffs that bears will use in the midday to cool off.

The iconic black bear scat is large, dark, and can be either tubular, loose, or watery. It usually contains remnants of whatever the bear has been dining on. As such, it can be useful in identifying locations that the bear has been frequenting.

Sites with shredded logs and overturned rocks are usually good signs for the bear hunter. Black bears tend to cause this type of destruction when digging for roots and grubs. There are often claw marks in the ground around these sites that can help in further identifying a bear. 

Bears mark their territory by digging into trees with their claws and teeth. These markings can be anywhere from 3 to 6 feet off the ground, so it pays to look up and down. Bears also tend to rub up against larger trees, often leaving behind clumps of fur. It’s important to remember that black bears can be a wide range of colors, so these clumps may be anywhere from light blonde to deep black.

Once bear activity is confirmed in a prime area, it’s time to slow down a bit with the next tip.

6. Let Your Glass Do the Walking

Many Western elk hunters are often taking long walks up steep slopes on loose game trails. A black bear hunter can reduce the amount of walking required by employing good positioning and a pair of quality binoculars.

The easiest and most productive way to watch a location for hunters is to position on a high ridge or steep slope. From this vantage point, you should have a clear line of sight on any prime territory. This also provides the advantage of being out of direct line-of-sight of the bear. Remember, staying concealed is key.

After positioning well and getting comfortable, start glassing. I find my binoculars to do the job well enough, but some hunters prefer to use a spotting scope for a clearer picture. Using this technique, a bear hunter can cover much more territory. It also leverages the advantages that stillness and stealth provide in the environment.

Bow hunters will have to rely on stealthy movement through direct terrain much more. This isn’t to say they can’t use this technique at all, though. Glassing to locate bears before beginning a stalk is entirely acceptable and often much more productive. It also allows a hunter to get the best use of their time. This leads to another important tip.

7. Use All the Time in the Day

There is a common myth that circulates which states that black bears are purely nocturnal animals. If this were the case, then there would be a severely lackluster number of bears harvested each year. As it is, Colorado hunters harvested over 1,500 bears in 2022; all between the legal hunting hours ½ before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset. What this means is that a bear hunt can be successful at any point during the day.

In the fall, bears may only bed down for as little as 4 hours a day. Meaning that most chances will present themselves during the remaining 20 hours. Since September days can last up to 12 hours, the more time you spend out in the woods instead of at camp, the better.

If walking in the evening or early morning dark is uncomfortable, consider using spike camps. This cuts down on the walking you would otherwise have to do in the dark. It also may discourage frequent trips back to base camp in the heat of the day. Even when temperatures rise, black bears will be active in their wallows trying to cool off.

The deeper you go, the truer this becomes. Walking back and forth takes time, and can eat into the hunt, especially if you want to follow the next tip.

 8. Get Away From Other People

As hunting becomes more popular, certain areas become more crowded. Contending with others while attempting to seek out some isolation can be difficult. Fortunately, this issue is still manageable for most bear hunters, even if walking is an issue.

Many designated Wilderness Areas contain well-maintained trail systems. Despite this, they are often left untouched during big game seasons due to difficult access. These are excellent areas to utilize during your bear hunt to escape the crowds. 

Another tip is to go up higher. If early storms don’t decimate food sources in the high country, there are often abundant resources for bears. Most black bear hunters will tend to stay lower where reported activity is often the highest. Yet, as pressure increases, it isn’t uncommon to see bears migrate to higher elevations.

Walking between the 3-5 mile range is a good compromise as well. Most foot hunters will stay within about 2 miles of their camp. Many outfitters with access to pack animals will venture in further to about 5 miles. This means that usually there is a sweet spot right at about 3 miles in that provides more isolation.

This type of isolation is excellent for maintaining stealth and immersion while stalking. This tip is especially important to remember during the Fall season, which often coincides with other hunts. This brings up yet another crucial tip.

9. Prioritize Your Bear Hunt

For hunters out only for bears, this may not prove as large an issue. But many hunters holding a concurrent elk or deer tag treat the bear hunt as a secondary option. If the desire is to harvest a black bear, then the bear hunt should be the priority.

Country that is often prime for elk is rarely prime for bears, especially early in the season. Elk tend to stay as high as possible for as long as possible. Bears will only go up high under pressure, as discussed in the tip about getting away from other people. 

Likewise, deer in the West tend to stay around small groves with meadows where they can graze. Black bears in similar territory will often migrate lower to acorn forests and canyon bottoms with running water

This said it’s always a good idea to have a bear tag add-on if they’re offered in case you do happen across one. Like Teddy Roosevelt, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll stumble across one while in pursuit of other game. But the key takeaway is to always focus on your bear tag if you want to harvest one. 

None of these tips should ever serve to overrule the most important aspect to remember while hunting black bears, though.

10. Have Fun

The pursuit of the glory of the hunt can blind even the most seasoned hunters. It can be easy to lose sight of the purpose of hunting while on the chase for black bears. If you aren’t having fun or at least enjoying the hunt, then what’s the point?

Black bear hunting can be rewarding and the thrill of harvesting a bear is something many hunters chase for years, even a lifetime. Despite my many black bear hunts, the parts I always remember the most are the ones I spent having fun with my friends and family.

While implementing these tips will enhance the experience of a black bear hunt, it’s essential to cherish the excitement each moment brings. Amidst the pursuit of success, never forget to savor the experience and the natural beauty that surrounds you. Happy hunting!