It may be surprising to some, but the second most popular big game animal across the whole of North America behind white-tailed deer is the black bear. Many factors combine to make the “common” black bear such a valued game species. They are widely distributed with hunting opportunities in approximately 50 percent of the Lower 48 states, plus Alaska and all the Canadian provinces.
Varied hunting methods are employed including baiting, hounds, spot-and-stalk, field sitting, organized drives and even predator calling. Black bears are hunted in the spring and/or the fall depending on location thereby creating extended hunting opportunity. And no matter where, how or when you hunt black bear, a mature boar is a crafty, challenging animal to hunt.
While serious attacks on humans by black bear are exceedingly rare, there is a special feeling about hunting any animal that could conceivably hunt you! When a curious young bear has its paw on the bottom rung of the ladder to the stand in which you’re sitting, it’s not easy to remember it’s probably not dangerous!
Black Bear Facts
The breadth of the black bear’s distribution is stunning. The bear’s historic range stretches from Alaska in the north and deep into Mexico in the south; California in the west to the entire length of the Atlantic Coast in the east. Even today bear are still reported at times in nearly this entire territory. In fact, black bear are more commonly seen each year in suburban areas surrounding major cities, and these areas are believed to be establishing resident populations.
The size of black bear hunters might encounter during spring or fall seasons ranges the gamut. A sow may bring her twin or even triplet cubs weighing less than 15 pounds each to enjoy an easy meal at a bait. In the fall, as black bear fatten up for the winter’s hibernation, hunters can encounter bear at their heaviest with thick layers of fat. The heaviest recorded black bear taken by hunters have tipped the scales slightly in excess of 800 pounds. “Average” sized bear taken by hunters range from 150 pounds to 300 pounds depending on location and season.
Black bear emerge from hibernation in the mid- to late-spring depending on the region. They have not eaten all winter, so chowing down is their first order of business. While black bears are true omnivores, most tend to focus first spring forays on greening grass and vegetation to get their systems going again. Hunters in mountain states use this to their advantage in spotting bears feeding in meadows and clear cuts.
“The rut” for black bear occurs in June and July, and into early August in northernmost habitats. Bears cover great distances during this time seeking mating opportunities and this makes them most visible and likely to encounter humans. Late summer and fall are spent “fattening up” on whatever nature or human disposal provides. In northern U.S. tourist regions, watching bears feed at designated sites is a traditional evening pastime. In preparation for hibernation bears will increase their weight by as much as 80 percent. Pelts will be at their longest and most luxurious when bears enter the den in November or December. However, some populations of black bear, particularly in the southwestern United States and Mexico are known to hibernate minimally or not at all, and can be encountered year round.
Sows that were bred will enter the hibernation den pregnant and give birth to the cubs during the winter. Cubs are frequently twins, sometimes triplets and occasionally quadruplets. They are born tiny and helpless, but grow and put on weight in the den to emerge in the spring with the sow to head out on feeding forays immediately. Boars have been known to kill cubs both as prey and to allow that sow to come back in season again that spring. If a sow has new-born cubs with her, she will not come back into season until the following year.
Despite the name, all black bear are not black. In fact in some mountain and desert states of the western United States color phases other than black (brown, cinnamon, blonde, etc.) are more predominant than black. On the Alaska and British Columbia Coasts there are black bears with a rare bluish tinge to their coats that have taken on the local name of “Glacier Bears” or “Blue Bears.” And on Alaska’s Coastal Islands and the adjacent mainland of southwestern British Columbia there are white to cream colored black bears called the Kermode subspecies.
Black Bear Hunting
The Boone and Crockett Club has a single category in its records for black bear regardless of where the animal was taken in North America or of which of the more than 15 taxonomic subspecies in which the animal is classified. Safari Club International records include a separate category for the Vancouver Island Black Bear as these bear have evolved some very specific characteristics related to their isolation on the island and are a highly prized trophy species that benefit from feeding on annual salmon runs.
Regardless of which method you choose in hunting black bear, the widest hunting opportunity and best success is achieved by employing the services of an experienced, highly-rated outfitter. This is certainly true of the most common hunting method which is baiting. Achieving high odds of success, particularly in encountering a bear of trophy-sized proportions, requires establishing and maintain numerous stand sites over hundreds of miles of territory. The more remote the location the better, so a quality outfitter is also best set up to provide accommodations, meals, and other services particularly for non-resident hunters and those whose hunting time is limited.
In regions where bear frequently feed and travel through open terrain like mountain meadows or logging clear cuts spotting black bear with good optics then planning and executing a stalk is an exciting way to hunt. This can also be done in coastal zones where bear feed on beaches. Spotting there is done from a boat, then you beach and make your stalk.
Hound hunting is allowed in some states, and quality outfitters stand ready to introduce hunters to this exciting hunting method. While the result can be harvesting a trophy bear, those who participate in hound hunting will tell you the real excitement is in the chase, listening to the baying of the dogs, and fighting your way to the location where the bear goes to tree.
Though less common, black bear can also be hunted by varmint calling, sitting in stands next to fields where bears are coming to feed (much like whitetail hunting) and organized drives. Gathering families and even entire communities together to make organized bear drives remains the traditional method of black bear hunting in Pennsylvania during it’s short fall season every year. By this method Pennsylvania annually produces some of the heaviest black bear taken anywhere.
Black Bear Outfitters
Experienced outfitters across bear country in North America offer packages that range from “full-service” to “a-place-to-hunt” and everything in between.
While many hunters who live outside of bear country can usually count their personal, lifetime encounters with black bear on their fingers, outfitters and guides who live and work in bear country cross paths with bears hundreds if not thousands of times each year. They get to “know” bears and become very good ad judging sex and size. In many hunting areas, it is illegal to shoot a cub bear or even a sow, and it is always discouraged. A skilled guide can help you distinguish boars from sows even at a distance of miles through a spotting scope. When hunting under these strict regulations a qualified guide is imperative … and in some states, provinces or wilderness areas … a legal requirement.
Even for experienced hunters, judging the size of a black bear is one of the most difficult “trophy hunting” skills to acquire. Especially when encountered at close range, all bear appear to be big. Hunting with an experienced black bear guide at your side will help ensure you aren’t overcome by excitement and take the first bear you see on your hunt even if it’s less than representative of what that hunting area can produce.
Here at OutfittersRating.com you can search for the highly-rated outfitter who can lead you to black bear hunting excitement no matter where, when or how you want to hunt them.