Bear Hunting: Beginners Guide

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If you are new to bear hunting, there is no doubt that you will need some guidance as there is so much that you must take into account.  Both experts and novice hunters all have opinions and tips to share. 

There is always a first time for everything, and you will get lots of advice, and some may be contradictory.  More people will tell you how to place your shots, ways to field judge a bear, and more stuff about what makes an excellent bear hunt. 

In the end, you must take matters into your hands and face the reality of the wild facing a big game. The best way for a beginner to start bear hunting is by walking in the shoes of an experienced hunter. It will increase the chances of bagging a 500-pound black bear. 

The controversy surrounding bear hunting is one that never ends. In some States, bear hunting is legal, while others condemn the sport. Most people feel it’s cruel while the trophy hunters think it is controlling the bear population to balance the ecosystem.  

As a beginner, you should acquaint yourself with the laws of your hunting area. You will need a hunting license for each state you plan to hunt. The permit can be specific to a particular bear species or gender. 

What are the Reasons for Bear Hunting

People post pictures with the bears they have bagged every time and receive different opinions. Many feel it is cruel, while many others will marvel at the trophy hunt. Among the reasons people will feel it is cruel, is because they think you should only kill what you plan to eat. However, most people who hunt bears also claim the meat as food. The reasons therefore include

Bear Meat as Food

Though not popular as killing a bear for its fur and skin, other people have found a delicacy in bear meat. When it comes to eating bear meat, there comes a scare associated with eating animals that eat other animals. Bears are omnivores and carry a deadly parasite called Trichinosis. 

The parasite is nasty, and you should not risk getting an infection from it. The good news, however, is that it is easily preventable. Trichinosis parasites cannot survive temperatures above 165-degrees for at least 15 seconds. Cooking bear meat in temperatures exceeding 170- degrees is as sure as you can to eliminate the parasite and make your meat safe for human consumption. 

Bear Parts as Chinese Medicine

For many years there is a myth surrounding the use of bear parts that include the gallbladder, bile, and liver as Chinese medicine. In the world today, almost 90 percent of the total world bear hunted population harvest gallbladder and bile, which finally end up in South Korea. 

According to AP, bear gallbladder and bile is not like the myth of the rhinoceros horn being an aphrodisiac. A bear’s gall bladder has value as medicine as it produces ursodeoxycholic acid, which is popular as Chinese medicine for treating cardiac and liver-related diseases. Bear gall products are quite pricey and will fetch a good price.

Conservation of Wildlife

Bears do not have natural predators, save for humans who hunt them to control the bear population. If left unchecked, the bear population will increase, which means that the animals they prey on will dwindle in number. 

During spring, bears are awake from their slumber and want to replenish their lost body fat and weight. The bears prey on fawns and the deer and elks. Conservation of the wildlife, therefore, entails that there is a balance in the ecosystem. 

Most game and fish departments in many states work round the clock to come up with the elk, deer, and bear population every year. When the season opens, they determine the permits available for which animals you can hunt. The idea is to maintain the healthy population of all animals and prevent many species from becoming extinct through hunting. 

Some states require hunters to report all their harvest to work out a quota system. Regardless of the state, you are in, failure to adhere to these rules may lead to hefty fines and penalties. 

What are the Different Types of Bear Species in the US?

There are only 11 bear species from all over the world, but you can only trace three species in North America. They include

Black Bear

The black bear is not entirely black, as the name suggests. Sometimes it comes in brown, white, and black color variations. There is a 900,000 black bear population in North America, and this is quite a significant presence. 

Black bears exist in 40 of the 50 states and are not listed as endangered species. Many states allow the hunting of black bears, but not all the subspecies are open to hunting. Some states prohibit the hunting of the Louisiana black bear as they consider them to be on the verge of extinction.

The Grizzly Bear 

The grizzly bear is larger than the black bear in physical appearance. It is common to find the grizzly bears in Wyoming, Yukon, Alberta, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, and the North-Western territories. 

The brown bear or the Kodiak bear is the coastal variations of the grizzly bear. The name grizzly bear comes from the appearance of the coat that is somewhat grizzled. The grizzly bear is a smaller version of the brown bear and is more prone to reside in the inland than the coastal regions. 

Though brown bears and grizzly bears belong to the same species, biologists think it’s time they get separated as they live isolated lives. 

Polar Bears

Polar bears stay in the Arctic habitat, which is remote and therefore makes them have no relative human interference from the human population. The polar bear is the only large carnivore that will maintain its original habitat.

Understanding the Difference between Grizzly Bears and Black Bears

Despite the brown bear’s removal from the list of endangered bear species, some states still regulate the hunting of brown bears. The regulations can include hunting the brown bear only when it becomes a threat to the humans or attacks the cattle of the neighboring human population. 

Sometimes hunters can get away with killing brown bears in a case of mistaken identity. It is a common case because it is challenging to tell them apart as both black bears and brown bears range in color variations. 

Color Variations

Most people expect that all grizzly bears are brown and grizzled while all black bears are black. The color of the coats is not a definitive way to tell the two species apart. Black bears are not always black as sometimes they are brown, blue-black, cinnamon, or dark brown.

The grizzly bear coat variation is on its shoulders and the back, and from a distance, the bear can appear to have both darker and lighter upperparts. Like the black bear, it also has coat variations and can seem to have black, brown, cinnamon, or a blonde coat. 

Body Size

It is also unreliable to make a definitive distinction between the two species of bears based on their body size. To begin with, it’s a rookie mistake to overestimate the size and weight of bears. Grizzly adult female bears can weigh from 200-350 pounds while the males will weigh between 350-600 pounds. 

On size difference, black bears fall short, but the male black bear will weigh between 200- 300 pounds, which is similar to the female grizzly bear. The size and height are also the same, and the physical difference is not a telling factor from a distance. 

Shoulder Hump

If you manage to get close enough to see if the bear has a shoulder hump or not, then you can tell the difference quickly. Grizzly bears have a distinctive shoulder hump while the black bear doesn’t. The grizzly bear has developed muscle on the shoulder from turning massive rocks and constant digging as they forage for food. 

Depending on the angle the black bear stands, it will have its back as the highest point when standing on all fours.  The shoulder hump is quite elaborate on adult males as they are heavier and more substantial than the adult male black bear. 

Another way to tell the grizzly bear apart from the black bear is by using the rump. In a grizzly bear, the backside will be lower than the shoulder hump. From a front perspective, this makes the grizzly bear appear large and intimidating. 

Facial Profile

A black bear has a fairly straight face with eyes far apart compared to a grizzly bear with eyes cast deep. A grizzly bear has a more pronounced look with a disc shape or concave slant from the eyes running to the nose tip. Black bears also have a shorter snout compared to the grizzly bear, which appears to have a prominent and broader muzzle. 

Grizzly bears grow fuzzier and longer facial fur than the black bear with a short coat on the face. 

The Shape of the Ears

Compared to the black bears, the grizzly bear’s ears are more round-shaped and smaller to match the size of its head. The black bear ears are long, straight, and pointed. But the shape and size of the ears is not a reliable way to tell the difference. 

For example, when a grizzly bear is wet, the ears appear longer and pointed like the black bear. Similarly, at a different angle, the ears of a huge black bear can appear short and round. 

Front Claws

Grizzly bears have more extended claws than black bears. The size of the claws is adaptive to each species habitat. Grizzly bears have long claws that measure between 2-5-inches, whereas the black bear has claws that are 2-inches or less. 

The grizzly bears can develop claws the size of an adult human fingers that come in handy when digging for prey. Black bear claws are shorter to allow them to climb trees and also split decaying logs as it hunts for insects. 

Bear Tracks

You can quickly tell the tracks apart because the grizzly bear has a somewhat square paw than the black bear, which appears to be more rounded. To eliminate any doubt, you can draw a straight edge from both ends on the grizzly bear’s paw. The line will not cut across any toe from all sides. As for the black bear, drawing a straight line across the paws will cut out a toe.

Guide to Hunting Bears

Bear hunting techniques may vary based on the kind of bear you are hunting. But when in North America, black bear and grizzly bear hunting is legal in most states and hence most references will fall on their adaptive characteristics to nature. 

Prepare Well 

If you want your hunt to be productive, you must prepare well for the day ahead. Bear hunting needs more skills and physical aptness as you are going to traverse extensive grounds of harsh terrain. The first thing you have to know is the location you will take the hunt. Before starting the hunting quest, ensure you understand the regulations of bear hunting for that area. 

You should also carry protective clothing and the right equipment for bear hunting. Catching a bear on the first day of your hunt can be challenging, and you may need to make a camp as you trail the bears for days. 

You should also prepare for the weather and have the right gear to help you cope with different climates and weather changes. 

Understand the Nature of the Bear You are Hunting

Bears are massive and appear to be intimidating every time you face one. Despite their size, bears will frighten when you scare it and flee. The basic instinct of most wild animals is survival, and that is why similar to bears, they all avoid conflict. 

Wild animals will choose flight most of the time when confronted with a fight or flight situation. An injury to a wild animal may hamper its chances of getting a future meal as they do not have hospitals to recover. Fatal wounds lead to death, and it is why bears will run away from you when they spot you. Hunting bears, therefore, also needs stealth in the tracking and shooting process. 

Bear Hunting Techniques 

When hunting a bear in its vast territory and habitat, the bear has the advantage over the hunter. One thing that gives away your position is the scent. Bears have a strong sense of smell at a molecular level. They can smell your scent from over a mile, so you must use a scent eliminator to stalk a bear successfully. 

Bears depend on their nose for social interaction with other bears to find food and detect danger. Bears tend to check the wind before approaching any feeding area. Their curious nature is a survival instinct, and you should play the wind to prevent the bear from catching your scent. Here are the various types of hunting techniques you can use in the field. 

Stand Hunting

Most hunters find success when hunting bears from a stand. The idea behind a stand is waiting for a bear to come to your hunting area. It will allow you to take a good aim and have a clear shot. 

Before setting a stand, you must scout the location during preseason so that you can know the bears’ typical feeding zones. Understanding the topography also gives you an advantage when tracking bears through the woods. 

You should set your stand on the feeding, travel, and bedding zones of the bears during the hunt. After identifying a trail, set up a stand at least 15 yards away to prevent the bear from picking your scent.  An elevated angle is also an advantage as it will increase your visibility and hide you from the bear’s plane of detection. 

Setting up a Tree Stand

A tree stand is one of the safest hunting techniques hunters use to bag big game. Like setting up a stand, tree stands should be in areas where the bears feed, rest, and travel routes. It is like setting an ambush when perched on a tree. 

However, hunters should be careful when on a tree stand. Most hunting accidents are tree stand related because hunters fall off the trees when holding a stand. Hunters should inspect all tree stands to ensure that they are safe before climbing on them. See our article on Tree Saddle Hunting for Beginners

Still Hunting

It involves sneaking and stalking a bear through the woods because the still-hunting movements should be slow with glassing breaks to try and spot a bear. Hunters prefer still hunting in a place they can see a large area. Ridges that overlook a bedding or feeding sights are perfect for still hunting, and they can be used to provide cover for the hunter when approaching. 

When still-hunting, try to steer clear from the wind to avoid the bear catching your scent. When glassing, you should use your binoculars and not your rifle’s scope. As a safety measure, you should only aim through your scope and fire when you spot a bear. 

Driving and Hunting

Similar to the technique used when hunting the whitetail deer, you can have hunters riding the truck to push through an area they suspect there is bear presence. The bear will then run in the direction where other hunters have set a stand and can have a shot. 

When driving, everyone must have a hunting permit and licenses contrary to the laws of the area they are conducting the hunt. Most hunters feel this is a cruel way of hunting, but to the one who bags the prize, it is a legitimate way of hunting. 

Bear Calling

Similar to coyotes and foxes, you can use predatory sounds to lure in bears to a shooting zone. The bleat of fawns, turkey cries, and rabbit squeals are effective in drawing bears from hiding and come to the open in search of the prey. 

When using sounds to lure the bear, you should identify the spots where a bear frequents often. Such places include the feeding, bedding, and travel routes of the bears. Experienced hunters know that bears have a short attention span, and they are most likely to come running when you make persistent and continuous calls. 

When calling a bear to a shooting zone, you should be cautious and ready as you do not know if the bear will approach aggressively or nonchalantly. Make sure you understand the hunting laws of the land as well. In some hunting areas, you are not allowed the use of electric calls. Remember that the bear is coming to ambush you when making the calls; hence, you risk your life as you may come face to face with a bear. 

Hunting with Hounds

Hunting bears with hounds is for the skilled hunter as it requires using dogs trained in tracking bears.  See the best-hunting dogs. You should use hounds that can smell the air and ground for bear scent and be able to follow it once it catches the bear’s whiff. 

A guide and an expert in hound behavior know when a dog has picked the scent of a bear and can release the dog to pursue the track. Some people hunt with around ten dogs and might choose to let them go all at once to trap the bear.

Tracking a bear using dogs is not easy. The chase can last several hours as the bears can run for long hours without stopping.  The hunt starts when the hounds get visual confirmation of the bear, and an expert guide will know because the intensity of the barking from your dogs will be more. 

When hunting with dogs, radio tracking collars come in handy since the dogs may disappear into the woods, and you will need to track them when they corner the bear. The chase ends when your dogs come back to you, scare the bear into climbing a tree, or when the bear decides to fight the dogs to the death. You should be within distance to help your dogs from a bear attack.

Hunting with Bait

Most novice hunters assume that baiting a bear is a hunter’s con to bear hunting. They believe luring a hungry bear with food is all it takes to take advantage and kill it. Anti-hunters feel this is a cruel form of hunting, but they are wrong. Baiting is one of the most physical and tasking hunting techniques you can adopt. 

Bait hunting requires you to have many bait sites based on the bears’ trail and feeding habits. Set up stands along with these places and be careful not to set it against the blinding sun for the evening hunter. You must also try to keep your stands hidden from other hunters who may take advantage of an empty stand. 

It is not given that bears will take your bait immediately when you place them, so you will need to keep refilling the bait sites, which can be costly.

How to Field-Judge a Bear

Black bears do not have antlers like the whitetail deer or the mule deer, and this makes them one of the hardest big game animals you can field judge. But you can use these elements to size up your bear before taking the shot. 

Identity

Be sure to identify if it is a black bear you are hunting or a grizzly bear. Check for the shoulder hump as black bears do not have that. Do not use coat color to tell the difference, as this can be quite unreliable. Once you have confirmed the identity check if the bear has cubs, the yearlings or the blocky two-year-old cubs can be found. Let the bear go if it has cubs or below the trophy size. 

Context 

Where is the bear located? If it is foraging in the best berry patch or down center, the best spots for catching fish on the river, you are dealing with a mature boar. Juvenile bears do not control territories and will feed on the periphery. 

Attitude

Big boars walk with a swagger in their steps. If the bear walks as if it owns the meadows, then you have yourself a trophy hunt compared to bears that shy away or seem edgy around other bears.  Smaller bears can be juveniles or smaller bear specimens. 

Scales

One reason hunters use to support bait hunting is they can use known objects to scale the bears’ sizes. For example, you can scale the bears using a large feeding drum or against other bears as they feed. The most challenging bear to scale down is the solo bear, as there is nothing you can use to compare its size. 

The Anatomical Features

You can tell the size of the bear by its physical appearance. Check for the saggy belly, length of the legs, and the size of the ears as older bears may appear shorter and closer to the ground. It is because of the saggy belly and masculine body form. 

What is the Best Shot Placement for Hunting Bears

All hunters should strive to get the killer shot that will be both quick and effective. Hunters need lots of training to make quick kills on the field when using both a bow and a rifle. You must understand the power of your weapon and use it to hand a deadly blow. It is merciful to the bear and saves you from tracking a wounded bear through the woods, which can be quite risky if it charges at you. 

When the near leg is back, the leg and shoulder bones protect the lungs and heart of the bear. Wait until the bear places the near foot forward to have a better shot placement. Strike between an 8-inch radius from behind the bear’s shoulder to hit its vital organs. 

Bears have thick flesh, bones, and skin, and you will need a powerful rifle to blast through the protective layers. The best bear hunting rifles and calibers are ones that have enough power and range.  You should choose a gun that offers you both a hunting advantage as well as a defensive option in case the bear charges at you after your first shot. 

The Best Bear Hunting Rifles

Winchester M70 Model .375 Cal

It has a controlled feed action that makes it reliable on the field. It does not jam when taking shots and has excellent maneuverability in the woods, as you can hang it on your shoulders with the strap. The caliber is heavy-hitting and has a long-range to ensure fatal shots. 

Ruger Hawkeye Alaskan .375 Cal

It is a defensive model that has sets of iron express sights. The Ruger .375 also has dependability on the field as it rarely jams and has excellent controlled feed action. It packs lots of punch and can take down big game from a long-range. 

Remington 870- 12 Gauge

The advantage of a shotgun is that it has a buckshot that makes it easy to follow a moving target much faster. The 12 gauge Remington 870 is a defensive weapon that is most effective at close range. It packs a heavy punch that can stop a charging bear when it comes to you. 

Marlin 1845 .450 Cal

It is a favorite for many Alaskan hunters as it packs quite a heavy punch and is dependable as a defensive and assault rifle. It has two popular blends, the .45-7- and .450 Cal. And both are devastating when shooting inside 100 yards. 

When going to bear hunt, you should consider your safety as well. The best practice is preparing in advance before the season opens by scouting the areas you plan to hunt in. You should also make regular rifle training to know the best practices of your rifle and safety mechanisms. Carrying a first aid kit is also an advantage as accidents sometimes happen when out hunting. Consider the laws of the land and only glass through your rifle scope when you are aiming at a bear.   

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