When the deer hunting season ends, most hunters typically start preparing for what’s next on the calendar. In the spring, apart from turkeys, black bears are a top prize every avid hunter wants to go after. Unlike other hoofed animals, however, bears are smarter and even more wary of their surroundings. That makes beating them at their own game that much more satisfying but also that much more challenging.
Apart from the thrill of tracking down and catching a black bear in the wild, their meat is also surprisingly good. It is described as a combination of beef and pork and is surprisingly delicious after a short stay in the smoker.
In this article, we will dive deep into the world of black bears, learn more about them, see how we can lure and track them, and find out which are the best tactics for a successful hunt. Moreover, we will get to hear the story of an experienced black bear hunter named Peter from Newfoundland, Canada.
Now, without further delay, let’s get straight into this!
Getting to Know Black Bears
Black bears are the most common bear species in North America. They are also the smallest species of bears in the USA and can be found in a variety of geographical locations and habitats. There are a total of nearly 20 subspecies of black bears, including New Mexico, Eastern, California, Cinnamon, East Mexico, Newfoundland, Louisiana, and other black bears. They each vary slightly in size, diet, and habitat but still share the same family and are visually very similar.
The American Black Bear weighs the most in the Fall, which is their so-called “pre-den weight”. On average, the males can be anywhere between 150 and 550 lbs, while the females are around 100 and 400 lbs. Here are a few more quick facts to know about these animals:
- Black bears have an excellent sense of smell. They can smell food sources or threats more than a mile away from them
- Black bears can achieve speeds of up to 35 miles per hour when they run
- Aggression isn’t common among them but it peaks around the months of August when they look for energy-dense food sources to prepare for hibernation
- Bears in general hate the smell of pine and cayenne pepper, as well as ammonia
- Contrary to that, they are attracted by almost any strong and pungent odor or scent, typically related to human trash or animal leftovers
- Black bears are shy and usually avoid human interactions
- Despite the bear spray or gun being the best repellents, fighting back or simply shouting is usually enough to scare away a black bear
Where do black bears live?
North American black bears typically inhabit the forested areas of the country, as well as huge parts of Canada. They can be found throughout the NE parts of the USA, as well as the Appalachian mountains, the northern Midwest, Maine, Georgia, and Alaska. Recently, there have been sightings in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
One of the main characteristics of their habitat is that it is sparsely populated and heavily vegetated. They live higher in the mountains than most other omnivores and can reach regions that are 10,000 ft in elevation. Black bears coming near towns and bigger population areas aren’t common and occur mainly due to food scarcity.
What do they eat?
American black bears are omnivores, meaning they can eat both plants and other smaller animals, as well as fish. Their diet varies depending on the season but mainly consists of berries, fruits, salmon, and insects. They are often attracted by population centers due to the abundance of food available in the form of trash and small animals.
Despite their acquired taste for grass vegetation and insects, they can quickly adjust and develop an acquired taste for our trash and even carrion.
When hunted down, they will typically have a belly full of berries, as shown in the picture on the right.
When are black bears active?
In terms of the time of day, black bears will be most active during the early morning and late evenings. In terms of seasons, they are usually active in the Spring and Summer in the said hours. Further south, you will see black bears scouting for food in the Fall or even Winter, especially if they are females.
In terms of hibernation, black bears enter their dens in October or November. However, the further South you go, the higher the chance of you seeing a black bear in the winter months without it hibernating. When they go out of hibernation, it is typically early spring, right around when the hunting season starts.
The breeding period of black bears is between the months of June and July. The litter is typically born in the months of January and February.
Hunting Your First Black Bear
Before you even think about going out to hunt a black bear, you need to prepare a few things. For starters, it’s the conditions that allow you to go out black bear hunting, not the calendar. What I am trying to say is that even with the open season for black bear hunting, you should still look at the weather forecast.
Bears don’t emerge from their dens when the hunting season starts. They emerge when the weather gets warm and sunny enough, as well as the vegetation starts to grow. That information also helps you in regards to where to look for them. Open areas like meadows and clear-cuts are going to be prime spots for black bears as soon as they leave their dens from winter hibernation.
You can also hunt bears in the Fall, making scouting in August very important. That is the time they are also the most active and the most aggressive since they are looking for energy-rich foods to gain mass before their hibernation period.
Prehunt Planning and Preparations
One of the easiest ways to scout your area beforehand is by using Google Maps. Look for corn fields or any other type of agricultural fields, as well as meadows and clearcuts. You can also look for images taken in August to find traces of bear activity.
You can also look for berry patches, cherry trees, or oak and beech trees that will provide plenty of food for black bears. These can be located in various spots or at wetland edges or ridges.
If you want to spend the extra time and effort, put boots on the ground in the pre-hibernation months and look for bear traces. That will give you an approximate idea of where these same bears will be come springtime. You can also hunt bears during the Fall, depending on the state you’re in.
Also, plan your day accordingly. A typical day of hunting bears should have you up and ready by sunrise. Track and find good spots in the morning but don’t get disparaged if you don’t encounter any bears by noon. By lunchtime, have a rest, eat, enjoy nature, and recoup some of that lost energy in the morning because as the afternoon rolls in, you will repeat the whole process once again and continue scouting.
A few general pointers
- Try reducing your human scent as much as possible. Use hunting detergents or scent-free ones. Store your hunting equipment and clothes in bags with natural vegetation or in an airy outside environment.
- Keep a close eye on the wind. Always try to stay downwind from the bear you’re tracking. That way you will manage to get closer virtually undetected unless you are noisy.
- Pay attention to the legal hours in which you can hunt bears. They will be most active around the end of your hunting hours which is roughly 30 minutes after sunset. That is also the point where good visibility for an ethical shot also fades out.
- Always be prepared to field dress the bear. If you’re hunting in the Fall, the temperatures are usually promoting quick spoilage, so don’t waste time. Learn how to field dress a black bear here!
- Using fawn or calf distress calls can lure in some bears, especially once the fawning season begins. It is important, however, that you do that in an area with decently sized deer and eld populations.
- Keep the middle hours of the day for a good rest and focus on regenerating your powers. You can resume hunting in the afternoon and well into the evening!
Ensuring a correct shot placement is both ethical and will save you a lot of headaches. This is pretty much valid for both bowhunters and riflehunters. The first thing you must understand and remember is that bears aren’t built the same way as deer. The bear’s chest is more compressed and well-protected than the one of a deer.
To add to that, a wounded bear can run for significantly longer periods before dying from blood loss. Also, bears are harder to track due to their excessively big fat layer and hide. Similarly to deer, you’re trying to hit an approximately 8-inch zone behind the front shoulder of the animal.
The best shot you can take at a black bear is a broadside one. If the bear you’re aiming at is at a stride, avoid shooting when the near leg is behind on the stride because its bones will then protect the vital organs. Wait for a forward step with the leg that is closer to you to take your shot. Bear shoulders are also quite massive so landing a shot there will most likely only injure the animal.
Headshots are also not recommended due to the thickness of their skull. The bear’s skull is also rounded, allowing for shots and arrows to sort of “bounce off” the head of the bear or lodge themselves without penetrating it.
Black Bear hunting regulations
Typically, most northern states will allow black bear hunting in the months of August, September, October, and sometimes November. Also, these states typically allow Spring hunting as well. However, the exact dates can vary, as well as other factors such as allowed weapons, times of the day, and other limitations.
That is why you need to make sure that you check your local state website for the bear hunting regulations for that specific area.
Peter’s Story & His Hunting Tips
Now, let’s introduce our guest for this article, Peter, who is an avid hunter in his free time and enjoys hunting black bears! Below is his story and expert tips on how to find your first black bear. Enjoy!
“Hi everyone, my Name is Peter.
I married a outdoors girl. She gifted us with 2 beautiful daughters who have learned to love the outdoors as well. I like to fish and hunt. Catching Cod along the NE coast in season just off from our summer home on Change Islands is something we as a family enjoy. Our main residence is located inland along the shores of Gander lake and I’m 3 minutes away from the Gander river which Is a first class Atlantic Salmon River.
I was born in Newfoundland, Canada during the baby boom era. I’ve lived here all my life. It’s a rugged place of beauty and the 16th largest island in the world. With a area of 108,860 km2 Population of 510,000 souls. I started hunting the age of 17 (we had no youth programs at that time). Hunting is an acquired skill. Always teaching you something if you let it, much like life.
I was like most. Applied to the lotto draw for moose Caribou and occasionally purchased a bear tag. While hunting is a seasonal thing there are lots of things to hunt if one wants to pursue. Big game in the fall. Moose Caribou and black bear. Sea birds along the coast from early November till February. Seals in the spring as the ice flows pass by and now we have coyote hunting 10 months a year. We also have inland bird hunting as well as rabbits.
I’ve worked all my life since 17 full-time which allowed me in the fall of 1999 to purchase a hunting and fishing lodge and really find my interest in bear hunting.
At the lodge we had tree stands set up in multiple places along our area. We would start baiting as soon as the receding winter snows would allow in prep for The spring season for clients. It was in doing this that I thought there has to be a more sporting way to hunt this magnificent creature
We have some open areas that have burned over due to forest fires and these places usually fill in with blueberries and partridge berries that the bears love to eat in the Fall! This struck me as a great place to start to spot and stalk bears in the fall. So I did.
These places are wide open. Little cover and lots of dry snapping twigs to walk on where the berries are thickest and the bears like to get. Hunting these takes patience, stealth, and keeping your nose into the wind.
A typical hunt starts with finding high ground and glassing for roaming bears on the berry grounds. Some days you can spot 4/5. Others days 0 but that’s hunting for you. Once you see a bear that you want to stalk I’d watch his feeding pattern for a bit to get the general direction he’s heading in. Then we would gauge the wind take a bearing and start out walking to get downwind of him to follow from behind. I’ve seen bears while feeding stand suddenly up and sniff the air in all directions for scent of anything then drop back down and continue feeding. I do not usually take any special gear with me for these hunts. I pack a range finder energy snacks water and my knives and a few other basic necessities that are always in my back pack.
Sometimes you may have to walk extended distances and as mentioned before stealth is important and it’s hard to be walking crawling over logs and on dry twigs quietly with a 25/35 lb pack. Also anything that would make any noise such as shells in pocket ect are no no’s. In my experience the slightest strange noise can cause 2/3 hours of stalking to end very suddenly with a 325/400 lb black bear running flat out away from that noise. I’ve seen it happen. I really prefer stalking hunts. To see these bears feed and learn about their habits is rewarding.
We have shot bears at 100/200 yards. We have also shot bears at 30/50 yards. These close shots are more challenging as your usually in among the burned forest and there are lots of twigs and dry branches that will cause a deflection on your shot. Its then you have to pick a shooting lane and wait for him to enter that lane . These close encounters are sure to get your heart pounding after tracking it for a few hours and to get in that close. If doing this. We drop the nap-sacks and carry only the gun.
In Newfoundland we are not allowed to use dogs to hunt or to track wounded game which is the reason we often go in pairs or groups of three/four people.
For the readers of this wonderful site that I’ve been following for a while, I only have one thing to say out of experience – Never put off until tomorrow, What you can enjoy today!”
After what Peter had to share with the readers of TheHuntingJack.com, let’s head over to some of the most common questions when it comes to black bear hunting!
Frequently Asked Questions about Bear Hunting
What is the best time of the day to hunt black bears?
Typically, bears will go out to look for food in the early hours of the day. You can also find them scouting for nuts, berries, yellow jackets, and other food sources at dusk so plan your hunt accordingly. Usually, taking a break during the midday hours is a good way to rest and enjoy nature to its fullest. Still, make sure you keep your noise and scent profile to a minimum.
What is the best gun and ammo for black bear hunting?
Some of the best cartridges for black bear hunting are the .308 Winchester or a 30-06 Springifled with a 180-grain spitzer bullet. Some ammo I really enjoy for black bears is the Barnes Triple Shock, the Nosler Partition, and the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw. The Lapua Magnum .338 also works but might be overkill for smaller bears.
What are the best black bear attractants?
Learning which are the best bear baits usually takes some time and patience. However, in general, black bears are attracted to any type of strong scent. In terms of bait, they really like sweet baits as opposed to meaty ones. Doughnuts, dog food, and bread (all of them greased up heavily and/or covered in sweet syrup) will attract pretty much any bear.
Is black bear meat good for cooking?
Black bear meat is excellent for cooking and is an insanely rich source of protein, as well as other minerals such as phosphorus, iron, different vitamins from the B-group, and others!
For more information on how to prepare and cook black bear meat, click here!
Hunting bears is one of the most thrilling types of hunts you can get into. Bears are smart, vigilant, and wary of their surroundings. I hope that learning, remembering, and using some of the black bear hunting tips you read in my article will come in handy when you decide to go out and start tracking your first bear!