Spring Bear Hunting Tips

April 25, 2018 | Hunt

Spring is showing signs of life in the rockies as snow melts, cabin fever loosens its grip and bears wake from their dens. For states lucky enough to have a spring bear season, being surrounded by the green grasses of April can seem like a different world compared to the orange and yellow foliage of fall.

But which season produces better bears?

Whether it’s finding bears, size of bears, quality of coats, or flavor of meat, opinions vary regarding which season makes for the best bear hunt. While there may not be a conclusive right or wrong time of year to chase down bruins, both fall and spring have their advantages.

Finding Bears

Doug Joppa has guided spring bear hunts, with Stockton Outfitters, in Montana’s Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness for the last four years and says there’s no better time than early spring to be glassing for bears. One reason Joppa prefers spring is the concentration of food sources for waking bears, keeping them from wandering, like he said they do in the fall.

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Joppa said when bears wake from hibernation, they eat green grasses as a means to jump start their digestive systems, which shut down during hibernation. To take advantage of this he recommends thoroughly glassing avalanche shoots, timber lines and anywhere else with grass. Access to public lands can be more difficult in the spring, however, especially after heavy snow years. Be sure to scout spots well before the season starts to make sure you’re not met with a wall of snow.

Note: Late winters, or cold springs can keep bears in their dens for extended periods. Some lingering winters may even keep bears asleep well into bear season.

After getting the digestive system back in gear with grass, Joppa said bears start targeting newborn fawns and elk calves. This is when distress calling becomes very effective for luring in large bears.

“When you set up and you are blaring a calf distress or fawn bleat and you have a bear come in, you can pretty much bet that (it’s) going to be a good sized bear,” he said. “Once they begin to change to meat and start hunting calves and fawns just begin hunting where the elk and deer are and you have a pretty good chance.”

Pelts

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It’s not just finding bears that makes for a good trophy, however. Hunting bears at the right time of year, to get the best coat possible, is also important to hunters.

Owner of Game Trails Studio taxidermy, Steve Brett, said the time of year that produces the best coats is late fall. Brett has seen, and tanned, his fair share of bear hides and said bears taken as late in the fall as possible will have brand new coats, full of long winter hairs, which haven’t gone through the loss of fat stores associated with hibernation.

Brett doesn’t limit fine coats to the late fall, however. Catching a bear early in the spring means the winter coat will still be thick and full after hibernation, just not brand new. Brett advises to find a bear as early as possible, however, because the closer spring gets to summer, the more fur bears will rub off on trees. Brett sees the most bear pelts come into his shop during the spring, because hunters are targeting bears specifically opposed to the fall when he says taking a bear is more a matter of circumstance.

Bear Meat - A Test of Taste Buds

Bear meat is one of the more heated debates among hunters. Some people won’t dare touch a piece of bear meat, after eating a particularly rancid piece in the past, while others swear by the flavor. Author and host of MeatEater, Steven Rinella, says bears in general vary so much in flavor, it doesn’t hurt being a little picky when harvesting one to eat.

Rinella said his only real issue with the spring is taking a bear in a marine environment, like the Alaskan coast. Dietary factors like eating fish or massive amounts of carrion are the reasons bear meat tastes bad, he said. While in the fall this can work in your favor as a high mountain, berry fed bruin will taste almost sweet.

“You are always rolling the dice with bear meat,” Rinella said.

In coastal regions where fish is a primary source of food, Rinella will only hunt bears in the first few weeks of spring. This way their fat deposits, which carried any fishy flavoring, have been used through hibernation and they are still grazing on plants to jump start their digestive tract. While he would prefer to eat a berry fed fall bear, he enjoys spring hunting for the opportunity to hunt when there are no other seasons open and said he has eaten more spring bear meat than fall. Areas like the Rockies, he added, offer little difference in flavor between spring and fall. However, he advises to take caution with bears that have gorged themselves on rotten carcasses in any environment.

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“You are always rolling the dice with bear meat…I’d rather eat skanky meat, than feel like I’ve wasted meat.”

If you’re unlucky enough to harvest a rancid tasting bear, he suggests trimming all fat deposits off and rendering them down for future use. Rendering the fat will mitigate any ill flavoring and offer a cooking aid superior to butter, he said. Regardless of season, though, always get your bear meat checked for the microorganism Trichinella Spiralis, a type of worm, which infects bears and even Rinella himself.

There may be no definitive best season to hunt black bear. And even with the variability of bear flavor, it’s a rare case when an animal is too rancid tasting to eat.

“I’d rather eat skanky meat, than feel like I’ve wasted meat,” Rinella said.

Spring bear season opens for select states in a matter of days and while there is no clear cut, superior bear season, the most important factor is getting in and enjoying the woods.

Updated August, 2018