I come from a long line of hunters, most of whom, rave about black bear hunting. I made a pact with myself to never hunt anything I wouldn’t eat and after hearing how awful black bear meat was, I simply refused to hunt it. Then I had a chance to taste my uncles famous black bear stew. It was the best stew I had ever had. Many would agree. But the taste doesn’t hold a candle to the actual experience of the hunt. It’s truly one of the most thrilling and challenging animals to hunt.
Here in California, black bears are very common, especially in resort areas. The population has continually increased every year with more than 40 percent of the entire population residing in the Sierra Nevada mountains. As the population continues to increase, black bears are becoming more of a nuisance than ever, especially in Yosemite and the Lake Tahoe regions.
You won’t have to worry about extinction hunting black bear and you may actually be helping to control the population if you decide to pursue these intelligent troublemakers. As plentiful as they are, hunting them is another thing entirely. The first year I got a tag, I passed up an epic shot. I wish I hadn’t because it took many more years to get another. Here are a few ways to increase your odds.
Sense of smell
Rumor has it that a bear can smell your breakfast from 20 miles away. These critters have an amazing sense of smell. De-scenting and using the wind are the two most important things to consider. If they get a whiff of you, they will be gone in a flash. I was archery hunting two years ago and a big boar walked within 20 feet of me down a creek bed. I watched him turn over a log and eat some ants. He never even knew I was there—that was a year I didn’t get a bear tag.
Sense of hearing
Black bears can only hear about four times better than us, but they can hear a broad range of frequencies. If you’re moving around, even a little, they will know. It’s a good idea to get to your spot early and wait for the bear. Otherwise, you have a good chance that he will hear you coming and know where you are. They have an amazing ability to pinpoint sounds.
Sense of sight
Although bears can see about as well as us, they are able to differentiate between colors. They will spook if they notice an unnatural color in the woods. Make sure your cammo has the right pattern and once again, be as still as possible. They also can see very well in the dark.
Bear sign is usually easy to spot. They are creatures of habit and usually follow the same trails. You will know you’re on track when you see all the carnage they leave behind. They love to uproot logs and stumps, turn over rocks, and dig up roots. They also leave big tracks. I find a lot of sign on steep clearcuts and ridge tops. Also look for big scat that usually has berries in it. Sometimes it will be full of grass as well. You’ll know when you see bear scat. Bears love berries, so if you see thickets with a lot of berries, there’s a good chance that a bear will come to eat there.
Bears are nocturnal and the jury is out whether dawn or dusk is best. I have had the best luck at first light. One of the best things about getting a bear tag is that you can hunt till the end of December. Opening coincides with general deer season. Once you come within shooting distance to one of these big animals, you will realize how small you are. The challenge and the adrenaline rush of being in a bears presence in the wild will have you hooked as well. And, yes, they are delicious if you know how to cook them.