Keeping secrets is harder than ever within the hunting community, but for some reason black bear hunting still flies under the radar. Is it time for more hunters to consider bears a primary target and not just an alternative big game animal?
While the popularity of spring bear hunting in places like Montana and Idaho has increased, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The truth is we’ve got bear hunts all over the lower 48 that define nearly everything hunters want - adventure, wild places, risk, and meat in the freezer.
Black bears are one of the few big game animals with rising populations and growing opportunities - minus the attacks from anti-hunters taking cheap shots at our seasons and traditions. Strangely, some of the most compelling bear hunts are rarely talked about outside of local hunters privy to inside information. Better yet, they offer some of the best opportunities to experience supreme challenge and adventure in some of the wildest areas of the country.
Here are three reasons to go all-in on making black bear hunting a priority...and not just a pursuit when nothing else is in season.
Places like Alaska and multiple Canadian provinces have long shined as destinations for bear hunting. However, locations all over the Lower 48 are notorious for cranking out big black bears.
For example, the world record came from a skull found in Utah. Coastal North Carolina routinely produces bruins weighing over 500 lbs. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin combined have nearly half of the top 20 bears in the Boone and Crocket record book. We could go on and on with facts and figures, but the point is you’ve probably got an opportunity to bear hunt within a day's drive. And since record-book skulls aren’t the driving motivation for most hunters, it’s worth noting that many states harvest high numbers of bears every year with little to no fanfare. This includes the well-known Western destinations and states further east, such as Wisconsin, Maine, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. And if we’re talking about tag availability, many bear permits are available over-the-counter. This is often the perfect addition to a deer tag if you want twice the opportunity. For those who like to play the points game, there’s also premier tags in various states that few people talk about outside the resident applicant groups.
At the end of the day, it’s why we hunt. So we’ll keep this brief and put some old myths to rest. Bear meat is excellent, safe to eat, and packed with vitamins and minerals (especially iron). Bear meat can carry trichinosis, but properly cooking to eliminate any chance of transmission is easy. Chances are you’ve already got a meat thermometer at home, and cooking bear meat to 160 degrees takes care of the risk.
A single black bear provides a pile of burger, roasts, and stew meat, along with steaks from the backstraps. You can even render the fat down and use the grease for various cooking needs. Many hunters find bear meat particularly suitable for crock pot recipes and slow cooking. Regardless of how you cook it, meat care begins in the field and the Marsupial game bags and meat tarp are the perfect combination for keeping meat clean and organized before packing out.
3. True Adventure
Sure, most hunters know places like Montana and Idaho as spring destinations, but there’s opportunity to chase bears in virtually every corner of the lower 48. No matter where you go, you inevitably end up in some of the wildest, remote places each state has to offer. There’s few shortcuts either - plan on investing time, sweat equity, or both to put it all together.
But isn’t the adventure what we all want nowadays? Unpredictable outcomes, remote areas, and a challenging animal all contribute to an exceptional adventure. Maybe you want to glass up a color-phased bear in the harsh landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico. Or dive into the vertical jungles of West Virginia and follow a pack of hounds. And don’t overlook the vast Appalachian mountains where you can still hunt for bears in wilderness areas.
For a true adrenaline rush, calling up a bruin with a predator call is second to none (bino harness pouches or the universal shoulder strap pockets are perfect for keeping a call within reach).
And there’s far more to bear hunts than the pursuit of the animal itself. From the timbered forests of the Northeast to the arid Southwest and nearly everywhere in between, there’s something for everyone. Add in the fact that each region tends to have its own unique bear hunting culture and you’ve got a pile of bucket list hunts.
If they had antlers, they’d probably be as popular as elk and deer. So if you’re application strategies and hunts close to home aren’t quenching the thirst for adventure, dig deeper into some of the lesser-known black bear hunts. You just might find yourself in some of the wildest places in America with a new obsession.