February 28, 2014 – Jeff Dunn, Faith in the Field (Guest Blogger)
John and I glassed the creek bottoms on the adjacent hillside after catching a magnificent break from a spring shower in southwest Oregon. The new greenery that tipped each fir bow glowed in the evening sun as water droplets shimmered all around. After months indoors, it felt good to be out and about again, and that’s exactly how Oregon’s black bears felt too. I connected on the third bear we saw that evening, right at dusk on our first trek of spring.
Spring bear hunting in Oregon, it’s just about that time of year again! Around this time I receive questions about how to be a successful spring bear hunter. Some of these common questions include:
What are the best tips for sizing up a bear at a distance?
How do you scout for bears in the spring?
What food sources are bears focusing on?
These are all great questions. The truth is each bear is different (just like you and I), but again, just like us, they are creatures of habit. Therefore, the key is focusing on a few very important factors. So lets jump right in!
#1 – Food Sources & Habits
One key to any successful bear hunt is knowing their food sources and their habits. And no, my kids are not part of their food source!! From skunk cabbage swamps and grass covered ravines or roads on the west side, to wild onion patches and biscuit root on the east side, bears awake in spring and have one thing on their mind…food.
It’s important you cover ground with your binoculars and boots to find food sources and sign. Stay focused on south facing slopes where snow melts first and new growth sprouts earliest. You can locate torn up stumps, bright green grass, dandelion patches and other food sources with your binoculars as easily as on foot, so look closely for more than bears – look for a bear’s activity. Once you find sign and/or food, be patient, and use your ears to listen for bears as much as using your glass to see them. They can bury themselves deep into vegetation, but they can also make a lot of noise.
#2 – Weather Impacts Bears and You!
The best time of year varies annually and by region. In northeast Oregon, an earlier snow melt allows for better access to more areas where bears are already in search of food. Snow levels don’t affect bear activity as much as access to where the bears are. When the weather warms, the bears are out, but deep snow drifts and snow covered roads on the shady side of the mountains can reduce access greatly. Where legal, snow mobiles, four wheelers and boots on the ground can get you into areas larger vehicles can’t go. It’s also smart to make sure if you’re headed for an area known for snow you have a plan in case you get stuck!
On the west side, sunshine and warmer temperatures can bring new growth on early in the season and snow isn’t as big of a factor. Bears may be less active early in April, but can be concentrated near earlier food sources and be easier to find. Later in the season, more bears may be out, but can be scattered as feed is more readily available. Also, don’t discount cooler, north facing slopes where new growth happens later in the season.
#3 – Making the Stalk & Sizing Your Bear
Once everything falls in place and you locate your first bear, the challenge isn’t over. Often times the trek from point A to point B can be daunting, sizing a bear on the foot can be very difficult, and making an ideal shot is critical. As you move into position on a bear, first of all, scan carefully for cubs. They’re the size of a basketball in the spring and can be very hard to find, so watch the larger bear for signs that she may have cubs, notice moving brush, and be certain you’re not taking a sow with cubs.
Once you establish you’re looking at a legal bear, sizing one up can be quite challenging. The quick checklist would be:
– big ears
– long legs
– plenty of space between its belly and the ground
– quick movements
– thin shoulders
A combination of these items generally mean it’s a smaller bear. A BIG bear is quite the opposite, and often times very obvious. A larger boar will appear to have:
– small ears
– blocky head and body
– short legs
– less space below its belly
– it will walk with a waddle
– slower, more methodical movements.
Once you determine it’s a bear you want to take, the most critical moment of any hunt is making a good shot. Hitting a bear in the vitals or breaking down its shoulders from a broadside angle is a must. Also note that a bear will have four inches of hair or more hanging from its belly and below its heart, so don’t aim for the lower third, aim for the middle of a bear’s body, half way up its torso. That will put you into its heart, and a smidge higher will be lungs and vital organs.
#4 – Be Comfortable
Lastly, one of the simplest tactics for a successful spring bear outing is knowing they’re just like you and I. If it’s too early in the morning, too cold, too wet or too warm, we don’t necessarily want to be out much, and bears are less active as well. But when the temperature hovers between 60-75 degrees, the skies are overcast, the wind dies down on a quiet evening or a slow warming morning, we’re comfortable, we’re more active, and the bears are out and about more often as well.
Hunting bear in the spring here in Oregon can be a very rewarding and amazing experiencing. So remember, If you’re comfortable, so are Oregon’s bruins. Enjoy your pursuits!
P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Oregon Outdoor Council blog for more great tips like these!
Jeff is part of “Faith in the Field” which produces an annual OREGON ONLY film, “capturing not only the hunt, but the beauty of the outdoors and essence of our primitive desire to explore the wilderness! We are seeking our quarry and the adventure it brings…but we are also seeking “the One” who created every aspect of it. Our desire to spend quality time outdoors is our desire to spend quality time with God.” Check them out at http://www.faithinthefield.com