Black BearBlack Bear

Where, How & When To Hunt

Black Bear

It may be surprising to some, but the second most popular big game animal across the whole of North America behind white-tailed deer is the black bear. Many factors combine to make the "common" black bear such a valued game species. They are widely distributed with hunting opportunities in approximately 50 percent of the Lower 48 states, plus Alaska and all the Canadian provinces. Varied hunting methods are employed including baiting, hounds, spot-and-stalk, field sitting, organized drives and even predator calling. Black bears are hunted in the spring and/or the fall depending on location thereby creating extended hunting opportunity. And no matter where, how or when you hunt black bear, a mature boar is a crafty, challenging animal to hunt.

While serious attacks on humans by black bear are exceedingly rare, there is a special feeling about hunting any animal that could conceivably hunt you! When a curious young bear has its paw on the bottom rung of the ladder to the stand in which you're sitting, it's not easy to remember it's probably not dangerous!

Black Bear Facts

The breadth of the black bear's distribution is stunning. The bear's historic range stretches from Alaska in the north and deep into Mexico in the south; California in the west to the entire length of the Atlantic Coast in the east. Even today bear are still reported at times in nearly this entire territory. In fact, black bear are more commonly seen each year in suburban areas surrounding major cities, and these areas are believed to be establishing resident populations.

The size of black bear hunters might encounter during spring or fall seasons ranges the gamut. A sow may bring her twin or even triplet cubs weighing less than 15 pounds each to enjoy an easy meal at a bait. In the fall, as black bear fatten up for the winter's hibernation, hunters can encounter bear at their heaviest with thick layers of fat. The heaviest recorded black bear taken by hunters have tipped the scales slightly in excess of 800 pounds. "Average" sized bear taken by hunters range from 150 pounds to 300 pounds depending on location and season.

Black bear emerge from hibernation in the mid- to late-spring depending on the region. They have not eaten all winter, so chowing down is their first order of business. While black bears are true omnivores, most tend to focus first spring forays on greening grass and vegetation to get their systems going again. Hunters in mountain states use this to their advantage in spotting bears feeding in meadows and clear cuts.

"The rut" for black bear occurs in June and July, and into early August in northernmost habitats. Bears cover great distances during this time seeking mating opportunities and this makes them most visible and likely to encounter humans. Late summer and fall are spent "fattening up" on whatever nature or human disposal provides. In northern U.S. tourist regions, watching bears feed at designated sites is a traditional evening pastime. In preparation for hibernation bears will increase their weight by as much as 80 percent. Pelts will be at their longest and most luxurious when bears enter the den in November or December. However, some populations of black bear, particularly in the southwestern United States and Mexico are known to hibernate minimally or not at all, and can be encountered year round.

Sows that were bred will enter the hibernation den pregnant and give birth to the cubs during the winter. Cubs are frequently twins, sometimes triplets and occasionally quadruplets. They are born tiny and helpless, but grow and put on weight in the den to emerge in the spring with the sow to head out on feeding forays immediately. Boars have been known to kill cubs both as prey and to allow that sow to come back in season again that spring. If a sow has new-born cubs with her, she will not come back into season until the following year.

Despite the name, all black bear are not black. In fact in some mountain and desert states of the western United States color phases other than black (brown, cinnamon, blonde, etc.) are more predominant than black. On the Alaska and British Columbia Coasts there are black bears with a rare bluish tinge to their coats that have taken on the local name of "Glacier Bears" or "Blue Bears." And on Alaska's Coastal Islands and the adjacent mainland of southwestern British Columbia there are white to cream colored black bears called the Kermode subspecies.

Black Bear Hunting

The Boone and Crockett Club has a single category in its records for black bear regardless of where the animal was taken in North America or of which of the more than 15 taxonomic subspecies in which the animal is classified. Safari Club International records include a separate category for the Vancouver Island Black Bear as these bear have evolved some very specific characteristics related to their isolation on the island and are a highly prized trophy species that benefit from feeding on annual salmon runs.

Regardless of which method you choose in hunting black bear, the widest hunting opportunity and best success is achieved by employing the services of an experienced, highly-rated outfitter. This is certainly true of the most common hunting method which is baiting. Achieving high odds of success, particularly in encountering a bear of trophy-sized proportions, requires establishing and maintain numerous stand sites over hundreds of miles of territory. The more remote the location the better, so a quality outfitter is also best set up to provide accommodations, meals, and other services particularly for non-resident hunters and those whose hunting time is limited.

In regions where bear frequently feed and travel through open terrain like mountain meadows or logging clear cuts spotting black bear with good optics then planning and executing a stalk is an exciting way to hunt. This can also be done in coastal zones where bear feed on beaches. Spotting there is done from a boat, then you beach and make your stalk.

Hound hunting is allowed in some states, and quality outfitters stand ready to introduce hunters to this exciting hunting method. While the result can be harvesting a trophy bear, those who participate in hound hunting will tell you the real excitement is in the chase, listening to the baying of the dogs, and fighting your way to the location where the bear goes to tree.

Though less common, black bear can also be hunted by varmint calling, sitting in stands next to fields where bears are coming to feed (much like whitetail hunting) and organized drives. Gathering families and even entire communities together to make organized bear drives remains the traditional method of black bear hunting in Pennsylvania during it's short fall season every year. By this method Pennsylvania annually produces some of the heaviest black bear taken anywhere.

Black Bear Outfitters

Experienced outfitters across bear country in North America offer packages that range from "full-service" to "a-place-to-hunt" and everything in between.

While many hunters who live outside of bear country can usually count their personal, lifetime encounters with black bear on their fingers, outfitters and guides who live and work in bear country cross paths with bears hundreds if not thousands of times each year. They get to "know" bears and become very good ad judging sex and size. In many hunting areas, it is illegal to shoot a cub bear or even a sow, and it is always discouraged. A skilled guide can help you distinguish boars from sows even at a distance of miles through a spotting scope. When hunting under these strict regulations a qualified guide is imperative ... and in some states, provinces or wilderness areas ... a legal requirement.

Even for experienced hunters, judging the size of a black bear is one of the most difficult "trophy hunting" skills to acquire. Especially when encountered at close range, all bear appear to be big. Hunting with an experienced black bear guide at your side will help ensure you aren't overcome by excitement and take the first bear you see on your hunt even if it's less than representative of what that hunting area can produce.

Here at OutfittersRating.com you can search for the highly-rated outfitter who can lead you to black bear hunting excitement no matter where, when or how you want to hunt them.

Black Bear Regions:

Alaksa, USA

Distribution: Black bear are found in most all forested areas of Alaska. They coexist in most of their range with inland grizzly bear, but are seldom found in the same range as coastal brown bear with the exception of the southeastern mainland. Some islands along coastal Alaska are exclusively the territory of black bear with no grizzlies or brown bear to be found and vice versa.

Timing of Seasons:  Black bear in Alaska can be hunted by nonresidents in both spring and fall hunting seasons. Spring seasons generally run from mid-April through June depending on the hunting area. In many wildlife management units open to black bear hunting, seasons run continuously from September 1 through June 30. Where and when black bear can be baited is also governed by the rules of the specific wildlife management units.

License/Permit Information: Nonresident hunters are eligible to hunt black bear in Alaska on drawing, registration and general season hunts. Drawing hunts are those that require applying in a lottery for tags for a specific game management unit. Licenses for registration hunts are sold over the counter in unlimited numbers, but when an established harvest quota is reached for the specific management unit, the season is closed. General season hunt licenses are sold over the counter in unlimited quantities.

Accessibility by non-resident hunters: The black bear is one of the few Alaskan big game species that can be hunted by nonresidents without the legal requirement of employing a licensed guide. However, the logistics of scouting, baiting and transportation into the remote wilderness of Alaska, make enlisting the service of an experienced outfitter a wise choice and significantly boost any hunter’s odds of success. A search of the records at www.OutfittersRating.com will reveal black bear outfitting services in Alaska ranging from drop camps to fully-guided and outfitted hunts.

Special Restrictions: Big game in Alaska, including the black bear, are managed in 26 distinct game management units. Season dates, bag limits, and other regulations vary per unit, so it’s critical to enlist the service of a knowledgeable, experienced outfitter to determine when and where to hunt.

Unique hunting opportunities: In addition to hunting black bear over bait, Alaska offers many opportunities for spot and stalk black bear hunting. In coastal zones, some outfitters offer hunts on which hunters are housed on large houseboats that are floating base camps. Then each day hunters and guides depart in smaller boats to glass coastal flats or scout bays and rivers for black bear. This is similar to hunting Alaska’s brown bear, but at much less expense. In the fall, it’s possible to hunt Islands like Prince of Wales Island and rivers flowing into the ocean for black bear that come to the streams to feast on migrating salmon. Encounters with dozens of bear each day are possible on these hunts.

Alaska is also the exclusive home of a blue color phase of the black bear known as the glacier bear. These bears are found in the Yakutat area and other portions of southeastern Alaska. Populations are small and isolated, but can be hunted.

Alaska Hunting Tip: No matter where you hunt them, black bear are among the most difficult of all game animals to field judge for size, age and sex. This is especially true when hunting by spot and stalk methods. High quality optics in the form of binoculars and spotting scopes are essential to analyze bear from a distance and accurately determine if an individual bear is worth a closer look. While your experienced guide will certainly have both, it adds to your pleasure and participation in the hunt to have your own to use while the guide is looking through his. It’s a true sense of accomplishment to spot any kind of game before your eagle-eyed guide does!

Alberta, Canada

Distribution: Black bear inhabit at least three-quarters of the province of Alberta, with few bears believed to live in the southeastern quadrant. However, in recent years more and more bear sightings are reported in this highly agricultural zone, particularly in the area surrounding Alberta’s second largest city, Edmonton. Black bear and grizzly bear habitat overlap in roughly the western third of Alberta.

 

Timing of Seasons:  Alberta hosts both spring and fall black bear seasons. The spring season for bow hunting runs from April 1st through May 31. Depending on the specific bear management unit, the spring general seasons also open on April 1st and run as late as June 15. Fall archery season begins as early as late August and runs through the end of November. Fall general black bear seasons begin as early as September 1st and run through November 30 depending on the specific bear management unit.

License/Permit Information: Nonresident hunters wishing to hunt black bear in Alberta must do so either by employing a licensed outfitter or hunting in the company of a licensed host hunter. Those hunting with an outfitter must acquire a black bear license from the outfitter via their annual allotment of tags.

Accessibility by non-resident hunters: As with all big game in Alberta, nonresidents must hunt by employing a licensed Albert outfitter or finding a resident hunter host. Alberta has a large and active big game outfitting industry, so www.OutfittersRating.com is the place for nonresident hunters to locate experienced, trustworthy outfitters to make your bear hunting dreams come true.

Special Restrictions: Black bear under one year of age are protected in Alberta, so it’s important the nonresident hunter be certain he/she can judge an adult black bear from a cub even in the excitement of encountering bear at close range. Careful communication with an experienced outfitter can help hunters develop this essential skill. Savvy outfitters will often include elements in a hunting stand set up to assist hunters in judging size of black bear that come to the bait. Additionally, where their habitats overlap, it’s essential hunters are able to distinguish between black bear and grizzly bear.

Unique hunting opportunities: Much of the black bear hunting in Alberta is conducted by baiting. However, in many regions bear invade crop fields causing significant damage and crop loss. This creates a unique opportunity to hunt by spot and stalk methods, and it’s sure an exciting proposition to sneak up within spitting distance of a huge, grain stuffed Alberta bruin.

Most areas in Alberta offer a two-bear limit. And on top of all that color phases from black to brown to blonde are frequently encountered in Alberta, especially in the mountain regions.

Alberta Hunting Tip: To be certain you’re hunting within the regulations in Alberta, it’s essential that you be able to judge the sex, age and size of black bear. While you can and should rely on assistance from your trusted outfitter, you should be prepared to make this judgment yourself. There are numerous books, videos and online guides to help you. Another great source are quality outdoor television programs like Outfitters Rating TV on Sportsman’s Channel. Watch the bear shows, and try to make the call on black bear trophy quality before the on-camera hunter or guide does.

Arizona, USA

Distribution: In Arizona, the black bear is found in most woodland habitats, including pinyon-juniper, oak woodland, coniferous forest, and chaparral. The primary, contiguous bear habitat cuts a swath through central Arizona from the New Mexico border angling northwest to the mountains northwest of Flagstaff. An interesting footnote to black bear distribution in Arizona is the absence of any sizeable population of black bears north of the Colorado River.

 

Timing of Seasons:  Arizona offers both spring and fall black bear hunting, but under different regulations and licensing processes. The general spring season runs from late March well into May. The spring archery season continues through July. Fall season dates vary significantly by unit, but most are from early October through the end of December. A fall archery only season precedes the general season for two weeks in late August and early September.

License/Permit Information: Arizona spring bear hunting requires hunters to draw a tag in the spring season lottery. The deadlines for this drawing occur in October of the previous year. Fall bear can be hunted on an over-the-counter permit obtained from a certified license vendor. Arizona’s license application process, hunting zones system, and lottery are notoriously complicated. It is crucial that nonresident hunters select an experienced, trustworthy outfitter and communicate with him/her frequently to ensure you apply for the correct license, location and season.

Accessibility by non-resident hunters: Would-be nonresident spring black bear hunters apply into the same pool of tags as resident hunters with no limited allotment for non-residents, so it makes spring bear tags one of the highest possible drawing success rates of all big game tags in Arizona. Additionally, some units do not draw out and leftover tags are made available on a first come, first served basis. An alert outfitter may be able to find you a leftover tag in a zone you had not considered. www.OutfittersRating.com is the place to find such progressive, aware outfitters who are up on all the legal options of helping you acquire a tag and enjoy a successful hunt. Fall non-resident licenses for black bear are sold over the counter to non-residents in unlimited quantities and make a reasonable add-on to a elk, deer or other big game hunt.


Special Restrictions:
On a calendar year basis, some black bear zones in Arizona place a limit on the number of sows that can be harvested. Each bear taken must be reported to the game commission within 48 hours after the kill. Once sow kill quotas have been reached in any of these zones, the bear season in that zone will be closed by an established announcement procedure. It is the responsibility of the hunter and the outfitter to stay on top of these closures by calling a special bear hotline.

Unique hunting opportunities: A great deal of bear hunting in Arizona is conducted by spot and stalk methods. However, bear in this semi-desert region are frequently responsive to varmint calling techniques especially when they emerge from the den and during the calving/fawning seasons for elk and deer. Varmint calling for bear is an exciting way to hunt them as they can frequently be pulled into close ranges. If you’ll be going on a Arizona bear hunt, be sure to throw a varmint call and a fawn bleat call into your gear bag.

Arizona Hunting Tip: All black bear are not black, especially in Arizona! Bear of the Mountain Southwest in the United States are most prone to color phases including cinnamon, blonde, brown, and combinations thereof, along with the most common black. When you’re glassing for bear in Arizona, keep in mind you’re not only looking for black spots on the mountainside.

British Columbia, Canada

 

Distribution: Black bear inhabit every area of the province of British Columbia except its most urban cores. The most famous black bear range in the world is Vancouver Island where bears are numerous and grow very large. In fact, some record keeping organizations recognize the Vancouver Island Black Bear as a separate subspecies. It’s believed that during the ice age black bears live on the island, then populated inland as the glaciers receded.

 

Timing of Seasons:  British Columbia offers both spring and fall black bear hunting. Though season dates vary in specific wildlife management units fall seasons generally run from mid-September into December. The general fall season is preceded by a bow only season that begins in late August. Spring seasons generally run from early April to mid-June. Consult closely with your trusted outfitter to confirm season dates and prime times in his/her hunting area.

License/Permit Information: Black bear licenses for nonresident hunters are issued on an over-the-counter basis in British Columbia. However, nonresidents must provide proof of contract with at registered BC outfitter or a resident licensed to accompany nonresident hunters.

Accessibility by non-resident hunters: Nonresidents hunting black bear in British Columbia must do so in the company of a licensed guide/outfitter. While licenses are acquired from government agency offices, nonresidents must submit proof of a contract with an outfitter. Many BC outfitters can be researched starting with a few mouse clicks leading you to www.OutfittersRating.com. The provincial limit on black bear is two per year, however tighter restrictions apply in some management units.


Special Restrictions:
While British Columbia is home to two unique color phases of black bear called the Kermode bear (off-white fur) and the Glacier bear (slate blue to silver), these bear are not allowed to be taken in BC. All other color phases of black bear occur in BC as well and are open to hunting when encountered. Black bear may be hunted with the use of hounds, but not bait in BC, though most hunting here is done by spot and stalk methods.

Unique hunting opportunities: British Columbia is full of opportunities to hunt black bear in remote wilderness areas. Glass and stalk hunting for black bear emerging from their dens in the spring is a beautiful time to be in the mountains. In the fall, you can witness incredible salmon runs when hunting the islands and the coasts. Coastal hunting affords great opportunities for fishing, as well, and hunting camps are usually well-stocked with ultra-fresh seafood of every description.

British Columbia Hunting Tip: For a spring black bear hunt, go prepared for your schedule to be turned upside down while you’re hunting. Bear are most active in the late afternoon and evening. You’ll likely start hunting about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. It stays light until nearly 11:00, so you may not get back to camp until midnight. It’s then that many outfits lay out the equivalent of Thanksgiving day dinner.  You enjoy that and will be in bed by 1:30 or 2:00 if you’re lucky. Plan to sleep in until you wake up and consider taking a pre-hunt nap. Do whatever it takes to help your body adjust because you can’t fully enjoy the hunt if you don’t feel well.

Quebec, Canada

Distribution: Quebec is a huge province encompassing agricultural land where it borders the United States, maritime terrain on the Atlantic Coast, and true tundra in the far north. The most universal game animal in the province is the black bear which is found nearly everywhere in Quebec. This allows for ample hunting opportunity for bear in both spring and fall hunting seasons.

 

Timing of Seasons:  Quebec is divided into 28 hunting zones. For the most part, seasons are similar zone to zone, but be sure to confer with your carefully chosen outfitter to double check the local regulations. Generally, spring bear hunting in Quebec runs from mid-May through June. Fall seasons begin in late August or early September for bow hunting and run into October when the bears begin to go to den for the winter. Within these seasons, there will be prime times for harvesting the best pelts, seeing the most bear, increasing the likelihood of encountering boars, etc. An experienced outfitter will be able to point you to the best timing in his/her area to achieve your hunting goals.

License/Permit Information: Non-resident black bear licenses are available in unlimited quantities, over the counter. Be sure to bring along a valid hunting license from your home location, a previous Canadian hunting license, and/or your hunter safety certificate when you go to buy your Quebec bear licenses. With a couple of localized and season-specific exceptions, the limit on Quebec black bear is one per hunter per year (spring and fall seasons combined.)

Accessibility by non-resident hunters: Nearly all black bear hunting in Quebec is done by baiting. The exception to this is on the tundra where bear are occasionally taken by hunters primarily hunting for caribou; this is an exciting spot and stalk hunting scenario. In either case, the logistics of setting out baits, remote travel and accommodations require the non-resident hunter to employ the services of a trusted outfitter. The place to find an outfitter in which you can place your confidence is www.OutfittersRating.com.

 

Special Restrictions: Quebec’s regulations are liberal in allowing you to choose the bear you want to shoot. However, ethical hunters will avoid shooting sows, particularly those accompanied by cubs. Upon taking a bear, you’ll have to present the hide for registration at a check station.

Unique hunting opportunities: Because black bear are so wide spread in Quebec, there is tons of hunting opportunity and many outfitters offering their services. Spring bear hunts can easily be combined with outstanding fishing opportunities for walleye, pike, lake trout and more. Bear hunting over bait is conducted from late in the afternoon until dark, so the rest of the day offers plenty of chance to fish, hike, or partake of any other outdoor activities.  It’s a great way to combine a hunting trip with a family vacation!

If you are a crossbow hunting enthusiast, consult with your outfitter for opportunities to hunt with your crossbow during the regular archery seasons.

Quebec Hunting Tip: In addition to the services provided by www.OutfittersRating.com, you can also look into Quebec outfitters at the website for the Quebec Outfitters Federation at www.QuebecOutfitters.com.

Wyoming, USA

Distribution: Black bear inhabit nearly all areas of Wyoming, and hunting is offered in units covering most of the state.

 

Timing of Seasons:  Wyoming offers both spring and fall bear hunting seasons available to nonresident hunters.  In both, most Wyoming hunting units offer an exclusive archery season first. In the spring, bow hunting generally runs from mid-April to the end of April or early May to mid-may. Then the general season kicks in and runs as late as mid-June in most zones. In the fall, bow hunting only occurs in August and/or portions of September, and the general season runs to the end of October.

License/Permit Information: Wyoming’s nonresident black bear hunting licenses are available over the counter in unlimited quantities. However, the state sets season-by-season female harvest quotas within specific zones. If that quota is reached during the spring season, then black bear hunting is closed in that zone. However, if the quota is not reached in the spring, then the remainder of the spring quota is added to the fall quota for that zone. Additionally, a nonresident hunter who purchases a spring season license, but is unsuccessful in the spring seasons can come back and hunt in the fall on the same tag.

Accessibility by non-resident hunters: Wyoming boasts one of the most vigorous big game hunting outfitting industries in North America. Combined with over the counter nonresident black bear hunting tags both spring and fall, this creates terrifically high accessibility for non-resident hunters to enjoy the hunting Wyoming has to offer. Black bear hunting adventures are also among the least expensive for traveling hunters to enjoy in Wyoming.


Special Restrictions:  
Use of the services of a licensed, resident Wyoming big game outfitter is required in some areas, especially designated wilderness areas. When booking with an outfitter in Wyoming it is legally the hunter’s responsibility to be certain of that outfitter’s license and qualifications. Before hiring an outfitter, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department advises hunters to consult the Wyoming State Board of Outfitters and Professional Guides to verify the outfitter is licensed by the state of Wyoming. Hunters should also be aware landowners who outfit on their own deeded land, or deeded lands leased to them, are not required to be licensed as outfitters or guides. Contact: Wyoming State Board of Outfitters at 1950 Bluegrass Circle #280, Cheyenne, Wyoming, 82002 or call toll free 18002640981. Any license holder utilizing the services of an outfitter must legibly print the name of the outfitter, the outfitter’s license number and the type of outfitter license on the back of his or her big game or trophy game license.

Unique hunting opportunities: Black bear are hunted over bait and by spot and stalk methods in Wyoming. Location, terrain, food sources and season dictate which method is used. If you have a preference over which way you hunt, be sure to discuss this with your highly-rated outfitter prior to booking your hunt.

Wyoming Hunting Tip: As the range of the grizzly bear in Wyoming increases their territory overlaps with larger amounts of black bear territory. Add that to the high-frequency of color-phase black bear in Wyoming, the importance of the ability to distinguish between black bear and grizzly bear becomes clear. Be certain to discuss the probability of encountering grizzly bear in your hunting area with your trusted outfitter, and know the characteristics that distinguish between the two species.  To assist you in verifying your bear identification skills, the state of Wyoming offers an on-line test at: http://gf.state.wy.us/bearexam/index.asp. 

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