An Incredibly Ursine Bear Blog
When you think of hunting, certain animals likely jump to mind: white tailed deer, rabbit, feral swine, coyote, turkey and perhaps moose or elk.
One animal that surely doesn’t cross the average hunter’s mind is the North American Black Bear (Ursus americanus). However, over 50,000 black bears are legally harvested each year in the United States.
Black bears are widely dispersed in North America, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists their status as “Least Concern”, meaning they are not in danger of becoming extinct, and they have a widespread distribution and healthy, viable populations.
As of this writing, 41 of 50 US states have black bear breeding populations. Canada has a massive black bear population and Alaska is particularly favored. Basically, there are endless hunting opportunities.
Heard enough yet? No? Well, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of black bear hunting…
Before you load the truck and race off to the cold woods for some black bear, there are a few issues to address. First, you need a general hunting license in the state you plan to hunt.
These are available online and usually accompanied by an online hunting safety course. The average cost of a hunting safety course and license is $30-$50.
Second, you need to hunt black bears in season. This often begins in September and lasts until January or February, depending on your region. 5-6 months is a long season for hunting nationwide, so opportunities abound.
Third, you likely need a specific black bear ‘tag’ to harvest one of these majestic animals. Prices vary by state, but Alaska’s non-resident black bear tag fee is $450.00. The bag limit on black bears varies by region as well.
Again, choose your hunting location wisely. You may also need a legal guide or sanctioned trip, geography depending. Some guided bear-hunting trips cost upwards of $1000, although in Alaska, you can hunt without a guide (we don’t advise that).
Always check with local authorities and applicable laws before harvesting any game animals. Obey common sense laws and safety procedures. Most states prohibit shooting female bears with cubs present.
Male black bears can weigh up to 660lbs, and females up to 250lbs, and they average about 4.5 feet in length. These are big, powerful animals that can kill a human, although it happens very rarely (about 1 black-bear related death annually in the US).
Black bears have dense hides of muscle and fat, usually 4-5 inches thick. Therefore, you need sufficiently large caliber ammunition to safely harvest a black bear.
The .308 Winchester is perhaps the most popular caliber. Other sufficient calibers for black bear include: .30-06, .300 Win Mag, .375 Ruger and 6.5 Creedmoor.
You’ll also want a durable scope that works during day or night hours, such as digital night vision or thermal. A strong magnification range and technological features will make your hunting expedition infinitely easier and more successful.
The Sightmark Wraith 4K Max 3-24×50 has 4K digital imaging and a 300-yard nighttime detection range, and it’s even longer during the day.
The Wraith 4K Max’s HD AMOLED display and detachable IR illuminator ensure that when a bear wanders near your position, you can see it early and clearly.
Some experienced hands hunt black bear with bows, which is exhilarating and challenging. If you’re going to use a bow, shot placement and a backup weapon are eminently important.
If you wish, you can carry a rifle and bow simultaneously or ‘dual-carry’, though you don’t want to be overburdened, and you can’t carry a rifle out of ‘firearms season’.
If you wish to carry a handgun, check with local laws concerning personal carry while bowhunting. Currently, 37 states recognize the right to carry a handgun while bowhunting. Extra weapons might seem excessive, but they can also save your life.
So where do you physically shoot a black bear? The best location is a broadside shot, right into the lungs or heart. This gives you a large, clear target and a healthy margin for error.
Hindquarter shots are unethical and will likely only wound the animal. Head shots are lower-percentage and extremely difficult on a moving target.
You don’t want to clip a black bear, or miss entirely, and take your second shot while it’s charging at you full-speed. If you hit a paw, limb or somewhere non-lethal, put the animal down as quickly and humanely as possible.
A wounded black bear can still kill a human.
Venturing to rural, chilly America or somewhere in Canada will be a multi-day affair. Depending on accommodations, you may need to bring sufficient clothing and supplies for the duration of the hunt.
Bear vision is very similar to human, so camouflage is a safe bet when choosing your clothes.
12 Survivors is an outdoor brand that specializes in camping gear and accessories. Their Windom 65 Backpack boasts a 65-liter capacity, water resistant design, torso adjustment system ad fully adjustable shoulder straps for optimal comfort.
Depending on the hunt, local people may have already baited the black bears earlier in the year. However, that’s not always the case, and you may need to bring a little food to entice the beasts.
The most popular baits are bread, doughnuts and assorted meats. Bears have extremely sensitive noses, so before you place the bait, make sure you have anti-scent spray on yourself.
Bass Pro Shops offers some excellent bear bait. If you hunt big game, these 4 oz. revolutionary scents are designed to attract various trophy bears.
Each scent is made from all-natural secretions for the maximum attractant possible. This powerful, intense burning sweet-smelling attractant is irresistible!
Whenever you hunt black bears, especially during late winter hunts, you’ll likely run into black flies or mosquitoes. These little bloodsuckers can absolutely ruin a hunting expedition.
They swarm in the millions and act as vectors for several diseases. Bring bug repellent along for the ride, even if you ultimately don’t end up using it. Academy sells this 100% DEET repellent to keep you bug-free while bear hunting!
A durable pair of binoculars can be invaluable while hunting black bear. With the Sightmark Solitude10x42 Binoculars, you get 10x magnification with fully multi-coated optics, superior glass and image clarity.
These doozies are tough as they come, too: Waterproof, fog-proof and dustproof in a rubber-armored body. The Sightmark Solitudes will help you see a black bear long before he sees you.
A Bucket of Patience
In our modern world of fast-paced instant gratification, hunting can be a cathartic counter-activity. If you don’t see a bear on your first day or two on public lands, don’t despair. An adult male black bear may have a range of 15 square miles or 9,600 acres.
There is no guarantee a bear will wander right past your blind, unless it’s been properly baited and is accustomed to a predictable feeding routine. Take a deep breath and wait. Your prey will come.
Aftermath and Bragging Rights
Harvesting a black bear is social media gold. Take pictures and videos. Tell your friends about it, and if you think they have forgotten, tell them again and again. Don’t let them forget your hunting opportunities.
Once you’ve conquered a black bear, harvesting animals like white tailed deer and pig might not seem as challenging, though it’s still necessary.
Some people love bear meat, others despise it. The bear market is finicky. I encourage you to read this article on the subject. Regardless, if you harvest a black bear, the field-dressing procedure is similar to that of other large game animals.
If you choose to partake in the meat, the taste largely depends on that particular bear’s diet. Bears that eat human garbage, carrion and fish tend to taste foul. Bears that eat significant helpings of vegetables and fruits can taste delicious and provide a large portion of your daily iron and protein needs. Bear lard is also a popular ingredient amongst connoisseurs.
Most states have laws governing the handling of bear meat. Generally, if you don’t want it, the meat will be donated. Bear meat is a natural resource, after all.
Like other game animals, you can take a bear to a processing station. There may be a small fee, depending what you want from the carcass. Many people want the skin, and a nice bear rug will cost between $250-$700 at an average taxidermy.
If you want the entire creature stuffed and standing, ready to scare guests at your next cocktail party, expect to pay upwards of $1000.
Brown and Polar Bears
Family ursidae has more than just black bears. Ursos Arctos is an ursine species which encompasses brown bears and grizzly bears. Brown bears tend to live on the coasts, whereas ‘grizzlies’ live further inland.
For all practical purposes, they are the same type of bear. In most of the contiguous USA, there are no grizzly bear populations.
In Idaho, Washington, Montana and Wyoming there are increasing populations of grizzly bears, though hunting them remains controversial. These animals have been on-then-off the IUCN list for years, and legal challenges persist concerning whether grizzly populations can absorb an annual hunting season.
In Canada, hunting brown bears is fully legal. In Alaska, hunting brown bears is legal, though it’s extremely expensive ($1000 simply for the tag) for a non-resident.
Grizzly bears are not like common black bears. Grizzly bears are considered 20 times more dangerous than black bears. They attack about 40 people per year and kill 5 of them. Grizzly bears tend to be larger than black bears, 6.5ft compared to 4.5ft, with trophy bears weighing over 800lbs.
As always, exercise extreme caution when hunting brown bears.
Ursus maritimus, or polar bears, are the most famous of bears. Also known as ‘white bears’, their native habitat is the Arctic Circle and they are cited by the IUCN as a vulnerable species due to habitat loss. Polar bears are also the largest bear species – big males can weigh nearly 1,500lbs.
They are hypercarnivores who mainly consume seals, though sightings of polar bears eating walrus and narwhal have been reported. They are excellent swimmers and dive into frigid Arctic waters for over 3 minutes at a time.
Canada is currently the only country where non-native people can legally hunt polar bears. If you’re a US citizen interested in hunting Canadian polar bears, you’ll need a passport, a customs form, firearm declaration form and Canadian hunting permit.
After all of that, expect to pay over $10,000 in transportation, guides and associated fees for hunting polar bears.
Something to Bear in Mind
Bears have been hunted since prehistoric times for their meat and fur. There are currently eight living species of bears, and six of them are endangered. If you choose to participate in bear hunting, exercise humility and respect.
Bears are not the mortal enemies of humans—they are wild animals—and if you wish to harvest them, shoot straight and ethically. Do not poach (hunt illegally) unless you want to pay thousands in fees, spend some time in jail and have your hunting license revoked.
Hunting lawfully is one of the greatest things Americans can do for their country. We can reduce nuisance species and enhance biodiversity.
Hunting fees, which accrue over 20 billion dollars annually, are reinvested in the great American outdoors for sport fish management, species and habitat restoration, habitat protection, research and education, and public access for fishing and boating. Thank you for hunting legally and safely.