Spring bear season calls for some reminders.
A truly devout hunter is always looking around for something to do, even if it’s not the most productive of endeavors.
Traditionally speaking, that’s exactly what spring bear season usually amounts to. It’s just something to do.
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Most spring bear seasons last from the middle of April to the middle of May and while there’s always a chance of running into a bear during this period, the weather in your particular state is oftentimes the determining factor.
If winter stretches a little further into spring than is typical, then the bears are all still napping during hunting season and all a hunter gets is some exercise. Not that we mind; as the saying goes: a terrible day out hunting beats a great day at work.
Even if there aren’t that many bears out during the spring season, it’s still a fairly popular pastime. The simple truth of the matter is that by the time spring comes around, the average hunter is getting a little stir crazy. If they offered a unicorn season in late February I’d probably buy a tag just as an excuse to get out of the house—the chances of success wouldn’t really matter.
Spring bear season affords us a chance to stretch our legs after a long winter and enjoy some fairly decent weather while we’re out wasting our time. That being said, it can’t hurt to go over a few things just in case you really do bump into a bear.
For starters, it’s important to remember that when it comes to the gear you’ll bring along bear hunting, you’re going to need all the stuff you usually pack on a big game hunt. If you get a bear on the ground, you’ll still need knives, saws and pack frames—all the stuff you’d need to field dress and quarter any big game critter.
Second, you need to remember that it’s not really summer yet when you go after a spring bear. It can still snow on you, rain on you and good old Mother Nature can still give you hypothermia if the weather gets bad. In the spring it’s starting to feel like it’s time to break out the sunscreen, but things can get ugly quick in the high country, so bring your collection of winter survival stuff just like you would on a general season hunt.
When it comes to picking out a firearm for spring bear hunting, just about every gun book ever written will tell you that there are a certain ranges of rifles out there that are black bear guns. These recommendations usually run along the lines of guns like the 35 Remington or 7mm Mauser.
These are both great cartridges that deliver excellent short- to mid-range performance, but I wouldn’t go so far as to pick one up unless you’re interested in using it for a wider variety of game. Spring bear season is a great time to get a feel for the rifle you’ll be using over the course of general big game season.
In practice there really isn’t such a thing as a black bear gun, because any big game rifle will do. It’s best to squeeze in some field time with your usual rifle even if there’s not a great chance you’ll get to fire a round.
Speaking of firing a round, let’s talk a bit about what you’ll need to plan for if you really do bump into a bear.
Generally speaking, a spring bear is a considerably less majestic-looking than a fall bear. Yogi has been laying up in a burrow somewhere for the last six months and it’s a heck of a weight loss strategy. This brings about an animal that’s low on fat, usually has a pretty good hide and not a lot of meat on him.
Over the years, I’ve heard from some people that a spring bear isn’t worth eating, while others insist it’s better than a fall specimen. Personally, I’ve tried both spring and fall bear meat and couldn’t tell the difference, but it’s been said that my taste buds are a little less than well-developed.
Regardless of your feelings toward spring bear meat, it’s important to remember that a black bear is a game animal, and just about every state has laws requiring you to pack the meat out.
Once you get it home you can give it to the homeless or hand it out to your friends, but you’d better bring it home—nobody likes a game waster.
One of the things just about everybody wants from their spring bear is the hide. Spending the winter in a den allows bears to really let their fur fill in, and when they first come out of hibernation their hair looks great.
Sure, once they wander around and get loaded up with cockleburs and other stuff, they don’t look that nice, but for a while they’re real stunners.
If you knock a bear over you’ll want that great-looking hide on the wall, but getting it out of the woods undamaged isn’t always easy. Most of this stems from the fact that there’s no snow on the ground during spring bear season, and dragging Yogi out in the dirt won’t do the hide any favors.
The simplest solution it to put the bear on a game carrier of some sort and lug it out. This usually requires going back to the rig and retrieving the carrier, bringing it back to the bear and then making the trip once again.
If the weather is cold this shouldn’t be an issue, but in warm weather another solution would be preferable.
If it’s a hot day you’re going to want to skin Gentle Ben out in the field, quarter the bear and get to packing before you start losing meat.
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A lot of rot has been written over the years about how much skinned bears look like people. Maybe I’m not that much of a humanist, but I’ve never really understood this. Doesn’t everything with four limbs look like a person when it’s hanging upright?
At any rate, if you think you lack the fortitude to skin a bear, don’t worry about it. If you have any experience field dressing, skinning and quartering other big game animals, a bear is no different. Actually, some folks will tell you they’re a bit easier to work with because they lack the long legs of animals like elk.
I look forward to spring bear season every year and enjoy it when it rolls around. I’ve never had much luck at it, but I enjoy it just the same.
Spring is a great season to be out roaming around in the wild, and even if bears aren’t hiding behind every tree, I have a good time.
If you’ve always just skipped spring bear season, maybe it’s time to rethink that stance and give it a try. You might come to discover that most of the really great stuff about hunting has nothing whatsoever to do with finding what you’re looking for.