dog following trail

Best Bear Hunting Dogs: Info on Breeds and More

Bear hunting with hounds is much different than posting up in a treestand over bait or conducting hunters-only bear drives on the ground. It can be intense, awful loud, and much more exciting than anything you've ever experienced.

For this style of hunting, a hunter or group of hunters heads out with dedicated dogs—anywhere from just two or three to a dozen or more—oftentimes with bells or trackers attached to their collars. They search for bear tracks or other fresh bear sign and when they strike gold, they begin the chase. Good hounds will pick up the trail, locate the bear, and stay on it until it climbs up into a tree. This often lasts between two and four hours, and many hunters opt to follow the dogs in some type of vehicle to keep up on the long pursuit.

Some bears will climb up a tree pretty quickly or attempt to outrun the dogs, while others will get aggressive with the dogs and fight them. Either way, it's a loud process, with multiple hounds barking non-stop. Once a bear is treed, hunters can choose to take a shot at close range or wait for a better bear.

Proponents of this method of bear hunting say it can actually lead to more ethical shot opportunities. Because a treed bear allows hunters to make a better evaluation, they can pass on recently nursing sows or immature bears, as well as identify any issues that would indicate it's better to take the bear. Similar to mountain lion hunting with dogs, this type of bear hunting has come under a lot of criticism, mostly from anti-hunters. It has been banned in several states, so be sure you're following regulations before committing to hunting bears with dogs.

Best Breeds for Bear Hunting

The right hunting dog will be trained to harass bears just enough to drive them up a tree, but not get into actual fights with bruins. A strong nose and the ability to follow a scent trail are essential. Hounds are the most common breeds hunters use when chasing bears in the United States, but there are specific varieties that perform better than their peers. Here are some of the strongest contenders.

Treeing Walker Coonhound

bear hunting dogs

Originally bred to hunt raccoons, these vocal dogs can alter their barks to communicate during hunts. They're known to be "hot-nosed," meaning they'll abandon an old scent trail for a fresher one. And as the name suggests, these pups are great at getting animals up in a tree. The versatile breed can hunt alone or in a group and will pursue a variety of game.

Bluetick Coonhound

bluetick hound

Named for the black and blue pattern of their coats, these dogs are relentless hunters that will require some training to effectively bear hunt without getting too aggressive. They're typically muscular and have a boisterous bark. Although they're excellent hunters, bluetick coonhounds also crave love and attention at home.

Black and Tan Coonhound

bear hunting dogs

This generally easygoing breed sports a large, athletic build. Black and tan coonhounds make excellent nighttime hunters and will chase just about anything that runs across their path. But they also make great companions for cuddling on the couch.

Redbone Coonhound

redbone hound

Redbone coonhounds can navigate even the toughest terrain with relative ease and can handle intense hunting sessions, but will require a long snooze later. They're pretty laid back and friendly and boast a stunning red coat.

American English Coonhound

bear hunting dogs

With exceptional speed and endurance, American English coonhounds can last hours on chase through the woods. They can be stubborn and strong-headed when on the hunt, but they're more relaxed at home. Outdoorsmen who will get these dogs in the field make the best fit for American English coonhounds.

Plott Hound

bear hunting dogs

The state dog of North Carolina, the Plott hound is sweet at home but intense on the job as a hardworking hunter. These mountain dogs have historically been trained to hunt bears and wild hogs.

No matter the breed, proper care after a trip to the field is critical for keeping a dog healthy and ready to hunt again in the future.

Where to Hunt Bears With Dogs

Remember, hunting bears with dogs is not legal everywhere. Some states completely outlaw the practice, only allow dogs for tracking, or limit hounds for hunting to certain days of the week or times in the season, special hunts (such as youth or apprentice hunts), or hunts with a licensed professional.

Colorado, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington have all banned bear hunting with dogs in the past. Some of the top states that still offer the opportunity include Idaho, Maine, and North Carolina. Many outfitters offer packages that include well-trained hounds and an experienced guide for the best experience.

State regulations continue to change, so be sure to check with your wildlife agency before taking a dog into the field.

READ MORE: Why We Shouldn't Field Our Gun Dogs After April 15