When you're ready to plan a black bear hunting trip, these three places are prime time.
Try to imagine yourself set up in a ground blind over an active bait pile with your bow or favorite rifle, waiting to see if a mature black bear will present itself for a shot, and then imagine this: it's not as easy as it sounds. Black bears are smart, wary, and tough as nails for hunters to tag out on.
Bear hunting, in particular black bear hunting, is a rite of passage for many hunters growing up in the northern states and especially Canada. Hunting for bears is twice as good since, like the wild turkey, most areas allow both spring black bear and fall black bear hunting seasons.
Since you may be thinking about a black bear hunt, let's review three of the most opportunistic areas that you can apply for a bear tag, while also having a good chance at success. North America has many areas with good to great bear populations, so finding a destination for a bear hunt is just a matter of research.
Honestly, some of the best black bear hunting anywhere is just across the order in the Canadian provinces, but for our sakes we'll focus on United States opportunities.
Black Bear Hunts
Make no mistake, you will have to work for a black bear in Arizona, but it's worth it. The good news is that many Arizona bruins grow quite large and hunters there harvest some true giants every hunting season.
Since bear hunting in the Grand Canyon State is done among the rugged hills, and you're not allowed to use bait, it means hunting bears is usually a matter of spot and stalk.
Here's where you will find the services of a good outfitter well worth the price. Spring bear hunts can usually be had with over the counter tags, and at less than $130 for non-residents, it's not at all overpriced, making it quite reasonable to get in on the action.
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Pennsylvania is another eastern state rooted in a rich deer hunting tradition, but it's getting to the point where black bears are becoming the number one draw. The size of some of the bears taken in Pennsylvania in the last 10 years or so will give you an idea of what it's like to hunt for a massive bruin in such a welcoming state.
In 2018 a hunter in Pennsylvania dropped a 679-pound black bear with a .357 caliber handgun from a mere five yards on opening day of the state's four-day hunting season, and that wasn't even the biggest bear taken that day! Another hunter tagged a boar that was estimated at 704 pounds from the Goshen Township, Clearfield County.
Another huge 780-pound male, the biggest of the three days, was taken by rifle November 19, 2018 by Michael J. Rubeo, of Mercer, in the Howe Township of Forest County.
According to the data we shared at the time,
"Overall, the state's bear harvest numbers seem to be stable, with small improvements. Pennsylvania's highest opening day harvest number was 1,936 bears in 2011. The state record season-long harvest was also the same year, with 4,350 total bears were taken."
At this moment, baiting for bears in the Keystone State is not permitted, making a bear hunt there a little more traditional. But with the price of a non-resident tag still less than $50, a black bear hunt in Pennsylvania is certainly not out of the question.
Jim Eeckhout of Michigan took this black bear on a DIY bow-hunting trip during his eleventh trip to Alaska.
Sure, this may be out of reach for some, but talking about bear hunting without mentioning Alaska is like like talking about bass fishing without mentioning Alabama! This may be the last frontier for many hunters, but with a such huge population, a bear hunt in Alaska is the gold standard for bear hunters everywhere.
Both black bear and brown/grizzly bear hunting can be done in the Frontier State.
The downside is obviously the cost. Between travel, food, lodging, and a reputable outfitter, you're going to have to start saving ahead of time, but it's worth it. A solid guide can also help you to identify an animal that's truly a black bear and help avoid unusual color phase bears of a different species such as a brown bear or a grizzly.
This is another hunt that calls for a well-conditioned hunter since the territory you will be hunting is vast and unforgiving. The upside is that drawing a tag in some of the best hunting areas is not out of the question, while in others, an over-the-counter tag is easily had.
Remember, even though some may feel that hunting black bears is something that is only done in the mountainous states of the west, they would be quite incorrect. In fact, some of the eastern and New England states have great bear hunting opportunities, even for non-resident hunters.
Honorable mention to states such as Maine, New York, and Wisconsin, where bear hunting is a tradition, and a successful one at that.
Black Bear Hunting Tips
Playing the wind is as key for black bears as for any wild game species, as they have seriously sharp noses. It is a must to keep silent, as their triangular ears are keen and can hear in both directions. Bears have a fairly nearsighted set of eyes, but if its other senses detect you, you'll never even get close to these savvy game animals.
You must now ask yourself the same question that every bear hunter from the first to the last has asked: to bait or not to bait? Many of the jurisdictions that allow black bear hunting also allow hunters to set out some kind of bait to lure bears into shooting range, because without it (as many have learned), just seeing a bear in the wild is nearly impossible.
Hunters have to raise the question amongst themselves. Do you consider baiting as sporting or even ethical? Let the arguing begin.
As said, in many areas where bears exist, trying to hunt one without such a method of drawing them in can be extremely difficult. In other areas where bruins are abundant, it is a solid way to cull the adults while allowing the younger generation of bears to grow into maturity. Bait sites will bring bears into close range, allowing the hunter a much more likely harvest, especially with archery gear. They earn dividends when using them in tandem with trail cameras as well.
Maybe the best reason to allow baiting is in the spring when a sow has just emerged from hibernation with cubs. Young bears can be easily identified and harvesting their mothers can be avoided.
Probably the most productive method for those with a bear on their bucket list is a reputable guide service or outfitter that knows their home range and has many years of experience hunting them.
Whether you are fall bear hunting or on a spring bear hunt there are provisions in each of these areas for bowhunting, rifle hunting, muzzleloader, and even handgun hunts. Success rates are certainly determined by by the individual hunter and the guide that they choose, but maybe the most difficult decision will be which taxidermist that you use!
Big game hunting outfitters everywhere are waiting for you and your friends to contact them with the bear hunt of your dreams, it's up to you to decide where it is you wish to try.
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