Spot and Stalk Black Bears

Cinque Terre

If you feel you’re ready for a truly challenging hunt, try spot and stalk black bear hunting. To be successful, do your homework. Investigate black bear habits and their terrain. Know that patience comes in handy – spot and stalk bear hunting is 90% spot and 10% stalk.

First, find their food

Locate quality food sources in good black bear country and you’ll increase your odds for success.

  • Much of a black bear’s spring menu is comprised of plants: think legumes, grasses, sedges and emerging buds. This is because these are the first foods available. Since south-facing slopes green up first, concentrate there early in the season.
  • Winter-killed ungulates and livestock also attract feeding bruins. Same goes for residual crops that weren’t harvested the previous fall.
  • In some areas, the newborn young of moose, deer and elk are an important food source for black bears.

Second, get out the binos

Successful spot and stalk black bear hunting is 90% spot and 10% stalk.

  • Talk to people working and living in the area about where they are seeing bears and bear activity.
  • Find good vantage points where you can “glass” – use your binoculars or a spotting scope to look for activity.
  • Focus your search on cutlines, forest clear-cuts, river or mountain valleys, edges of agricultural fields, and abandoned farmyards.
  • Pay attention to natural openings that allow you to see into places where a bear might feed or move in relative seclusion. Bears feed throughout the day, but are most active in the early morning and in the last hours before dark.
  • Most hunters spot on foot, but in river valleys glassing from boats can be effective.

Third, commit to the stalk

Once you’ve located a black bear – and you’ve determined it’s legal (know the Alberta’s Guide to Hunting Regulations before you go) – plan your stalk. Keep in mind:

  • Bears survive on the keenness of their noses and ears. While they’re by no means blind, if you successfully manage your scent and sound you can stalk to within shooting range.
  • You must have a favourable wind. One sniff of a human and a bear melts into cover.
  • Bears usually move as they feed. Once you’ve decided to stalk, close the distance as quickly as common sense and conditions allow.
  • Key is determining how close is close enough. A bear’s movements and available cover will largely provide the answer. Within 100 yards is preferred, but there may be times when you are comfortable with a longer shot.
  • Calling can be an interesting addition to spot and stalk hunting. You can try a dying rabbit or fawn bleat.

And finally, prepare your shot

Shotguns, blackpowder rifles and centerfire rifles can all be effective, but the first two have limitations. Shotgun slugs are limited by bullet energy and accuracy over extended distances; with blackpowder you don’t have the option of a quick follow up shot.

The .270 Win. is at the lower end of appropriate rifle cartridges; a 400-pound bear is worlds away from one that is 200 lbs and you must be prepared. Irrespective of the calibre, a well-constructed, heavy-for-caliber bullet should be your choice.

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