For most hunters, it’s things like bugling bulls and velvet racks in the alpine that make them tick. These are the things that drive them throughout the year with pre-hunt planning and preparation. I don’t blame them. There is nothing like witnessing the lustful symphony that takes place in the elk mountains come September. And watching the morning glow off of an early season mule deer buck as he feeds above timberline is nothing short of stunning.
What is equally stunning, though, is springtime in the mountains. The rushing water from snowmelt and vibrant green grass painting the most rugged of country is eye-catching, to say the least. And an animal that adorns these beautiful, yet merciless, landscapes is Ursus Americanus — the American Black Bear. These creatures have captivated me like none other.
Why I am hunting out-of-state...
Up until this point, my spring “bearscapades” have always taken place in my home state of Arizona. And while I love spring bear at home, I also love seeing new places. For that reason, I started looking into what other bear hunting opportunities existed throughout the west.
There are a plethora of tags out there available to those willing to go and get them. With numerous options throughout the west, you can tailor your bear hunt to what specific experience you’re looking for. If glassing clear cuts amid rainforest-like terrain is your thing, then you can do that. If hound hunting or baiting is something that has always caught your attention, there are opportunities for those types of hunts.
Personally, I seek remote and rugged wilderness. A place that will allow me to backpack in and study every nook and cranny with my binoculars in search of feeding bears. A backcountry spot-and-stalk spring bear hunt in Idaho sounds right up my alley.
Why I am headed to Idaho...
Aside from my thirst for the steep and deep country, there are other reasons I chose Idaho. After all, states like Montana also offer great OTC (over the counter) spring bear opportunity and amazing country
My Idaho buddies might wring my neck for this, but Idaho is absolute gold to a non-resident looking to chase bruins. Not only is it a general OTC hunt, but a hunter can get two tags. That’s right! By playing your cards right, you can have a chance to take two Idaho black bears home with you. Along with Idaho’s single statewide bear tag, which runs about $250 for a non-resident, they also have “reduced tags.” These are designated to specific units and are dirt cheap. Like, make you do a double-take dirt cheap.
A mere $40 is all that separates one from having one of these, reduced-rate tags in your pocket and being able to hunt the specified units. I opted to purchase the single statewide tag and a reduced tag, instead of just two reduced tags. This combination opens up the number of units I can hunt since I am not restricted to just the units where the reduced-rate tags are valid.
Why I am going in April...
Idaho’s general spring bear season is quite long. Most units will open to bear hunting on April 15, except some that begin on April 1. Most hunts will run through June 30, though some units close down May 31 or June 15. Do your research on specific units before hitting the field. Being that the season spans so much time, picking a time to go can be a little daunting. All of us want to have the best hunt possible, but I think it comes down to what experience you’re after.
During the earlier parts of spring, bears are keyed into their food sources. It’s mainly bright green grass at this point. The rut hasn’t started yet, and bears are just trying to get their digestive systems up and running again after their long winter nap. Bears can absolutely be patterned during this time. If you spot a bear feeding and don’t get an opportunity at them that morning or evening, all is not lost. Nine out of ten times, that bear is going to show themselves right in that same spot the following evening or morning. This offers the opportunity to craft a calculated stalk. And for a bowhunter, this would be the best time to hunt stalkable bears. With them being so keyed in on their food, they aren’t moving a ton, which gives the hunter time to close the distance. For that reason, this is the time of year I am most interested in.
Let's compare that with the latter part of the season...
The rut can span anywhere from late May into July. I have witnessed a frequent and seemingly repeatable hot time to be the first week in June. During this time of year, bears are active and moving a lot, so it is the best time to see the biggest number of bears. Boars are covering country in search of hot sows. While that makes them visible and increases your chances of seeing one cruise through your area, it can also be difficult to create shot opportunities because the bears are moving so much that it can be difficult to close the distances on them. During this time, don't delay. If you see a bear you are interested in, you can't assume he will be there later, so make your move right away.
How I am e-scouting...
I’ve heard it said that one could just throw a dart on a map of Idaho and hit good bear country. So how should you decide where to focus your efforts?
Again, this is going to be dependent on the style of hunt someone is going for. Being that I’m looking to do a spot and stalk hunt, the terrain I’m trying to focus on is canyon country. And more particular, canyon country that offers visibility for glassing. My focus with map study has boiled down to a few different things, aside from just finding remote locations. First, I’m looking for east/west running canyons. This provides good bear habitat, as the south face will have the most food and the north face will offer bedding, with water probably sitting between the two.
Next, I’m notating vantage points that will allow me to glass these areas. These are elevated spots I’ve predetermined to give the best view of the surrounding country. From those points, I’ll be able to stay put, study the area, and let bears be bears. Lastly, flat spots where I can potentially set up camp are also on my radar. Much of this country has just two directions — steep up and steep down. So, having an idea where I can set camp without rolling away is important.
How I am getting myself ready...
I mentioned above how Idaho has two directions — up and down. Due to the steepness and ruggedness of the country I’m heading into, my physical prep is 100% being taken into consideration. My home state of Arizona has mountains, but not like Idaho. Idaho has what I call “big boy mountains.” And being it’s a backpack hunt, it’ll be that much more difficult. Endurance, core, and leg strength are what I’m focusing on for this hunt. These mountains must be prepared for.
For these general bear tags, I have the luxury of using a rifle or bow. I am mostly an archery hunter, but realize that I am heading into a world that I’m not familiar with. So, I’ll be bringing along both a rifle and a bow. Double the weapons mean double the range time though. My shooting sessions have consisted of both arrows and bullets — I'll be ready to launch either one with precision.
Why I am anxious...
I am now just weeks away from pointing my truck north to take my spring “bearscapades” to the rugged mountains of Idaho. An adventure I’ve been looking forward to for years. Whether I come out of it with two bears, one bear, or no bears, I’m sure it’ll be a hunt I’ll never forget. One that’ll keep me coming back year after year. Until then though, it’s the waiting game. The days on the calendar are rolling by slower than I’d like them to, but that just gives me more time to train, shoot, and prepare.
In the Part 2 to come, I'll be sure to share more about the trip, what I learned, and hopefully, how I killed a bear. Or two.
Josh Kirchner is the author of the book, Becoming a Backpack Hunter, as well as the voice behind Dialed in Hunter, a blog that not only documents his own journey, but provides gear reviews, tips/tactics for western hunting, and encourages other hunters to chase and achieve their goals. Josh is a passionate bowhunter that has been hunting with his family since he was a small boy. When he is not chasing elk, deer, bear, and javelina through the diverse Arizona terrain, he is spending time with his wife, daughter, and two herding dogs.