Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring! Bears! Spring Bear Hunting!

OK, I've waited long enough. I'm calling it- Spring is finally in the Interior. A week solid of above freezing daytime temperatures and a snow base that is rapidly disappearing. Even on Easter morning at 6:00am my thermometer showed a robust 35F.

It's here.

I've been working on prepping for spring bear season with a new hunting partner and one old one and we are getting excited. Pouring over maps, scouting new areas and searching the newly sunny hillsides for fresh tracks (getting my pickup hopelessly stranded in the soft,slushy snow in the process). After a very disappointing fall season, the spring bears offer an opportunity to get out and get some great hunting in with some reasonable temperatures. Our goal this year is to hunt one of the more elusive creatures in Alaska- mature boar black bears. These animals are relatively easy to hunt in South Central with its wide open south facing slopes where spot and stalk is a good method to get bears- not so in the Interior with our miles and miles of flatland boreal forest. These reclusive bears inhabit this terrain and the hunting is generally performed by stand hunting over bait, scents or more rarely predator calling.

I attended an Alaska Department of Fish and Game conference last week with a friend that gave some instruction and (oddly enough) encouragement to use bait stations for targeting black bears. I've always looked down my nose at baiting for bears in the past but I have to admit the biologist gave some compelling reasons to utilize baits. Apparently only mature boars target moose calves while the much smaller juveniles and sows concentrate on more vegetarian fare. ADF& G is on a dedicated mission to improve moose numbers in several portions of the state and part of that mission includes reducing predators. Within the black bears' thick habitat and given a select population that predates moose- baiting makes some practical sense given it slows down the hunt and allows for plenty of time to evaluate the bear you see. Basically the hunter places a large container of food materials in the woods until the bears recognize it as a reliable food source (usually several bears simultaneously) and then the bait is hunted over until the bear you want comes in to feed.
Then you feed.
Well that's the idea at any rate.

I also learned a great deal about scent attraction hunting by using several methods of natural and artificial scents distributed on the breezes. Several hunters report excellent results with "honey burns", "marshmallow fires", and "beaver buckets" that rely on powerful attracting odors without maintaining a 100lb drum of dog food and jelly doughnut filling in the woods for a month. Its much simpler to execute and reasonably successful for target bears. I'm leaning heavily toward this method as I have reservations about feeding a group of bears until basically habituated. Honey and anise burned over a camp stove or low fire are reported the best natural scents used, especially near water sources at dusk. When you leave the scent dissipates without residue. Apparently this method is considered baiting for enforcement purposes and requires all the administrative hoops of the other methods although they aren't unreasonable.
Most spot and stalk hunts are over with the first reasonable shot presentation and more than one hunter has experienced "ground shrinkage" when his huge 7 footer turns into a 130 lb 4 footer juvenile as soon as he walks up on it. Or (God forbid) a lactating sow with no cubs in sight. Calling yields similar results with bears of all shapes and sizes charging into the call ready for action- the shooting tends to be spontaneous and very fast.
Not exactly my idea of a good time.
Calling in a fox or coyote is one thing, a 500 pound grizzly is another matter entirely. So the jury is still out on whether I'll give baiting a try or whether I'll pursue another method but I'll certainly be looking for some smoked black bear hams for my summer barbecues. Wish me luck and with any of it I'll post some pictures of success.
Or without, another (hopefully) interesting tale.


David Cronenwett said...

Hey Mike,

Great post as usual. I don't have any problem with folks hunting bears, so long as it is both a legal and ethical season. Personally, I do have a problem with baiting; its illegal in MT and the public perception problem is, to me, hugely detrimental to hunters in general.

A corollary down here is our local Fall "Coyote Shoot" and spring "Gopher Shoot". Basically, a bunch of good-ol-boys head out a blast away at "varmints" for a few hours to see who can bag the most. While they're both legal events under MT fish and game laws, they're ethically untenable. Not that there's anything wrong with killing a coyote or "gopher", (actually: Richardson's Ground Squirrel) its the public "spectacle" of gratuitous killing that can only be taken as bad for all hunters and the pursuit of hunting in general.

Hunter's and trappers have got to remain aware of how we appear in the eyes of the public to some degree; remember, its the urban majority that, for better or worse, makes the rules. Ethics and legality aren't always the same thing. I fear a strong backlash from the urban public over things like bear baiting, poorly executed trapping, etc. I don't know anything about AK game laws, and there very well may be instances where baiting is acceptable. But for many thoughtful hunters (and definitely for the general public) its on the outer edges of what is considered acceptable fair chase.

Just food for thought. Keep on writing friend. Best,

David C

hodgeman said...

I can certainly relate to many of the comments. I'm in a certain ethical quandry myself over the entire baiting issue. Its quite legal here, traditionally practiced and even encouraged by ADFG as a tool for selective harvest of large boars. Alaska's black bear population is absolutely enormous and in some areas overpopulated. Implementation is certainly severely managed with a lot of rules about where, when, how and who to limit interferences with other wilderness users and those are all good things. Even though it is certainly an efficent method for selective harvest it does leave something (or several things) to be desired in my book. It certainly is at the outermost limits of "Fair Chase" and perhaps beyond.
I'm less apprehensive about using scents and not apprehensive(at least not ethically) about calling bears with predator calls.

I'm exploring some different ideas after a fair bit of scouting, namely hunting over natural "bait". Specifically the early grass and forb crop along the pond edges, patches of over wintered rose hips, berries and other sources of bears natural food sources in early spring that still give the hunter some time to evaluate the animal to prevent shooting sows with cubs.

As the season progresses we'll see how it goes.

David Cronenwett said...


Hope you bag a good one! I'm not really a predator hunter and couldn't believe that black bears were worth eating until a friend of my fed me a bear-sausage pizza! Good Hunting.


Deer Passion said...

Being from Kansas, the idea of bear hunting and baiting bears to hunt is pretty much a foreign concept.. Good luck, tho, and enjoy the spring weather!!