As black bears search the spring woods for forage after hibernation, they can be a thrill to both stalk and call into range.
Is it Big Enough? To determine if a bruin is worth going after, look for ears that sit on the side of its head and a creased forehead. Broadside, a trophy bear will have a belly that hangs low to the ground.
This month, black bears should be out in full force as they emerge from their dens to refuel on spring greens and the remnants of last autumn’s berries. Spotting these hungry bears is usually the easy part; just look for black spots dotting slides, clear-cuts, and mountain meadows or munching along beaches and logging roads. Once you’ve located a suitable bear, choose from this pair of pulse-pounding tactics–for both bow and rifle hunters–or use both.
1. The Close Call
Any doubts I had about the effectiveness of predator calls on bears were put to rest on a hunt in New Mexico with Backcountry Outfitters (backcountryoutfitters.com) where we called in three bears in as many days. The key was spotting the bears first. Blind calling just led to boredom, but when we saw a bear and called to it with sustained, pleading squeals, each came to us as if on a string. If you can, move downwind of the bear and start calling quietly, increasing the volume until the animal turns your way.
2. The Long Walk
If a bear ignores your calling–and some will–go after it. A spring bear will often stay on a good food source for an hour or more, giving you time to stalk into position. Memorize key landmarks and note which way the bear is feeding. Pay attention to wind direction as well. While bears have bad vision, their senses of smell and hearing are acute. If you get close, but not close enough, turn to your predator call. In tight quarters, a few soft squeaks may be all it takes to bring a bear the last few yards into range.
The gear you’ll need to spot, call, and drop a trophy.
Call: A bruin-centric call such as Wayne Carlton’s Bear Call ($18; hunterspecialties.com) lets you really crank up the volume without locking up the reed and leaving you mute.
Binoculars: You’ll spend a lot of time glassing. The Zeiss Conquest HD 10×42 ($949; sportsoptics.zeiss.com) has an extended field of view that lets you scan whole hillsides as you search.
Ammo: Loaded with a deep-penetrating, monolithic Hornady GMX bullet, (hornady.com) the .308 is more than enough gun here. (I wouldn’t go any smaller than .270 for black bears.)
Broadhead: Want true heart-in-your-throat excitement? String up a fast bow. For your broadhead, bigger is better, which is why I like the cut-on-contact 125-grain Muzzy Phantom ($30; muzzy.com)
From the April 2013 issue of Field & Stream