- Where — in your own State, Province or Territory? Foreign or domestic?
- How – with a friend, solo, or paying an outfitter? Still hunting? Stalking? Baiting?
- Equipment — rifle and load, tent or camper? Camping gear or returning to home base at end of each day?
- What size bear? Trophy or any reasonable bear?
- Wilderness or private property?
- What to do with meat and hide?
- Anything else?
Planning therefore involves these matters: Location; Dates; Who will be involved; How; Economics; Means of travel; Equipment; A “trophy” or not; And management after the bear is shot.
Usually, it goes something like this: A friend who is a fellow hunter suggests a bear hunt. Then the discussion begins that ultimately includes all of the above pieces. That may take a year to get all the parts together — or maybe only a few months or even weeks. If an outfitter is involved, you should check references. And if an outfitter IS to be involved, he should be contacted about a year in advance to secure dates. A down-payment will be expected.
If it’s a DIY hunt with a friend, make sure that each partner knows what his job is. If it’s solo, make a detailed check list, and check off each item when fulfilled — not leaving anything behind. It’s very embarrassing to set up your camp only to not find the cartridges for your rifle! It happens! Several times I’ve run into members at our range who had to go home for their ammo! I’ve even gone a couple of times without targets! On my first trip to the far north of our province on a moose hunt, I travelled with a younger partner in his very old Dodge bus pulling an older leaky camping trailer! I asked what my expected costs would be for gasoline… he said “a couple hundred”. As it turned out, when the engine didn’t stall every time we had to stop, we were getting about 8 mpg, with costs in the Far North of over $1 per litre! An Imperial gallon holds about 4.5 litres = $4.50 per gallon. That was twenty-five years ago. The total trip was approximately 2000 miles/3200 kms. 2000/8 = 250 gallons x $4.50 = $1125!!! And I was responsible for 1/2 of that, having been told my share would be $200! That’s merely an example of how poor planning can be very costly in more ways than one!
Also, on a third trip to the same area with another partner, he couldn’t get away for the first week of the hunt so by the time we got there the moose had already been shot or driven deeper into no-man’s land! I had learned on a second trip, with son Phil, to go early, set up camp, do some scouting and be ready for opening day. I scored the first day of the hunt because I knew where to find a good bull. Realistic planning should be non-negotiable for self and a partner. Wishful thinking without realistic plans results in whistling in the breeze on the way home!
Mentally talk yourself through a hunt. Picture in your mind a good bear coming to your bait — from what direction? Mentally run through the practice of patience for the right angle and shot — something like a bow hunter. Or, running into a bear on a trail… or behind some brush, or…
Practice in a wooded area of quickly picking an object — deadfall, rock or stump — aim and fire (dry fire) until everything becomes normal. At times I visit the bush (an hour from home) to practice just like that without firing a live round. But sometimes at the end I will fire a shot for realism. (Some pics of that from my Ruger #1 in .458 Win Mag).
The deal is not to leave anything to chance as much as it depends on you to be well prepared. If a guide/outfitter is involved then, of course, we expect him/her to be well prepared for the details they’re responsible for.
WHERE? – If out of state, province, territory or foreign.
Find the right people for contact. That might be an agent, outfitter or friend. Phone calls and paperwork will be involved — lots of it.
TRANSPORTATION – To and from destination. Depending on type of hunt and where, you may have to use your own vehicle or a friend’s, or both. If you live south of the border (USA) and want to hunt in Canada, using your own pickup, SUV or car will be the best means for a number of practical reasons. If from Europe or Australia then employing an airline is the only alternative. The outfitter will pick you up at the airport and provide transportation thereafter, unless, of course, you rent a vehicle at the airport.
WHAT SIZE BEAR? – “Trophy” only or any reasonably-sized one? Depending on expectations and where we hunt will answer that question for us.
In a DIY bear hunt there are many potential variables. Depending on where we live, and accessibility to Crown Land, and knowledge thereof, we may decide that’s the best bet. Or, on the other hand, we may know people that either own appropriate land or have access to private property. Such was briefly discussed in P1. But there’s a downside to private land: is there proof of bear activity? If so, is it seasonally specific. It’s not enough for someone to tell you that so-and-so has bears on their property! “When, how often and why?” are important questions.
I once set up baits (two locations) on a farm only 10 kms (6 miles) from my house. A huge bear had killed, and eaten, a cow and calf on that farm. I was told of this by a CO friend and asked if I’d be willing to hunt that bear over baits. The bear was estimated at +500 lbs. He flattened fences and slept in the tall grass — I saw evidence for that as well as the bones of the cow that was dragged in the very thick wooded part of the property. I set up two baits in different locations. I sat over the one closest to the woodland that also descended into a swamp. Let me tell you, that was the spookiest bear bait site I’ve ever attended. The bear avoided both baits but continued his nefarious activities. After a week, I was scheduled to leave for a moose hunt in N. Ontario.
Sometime later that bear was trapped and shot. A man in the area had a license for trapping and shooting nuisance bears. Indeed, that bear went over 550 lbs! So on private agricultural land there are “trophy” quality bears! Out of the corn fields of North Carolina some huge bears have been taken.
But then, what IS a “trophy” bear?
I’ve discussed “What size bear?” in advance of suggesting a rifle and load because there’s obviously a great distinction in size between a young immature bear of 120 lbs and a mature male of 550 lbs! I’ve had some of each at my baits! But if I waited to see a 550 lb boar bear at my baits during hunting hours, I might go through an entire season or three before catching one flat-footed! They have come, but mostly after hours, or on hours that the hunter isn’t in his stand (like in this pic). Bears that live that long aren’t stupid!
(Left click on pics for a better view)
So to keep a part of my sanity, I’ve settled for some “good bears” that were “trophies” for me.
A 500+lb bear is larger than the average mature male lion! And there’s always the chance of an opportunity on such a bear whether hunting private property or Crown Land (public land). So, I’ve ALWAYS gone prepared for the biggest under the most difficult circumstances, such as finding a wounded one in a swamp!
One of my partners had to do just that! I was nearby when he pulled the trigger on his BP rifle. It took nearly an hour to locate the bear in a swamp. It was dead and not nearly 500 lbs, but any wounded bear is a dangerous bear if it only weighs 120 lbs! And, in the just describe incident, it was also pitch darkness when the dead bear was located in tall swamp grass. After the shot, it ran in the opposite direction than Brian had thought. He was blinded by the smoke from the BP rifle. He finally found some blood about 50 yards from the bait site while I was still searching in the opposite direction he thought it to have gone. The blood led him in the right direction. A week later his son wounded a bear at the same location. After three days of searching with a party the bear was never found — it happens! He too was using his dad’s BP.
I’ve used many .45-70s in hunting bear, and taken several, but never with BP. They were modern loads using smokeless propellant. Unless you have significant experience successfully using BP on other big game, I’d not suggest it for a first time bear hunt.
RIFLE and LOAD – Of course, you knew I had to go there, didn’t you.
There are far too many potential physical conditions involved in bear hunts to adequately cover each one in a few paragraphs, so I’ll give it my best effort to abbreviate some major conditions.
Up front let me say that the majority of my hunts for bear have involved baiting them. In P1, I stated that if I didn’t bait bear for hunting purposes on Crown Land, I’d never see one. That’s 99% true! In British Columbia lots of bears, black and brown, are sighted by merely walking logging trails on Vancouver Island. So, if your dream black bear hunt is spot-n-stalk then I’d suggest a place on Vancouver Island with an outfitter — unless of course, you live there. In such a case you don’t need my recommendation. But, anywhere logging is practised, or has been, walking old or new trails is a very good practice. I’ve at least seen fresh bear tracks on such trails, and had I not been baiting in those areas patient waiting or walking quietly/slowly might well have been productive.
In a blog of a couple weeks ago I wrote on bullets: “Heavy and Slow vs Lite and Fast”. One of the examples I used for Heavy and Slow was my former Ruger 96/44 in .44 Rem Mag which was used both in toting bait to sites and scouting trails for bear sign. So, it’s obvious that I believe in relatively heavy bullets moving out at relatively slow velocities as being adequate for black bruins at close range.
I’ve written previously that I want the same load for both moose and bear because we can’t be certain of the bear’s attitude or size in walking a trail or in bait hunting if in tight quarters — and especially in the followup of a wounded bruin into unpleasant surroundings as in a swamp! The minimum I’ve chosen for that in TE (now MTE) is 50. The reason for such a high number for bear is rather obvious, I’d think… Bear are DG with big teeth and big claws, no matter their size, and they WILL use them in defence as well as in offence! Just yesterday in a CBC news item, crawling across the bottom of the TV screen, we were informed of a 44 year old woman, who was camping with her family, being attacked and killed by a black bear in Saskatchewan. Those who insist that all one needs to kill a black bear is their deer rifle should be more informed and honest that bambies don’t attack and kill 44 year old mothers! Sure, you can kill particular bears using your deer rifle if it’s a well loaded .308 Winchester — under specific conditions! Such an argument is a non-starter! But the mindset in hunting Texas deer with John Wootters’ favorite cartridge isn’t what he used for a big Manitoba black bruin that went over 400 lbs! He used a very specialized 1895 Marlin in .45-70 loaded “hot” with a 400gr Trophy Bonded bullet! I said something like “AMEN!” when I read that! I then discussed it with him in correspondence.
Black bears are known (officially) to not only kill calf moose in the spring, but the adult parent that tries to interfere. I watched a home-made video to that effect where a 300 -350 lb black bear took the calf from its mother in our hunting area one spring day, and all the cow could do was watch as the calf was bawling and dragged into the bushes by a small lake, still bawling — with the mother woefully looking back over its haunches, then retreating slowly in the opposite direction as the bawling calf had quit its call for help to momma moose.
So I use 12.5 instead of 25 x MTE for bear as minimum for size or class of bear, not knowing their reaction or intention before the fact. That would be adequate for a bear from 400 to 600 lbs (1/2 the weight of a moose) assuming a proper bullet in the right place. It’s unwise to try to shoot a fast moving bear in the head! Shoot for the “big middle”, as some authorities have described it when under pressure on a quick moving DG at close range.
A light, quick handling rifle of adequate caliber, or powerful big-bore handgun, or 12 ga. with slugs is the best deal under the afore-mentioned conditions — and be sure of this: Such conditions, if not frequent, are more than possible!
<That’s my 9.3 x 62 , and the bear shot with it at 6: 04 pm of the previous day. It’s 6′ from nose to tail and was gutted before hanging the evening before. The bullet was a 286gr Nosler Partition leaving the muzzle at around 2620 fps. Range was 68 yards into center chest as it stood facing me in the tall grass. The light patch just in front of the right hip is where I found the bullet on skinning as it was just poking through the hide. That was 3 feet of penetration! It was a relatively young male with little fat. Here’s the bullet on the right as compared to two 250gr/.338 NPs from my .340 Weatherby into a moose. As retrieved it weighed 211 grains, or 74%, and it tumbled somewhere inside.
P3 will be up in a week or two.