The number two species of big game hunted in North America is black bear. They are found in all Provinces of Canada (except Prince Edward Island (PEI)) and the Territories. In the USA most contiguous states have at least some blacks and several, like The New England States and Pennsylvania in the east and the Rocky Mountain States, have many. Then Alaska has an estimated +100,000. My home Province of Ontario also has an estimated 100,000. But no one knows for sure how many blacks make North America their home territory. And blacks are found as far south as Mexico. (Left click on pics for a better view.)
The No.1 big game that I’ve hunted, and still do on a more limited basis, is black bear. Several years ago I made the decision to invest my limited funds and time in the lawful pursuit of black bears since they were much more accessible than moose… and much cheaper to harvest. Whitetail deer hunting fulfilled the desire to hunt big game for many years, but there were many hurdles to overcome in having consistent success after leaving New Brunswick, since we were living in major cities like Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton and Halifax.
First off, my hunts have never been west of Ontario. Other than that I’ve hunted New Brunswick (my native province), Quebec and Nova Scotia. However, mostly Ontario. Initially that began in 1978 through 1983. In early 1984 we moved to Nova Scotia and then returned to Ontario in the fall of 1987. I started hunting again in Ontario in the fall of 1988, and from then on to the present. That’s a total of thirty-five years hunting in Ontario. This year (2020) will be my thirty-sixth year in what became our home province.
Of those 35 years, I hired an outfitter for hunting black bears for eight continuous seasons from 1989 to 1996 (twice in one year). That’s where and how I learned to hunt bears in the northeast of our province. In 1997 I began bait-hunting on my own in a familiar region just over an hour’s drive to the north of where we live, in Haliburton Highlands. There, I’d hunted deer when we lived in Toronto in the early ’80’s. The region was Crown Land (Public Land in the USA). Since returning to Ontario in 1987, I’ve hunted deer, moose, wolf and coyote, rabbit, grouse and bear in various areas of the Haliburton Highlands Crown Land. And that’s much closer to us than when we lived in Toronto. Hunting bear over bait from Toronto in a DIY type action plan would have been near impossible since it’s far too demanding. You must tend the baits regularly — at least three times weekly. In more recent times I’ve hunted both private properties (with permission) that have been closer, as well as some of my traditional sites. A few partners were added along the way.
With all that as a background, a conservative estimate would be a total of 360 days involved in the field in scouting, baiting and hunting bears. That’s about the equivalent of a full year in those activities. How many hours apart from research, preparing loads, testing them at a range, etc? A fair estimate would be five hours per day of those 360 days = 1800 hours. And that was distinct from the eight seasons with my outfitter, Norm Easto — at least another 200 hours.
After my first bear (with Norm), my goal was not to shoot every bear I could have, or saw, but those that presented a definite challenge. I passed on some. For several reasons, Crown Land was much more challenging than private. That was true in hunting other species as well, such as deer. Crown Land is public land but also undeveloped, rugged and heavily timbered. Private land is, well, mostly the opposite. Crops attract both deer and bear, as well as smaller creatures. If I didn’t use baits on Crown Land, I’d never see a bear — far different than developed agricultural properties, or developing properties for relatively new home owners in a fast growing community that was formerly a small country town or village. One of my former hunting partners moved further north to Sudbury. He has had bears walk into his shop/garage while he was working there! In a fast growing community in British Columbia our grandson and family have “their own bear”, as explained by their 7 yr-old daughter! A really BIG one that might surpass 500 lbs, according to our son (her grandfather) who saw it in their driveway! Not only so, but she pointed out that their neighbors along the same street, each had “their own bear” as well!
Where I’ve hunted such is definitely NOT the case! Aside from the fact that community laws (even here) will not permit shooting black bears in your driveway — not matter the size — but if you leave them alone they’ll likely wander to the next driveway! Oh, by-the-way, you may not want to leave your favorite pet outside when such wildlife visit your place! We’ve not had one in our driveway, but certainly in our community since our house is a mere stone’s throw away from a farmer’s field! We’ve lived in the same house — soon to be thirty-three years, and it’s a developing community. During the first decade we had no fences and undeveloped property to the west and south. In addition to rabbits (which we still have), we’ve had coyotes (chasing rabbits), deer and “whatnots” on our property — that’s apart from local dogs and coons which we still have in addition to the rabbits. Uhhh… yes, also a possum. And bears nearby.
But in less than a five minute drive we are surrounded by agricultural properties that attract all sorts of creatures, small to large, that are not pets!
The main advantage of hunting Crown Land is that it’s mostly wilderness — undeveloped — and no permission is required to hunt those areas other than hunting seasons and regulations. If they are chosen wisely there’s little interference or trouble from inquisitive minds or prying eyes. But that is also the downside — with today’s relatively easy access to Crown Land by recreational vehicles, there are now ATV trails where in history they were merely game trails or old logging roads. So, on Crown Land it’s been necessary to move further into remote areas making the retrieval of game much more critical. So there must be a good strategy in place for security of site and retrieval of game. In other words, you don’t just walk into the woods of Crown Land one day and set down some bait, then wait behind some trees for a bear to show up! There’s much more to it than that! Strategy will be discussed in P2.
The advantages of private land for a bear hunt are fairly obvious: Of course, you must have documented proof of access for hunting bears in season. You also need some assurance that you and any partners will be the only hunters during that time frame. You also will need freedom to choose the best location (s) for stand (s) and/or baiting. Then, there is the matter of closing any gates, and securing them, as you enter and leave. If costs are involved for access, you pay up front making sure that the agreement is fair and secure. If no costs, as in a friendly handshake, then it’s your decision as to how best to express thanks, or compensate, at the end — whether success was realized or not.
But it’s critical in hunting private land that bears are known to frequent that property. If there’s proof of that then there has to be a reason. Why are bears regularly visiting that property? There’s one of two motives — and perhaps both. Either the property has agricultural crops, like corn, or it’s a corridor for access to and from land that does. It’s as simple as that! Or it may be an old farm that still has old apple trees that still produce… or wild berry trees such as cherry. In some cases it could be nut bearing trees like acorn, or a combination of several factors. But keep in mind that if bears are attracted to tree products (as apples), it will be seasonally specific. Will that coincide with bear season?
In other words, if you can only hunt late fall to early winter, private land will not be your best choice unless it is contingent to Crown Land that may be semi-wilderness. I’ve hunted bear under all the above conditions, whether on Crown Land or private, and have enjoyed each for their own positive attributes as well as their individual challenges. If there were no challenges in bear hunting, I wouldn’t have done it! As my dad would say about the commercial fishing business: “Each day has its own challenges, and is different”. That could easily be said in reference to hunting bears.