I’m going to cut down your homework load and tell you right now that the three states to have on your bear hunting radar is Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Time is of the essence so I’m going to direct you to the best densities of bear in the country that’s conducive to bowhunters or long range rifles. These states have legit mountains and steep features that host desirable bear habitat, we want more spring bear hunters out west to help manage their growing populations. This is a great excuse to have your weapon doped and test some of your gear upgrades prior to the fall. If you're like me, this is some of the best time of the year to be in the mountains with long stretches of daylight when the woods are considerably less crowded.
Wyoming and Idaho allow baiting for black bears, but not across the state. Double check your regulations to confirm legality in the unit(s) you’ve selected. Generally speaking I don’t think a week is enough time to properly set up bait stations and attract bears regularly. Oftentimes, it takes several weeks and a lot of sweat equity to develop such locations which is why I am going to discourage this tactic for folks who are traveling great distances to hunt spring black bear. If you’re hellbent on baiting then go ahead and do that, but spend the majority of daylight hours glassing for bears and reserve only the last hour of the day to sitting your bait station with a good wind. We could write an entire article on the nuances of proper bear baiting but that’s not entirely the best direction when coming from out of town. Your best bet is simply to find pockets of bear and get in tight with your bow.
Checkout the Bighorn range which is supposedly void of grizzlies. Archers get a two week head start generally speaking and success rates are good. After bears emerge from their dens, they'll be on the prowl for fresh grasses along rock faces and the snow line. Make sure you have your valid bear license with the archery stamp.
There’s out of this world bear hunting south of Bozeman, but you will be in Grizzly country so because of that, I would exercise great caution. If 'G' bears are a great concern, consider northwest Montana logging country. If you live in Montana don’t be mad, just know there’s plenty of bears for everyone and you need to know that there are grizzlies there too, just not as dense.
Idaho has units that are draw only, these controlled areas are usually near Hell’s Canyon and are definitely worth putting in for next year. The draw has already taken place so put a reminder in your phone for next year. If you want to hunt in Idaho where there’s no baiting to compete with, then look into the very north portion. There are grizzlies there too, just so you know. Idaho has a lot of amazing hound hunters so understand you need to get away from roads to avoid competition. The most northern section of Idaho is chalked full of black bears and it’s no secret. Idaho requires an archery stamp as well.
A solid backpack is a must, one that can carry your necessary gear, I will leave you with a condensed list of must have items to consider. When it comes to glassing I pack 10x42 binos and keep them on a tripod for long glassing sessions. I always pack a spotting scope that’s at least a 65mm and some sort of digiscoping attachment to get footage of bears. The other item I am very serious about is my eBike. I can get 40 miles a day in steep country and I pack an extra battery. I simply charge batteries at night with my generator.
Spring hunting is made for long days. Lots of daylight hours which means if you can stay focused, your odds go way up. Obviously bear activity is the highest right at first light and right at last light. However, if you have yourself an overcast day that’s fairly cool, you should be able to find multiple bears if you’re in the right area. My worst days of midday bear hunting land on the dry and unseasonable hot spring days which is out of your control. This is not the norm but I would stay real close to dark timber and water sources on days like that. If you want to sleep in on bear hunting that’s fine, it’s a low key hunt that’s built around having fun and seeing beautiful country. I will say though, you get what you put in when it comes to bear hunting so do your best to put yourself in a position to get several stalks throughout the hunt
Bears smell better than almost any animal including bloodhounds. You won’t fool their noses but you can fool their eyesight. I believe bears can hear and see better than some folks give them credit for. So my advice is to make your movements slow once you’re getting into bow range and don’t make noise. Slip on stalking shoes or take your boots off when getting in tight. Respect their sense of smell and understand this, bears move a lot when feeding so go fast when you can and go slow when you have to.
Gaiters -Kenetrek Hunting Gaiters
Do you eat bear meat? - Absolutely! Treat it like you would any big game animal, get the meat cooled as soon as possible and follow protocol when it comes to preparing your harvest by cooking it at the appropriate temperature. Spring bear meat is awesome and you don’t deal with much bear fat.
Weather Concerns - Spring showers are the norm, pack rain gear and gaiters and be ready to rock as soon as a storm breaks.
Quotas - Wyoming has quotas in place for each individual unit, Montana and Idaho not nearly as much. Do your homework and find units with general tags and high densities. Here's alink to check on Montana's status in season.
Field Judging - I think field judging bears is challenging. Bears come in all different sizes and shapes so it can be tricky. If you’re looking for a boar, key in on blocky shoulders and narrow hips. Big ears are a definite sign of an immature bear. Males usually have a little more attitude and can be found away from sows and cubs until the rut kicks in. I have been fooled before on big bears that were actually females without cubs. This will take spring bear reps to become proficient.
Bear Rut - Generally speaking you will find males searching for love mid May through Mid June. I’m not sure why some years it’s an early start and others it seems to be delayed. It can also change from canyon to canyon. I prefer to hunt before the rut when bears are not traveling so far and can hangout in a niche little area for weeks on end. If you are in the rut then keep an eye on ridge lines as boars will be cruising along and wind checking for future girlfriends.
Arrow Placement - So this can be controversial so I will just give you my opinion. I prefer a broadside shot on a bear and I like to get as close as possible. Once I am in range I locate the middle of the middle on the bear’s body, then I aim a few inches towards the shoulder. It’s definitely not where I would aim on a whitetail, let me just say that. I really try to avoid quartering towards or away shots on bears, I need two holes and will get that when I use a sharp fixed broadhead. Blood trailing bears can be challenging as their hair is long and soaks up blood readily. It is imperative that you make a high percentage shot on bears or you could be spending a lot of time searching and when you’re with a team, you’re burning their hunting time as well.