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Author Topic: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears (Updated w/pics 3.24.12)  (Read 59994 times)

Offline saylean

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I know for a lot of people, bear hunting is pretty new and often difficult. Spring bear especially. However, once you get to know what your prey is looking for, how they act, and where to look, it is often not too difficult. So I thought I would take the time and pass along some tips for those who drew a coveted spring bear tag. Oh and congrats, I am jealous as I was unselected this year!  :tup:

This is not an all inclusive, know all, thread. Rather, this is a thread of information I have learned the past 5 years chasing spring bear. I do not believe I know it all, but thanks to many hours on this forum, and time spent in field, I have gathered a pretty good knowledge of bears.

If you notice, the title refers to west side spring bears. I used that in the title, as east side spring bears, I have not hunted much and their habbits while similar, I am sure differ a bit in what they have to eat (IE wild onions).

Bears in the spring are hungry (arent they always!) and looking for anything that might help with that. Berries are not in season yet, so they need to find whatever food source is available to them. On the west side of the state, they generally search out fresh shoots of grass, skunk cabbage, grubs/ants (late spring) and (for the main reason you are hunting them) the cambium layer in younger trees.

When trees go dormant for the winter, their sap gathers in the roots. When spring comes, the sap begins to leave the roots and head back up into the trees. When this happens, the bears seek out the cambium layer to eat the starchy substrate.

Here are examples of tree damage that occured within hours. I know it happened within hours, as the trees were undamaged before I hiked in, and I counted 7 in a row that were stripped on the way out, along my same path. This is why logging companies want/need spring bear hunts. This was a group of 7 trees, that will more than likely die, which were destroyed under an hour. You can imagine how much damage several bears could do throughout one day!

NOTE: The size of the trees, they were not older trees, but rather about the size that would be just a bit bigger than what you could put your hands around. 10 years old or so. Also, take note of the teeth marks that go vertical, up and down the trunk of the trees. You will find this stripping behavior from ground level, up to about 5 ft or so, maybe higher.

A link to more examples of bear peels: http://hunting-washington.com/smf/index.php?topic=74471.msg911359#msg911359
« Last Edit: March 24, 2012, 04:56:50 PM by saylean »
Author of "No Bait Just Bears" and "The Ultimate Guide To Black Bear Hunting". Follow on Instagram: bozeandbears.

Offline saylean

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears (Possible Sticky Thread?)
« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2012, 09:19:55 AM »
On the pictures above, note how the bark is fresh looking, and how the exposed wood does not have lines of hardened sap covering the wounds.

On older spring bear damage, the trees are noticibly different looking. The sap is white and hardened and the inner wood layer looks like it has been exposed for some time. You would also note the lack of 'peeled' bark on the ground around the tree.

UPDATED: Below are the same trees about 1 year later. Notice the white sap marks, etc. In addition, I added a completely dead tree for referance.
« Last Edit: March 24, 2012, 04:50:07 PM by saylean »
Author of "No Bait Just Bears" and "The Ultimate Guide To Black Bear Hunting". Follow on Instagram: bozeandbears.

Offline saylean

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears (Possible Sticky Thread?)
« Reply #2 on: March 20, 2012, 09:32:59 AM »
The scat of bear differs greatly through out the year. Below you will first find an example of bear scat where berries were the main diet (first pile of poo). This is an example of what you would find during the summer months. Also, note the example of the contents of a bears stomach during the summer months. Smells like berry pie!

In the spring, bear scat looks alot like clumps of wet grass, since grass is a main source of their food. Below are some more examples of this (spring bear scat are the final few pics below). You can tell fresh bear scat like you would any other scat. Fresh scat would be fairly moist, similar in color on the outside as it is in on the inside, etc. Older scat would be dry on the outside, different in color, etc. If you've hunted much, you know how to tell fresh from old.  :tup:
« Last Edit: March 20, 2012, 12:19:09 PM by saylean »
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Offline saylean

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears (Possible Sticky Thread?)
« Reply #3 on: March 20, 2012, 10:12:46 AM »
Now that we have discussed a bit about sign, lets talk about where to look for the bears! Spring bear hunts are a great time to try and hunt bear with a bow (if thats your pleasure). Spring time bear will often be found along old logging roads/trails, walking the edges, eating the fresh shoots of grass, allowing a great oppourtunity for bow hunters. (NOTE, the pic below was taking in the summer time, but I thought it was a good reference).

Places to look for:

Ask the logging company where are they having the most damage. They are usually more than happy to point you in the right direction.

You want to find swampy areas with skunk cabbage (another favorite of bears), grassy openings with fresh green shoots, younger reprods (10 years old or so) that contain the size of trees we previously discussed.
Also, while you are scouting, pay special attention to ridgelines or hillsides that have obvious dying or dead trees on them (NOTE THE PIC BELOW OF THE HILL SIDE, NOTE THE YELLOW TREES, BEAR RIDGE file especially. I went to get a better picture of it, so hopefully that gives a good idea what to look for). You will notice often times, yellow, orange or flat out bare trees along ridges and hillsides (or along roadsides). These are often indications of previous year spring bear damage and might be a good place to start looking for sign. Keep your eyes out for these types of areas.

Take a walk down old logging spurs, where the sun has been able to reach and allow spring shoots to come up. As you walk down the spurs/trails, peer off into the distant timber looking for previous bear tree damage or any fresh damage. You will be surprised how much you find, once you start looking for this type of sign.

Any sort of field like opening where the sun can hit and grass can grow early are great spots. If you are familiar with bear hunting in the summer/fall you know that you just have to find a food source and minimal people. Same in spring, find these food sources with minimal human interferance and you should be looking good.

Google earth is a great scouting tool as most of you know. When I was drawn for spring bear, I had finally found some sign. It was a great spot, surrounded by thick brush and reprod, but opened up to several grassy openings (40 yards across or so, that were actually caused from bears killing off the trees in the area), but I didnt know how many of these openings, or if there were any bigger ones. I would literally have to crawl through the brush and then suddenly, there would be an opening!

I went home that night, google earthed the spot and found two marvelous long openings that, unless you googled, would have a hell of a time finding. I later took a bear in that very opening.

If you can find areas that are semi secluded WITH A FOOD SOURCE, (ie fresh grass, skunk cabbage, carrion) and some bear scat, your on the road to success.  You might find that you need to hunt lower on the hills than expected. With the snow, etc... the higher you go up, the slower or less fresh plant life growth may of occured. If you are not finding much sign high up, head to the low lands.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2012, 06:27:50 PM by saylean »
Author of "No Bait Just Bears" and "The Ultimate Guide To Black Bear Hunting". Follow on Instagram: bozeandbears.

Offline saylean

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears (Possible Sticky Thread?)
« Reply #4 on: March 20, 2012, 10:36:47 AM »
Predator calling!

If any of you follow any of my threads, you know I LOVE TO PREDATOR CALL! :tup: Bears especially. While I have not had a ton of luck calling bears in the spring, it is a viable way to get shot opps. I mainly have only called when I was drawn, so that is probably half the reason I have not had much luck.

In the spring, what else other then fresh shoots and plant life are available? Fawns  :tup: coyote pups :tup: and other baby animals...all very tasty for bears.

Setting up for spring bear calling is just about the same as when you would call later in the year. With the exception that you might want to concentrate on using fawn distress, coupled with a fawn decoy. I have had luck using coyote pup distress as well.

The basics are as follows:

1. Be prepared. It can happen real quick and you better be ready.
2. Try to get up on a stump pile or have a solid background (tree) to lean against.
3. Find brushy reprod to call into...6-10 years old or so
4. Watch your wind...often times they will come in and try to smell you first.
5. Call for an hour, stopping only briefly to listen. They are not like coyotes and may take some time to come to the call. Then wait for a bit after your set is stopped all the way. You never know what might come in to check it out.
6. Bears can come in loud and fierce, or sneaky like a cat....KEEP AWARE!
7. As with any hunt,...ALWAYS BE 100% sure of your target and whats beyond.

Below is a summer time call session...but it can happen just that fast. This bear was called in under 3-5 minutes.


Another great reference for bear calling is www.callingbears.com (Hope you dont mind Billy). 

Also, the coyote below was shot after calling for about 2 minutes, while spring bear hunting....its a great way to see whats out there...very similar to fishing! Cast out and see what bites! Hopefully it doesnt bite you!
« Last Edit: March 20, 2012, 12:26:39 PM by saylean »
Author of "No Bait Just Bears" and "The Ultimate Guide To Black Bear Hunting". Follow on Instagram: bozeandbears.

Offline saylean

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears (Possible Sticky Thread?)
« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2012, 10:49:34 AM »
There are already other threads sticky on here for shot placement of bears and hide care, so I will not go into these (see top of bear forum). However, I would like to touch on bear rubbing of hide.

In the spring, bear have wonderful coats. They are left over from winter, but they are hot and itchy. Time to get them off! Bears like to rub off their coats by scratching, rubbing trees, etc. When you are selecting your bear to hunt, and IF it matters to you, keep a close eye on the hide. You wouldnt want to shoot a bear that looks great on one side, but rubbed out on the other. By glassing the bear or just observing it for a bit, you should be able to tell if it has any nasty rubs. Generally, they start first rubbing their face and paws, then work on the sides of the body (or so I have been told, I could be wrong). Basically, just observe the bear, try to ensure the hide is nice, and do what you came to do!

Below is a sequence from my area I like to call "bearadise" of a spring bear.
Notice how he scratches, getting that itchy fur off.





Author of "No Bait Just Bears" and "The Ultimate Guide To Black Bear Hunting". Follow on Instagram: bozeandbears.

Offline saylean

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears (Possible Sticky Thread?)
« Reply #6 on: March 20, 2012, 11:04:20 AM »
Final Thoughts

The later in the season it gets, the easier it will be to find bears. DONT GET DISCOURAGED~!

There are tons of great stories and threads in the bear forum on spring bear. Read them and get to know them best you can, TONS of info!

You might want to bring a chain saw with you in your truck. Spring time wind storms often blow down trees across roads. Just a thought.

A pair of good leather gloves and gardening hand clippers work great for tracking bears. Black berry bushes and bears go together like peas and carrots and I have found gloves and clippers are a great remedy for this.

Keep in mind, sows with cubs are going to have very small little ones following them. Be patient when observing bears and make sure you are not shooting a sow with cubs. No one wants to orphan baby bears.

In addition, bears are tough (as many of you know). They live in the thickest, nasties places. Be prepared to give your absolute all if you shoot one and have to track it. The animal deserves it.

As you can tell, I am very excited about bear hunting and excited for all who were drawn.  :tup: I hope this thread has helped some of you and wish nothing but success in the field for you all, whether that is by taking a bear, or by enjoying time in the woods during the spring! I hope all of you can enjoy a view like I did on my spring hunt! Thanks for reading! I still might edit a thing or two, but feel free to post now if you like.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2012, 11:41:50 AM by saylean »
Author of "No Bait Just Bears" and "The Ultimate Guide To Black Bear Hunting". Follow on Instagram: bozeandbears.

Offline Echomules

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears (Possible Sticky Thread?)
« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2012, 11:14:51 AM »
This is Awesome! I've done plenty of bear hunting but never in the spring. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I hope to be telling a tale of how it helped.

Offline washingtonwillie88

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears (Possible Sticky Thread?)
« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2012, 11:16:16 AM »
that was awesome lots of good info, great job

Offline grundy53

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears (Possible Sticky Thread?)
« Reply #9 on: March 20, 2012, 11:22:55 AM »
 :tup:
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Offline fillthefreezer

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears (Possible Sticky Thread?)
« Reply #10 on: March 20, 2012, 11:41:25 AM »
ive never had the opportunity to hunt bear in the spring til now so i hink its awesome you took the time to do this! :tup:

Offline Bob33

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A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #11 on: March 20, 2012, 11:44:49 AM »
Thanks Saylean. The thread is sticky now.  Great info.
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Offline jamesjett

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #12 on: March 20, 2012, 11:47:57 AM »
Great post!  Thank you for taking the time to post the information.  I drew for the first time so this will be my
first time hunting spring bear.

Offline Skyvalhunter

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #13 on: March 20, 2012, 11:51:40 AM »
Nice write up should help some of the bear hunter out alot.

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #14 on: March 20, 2012, 01:26:31 PM »
great write up  :tup:
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Offline saylean

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #15 on: March 20, 2012, 02:35:38 PM »
Glad to see it got sticky'ed. It was my pleasure.
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Offline Button Nubbs

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #16 on: March 20, 2012, 02:40:42 PM »
Awesome! I'm sure ill read it a few more times before my monroe hunt! Should be some good draw karma for you next year! :tup: thanks!
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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #17 on: March 20, 2012, 04:09:37 PM »
Nice write up Saylean.   Thanks for sharing some of your past harvest with Idabooner.  VERY COOL!
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Offline SemperFidelis97

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #18 on: March 20, 2012, 04:37:28 PM »
Thanks for sharing there are some good pointers on there.

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #19 on: March 20, 2012, 05:37:09 PM »
Thanks Saylean, I appreciate you taking the time to help us out. Karma points for you. I will be out there in Monroe with Button Nubbs and the others who drew Monroe. Maybe between us all we can help the Timber Co's by removing a few tree killers. I'm uber excited!
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Offline saylean

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #20 on: March 20, 2012, 05:39:32 PM »
Thanks Saylean, I appreciate you taking the time to help us out. Karma points for you. I will be out there in Monroe with Button Nubbs and the others who drew Monroe. Maybe between us all we can help the Timber Co's by removing a few tree killers. I'm uber excited!

I'll be out there too...just with my camera and on foot!  :tup:

Good luck you two.
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Offline billythekidrock

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #21 on: March 20, 2012, 05:44:55 PM »
Saylean,
Do you have all of this saved as a Word doc or PDF?




Offline saylean

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #22 on: March 20, 2012, 05:52:07 PM »
Saylean,
Do you have all of this saved as a Word doc or PDF?

Nope, but with the exception of the youtube clips, it wouldnt be too tough to do. Send me a PM if you want me to email it to you, or whatever.
Author of "No Bait Just Bears" and "The Ultimate Guide To Black Bear Hunting". Follow on Instagram: bozeandbears.

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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #23 on: March 20, 2012, 06:32:37 PM »
Another thing to note is what elevation you're seeing bears at during your hunt... at least on the eastside, can't imagine the westside is all that different.  They will follow the green-up, up the mountain.  As the snow melts and the local vegetation/food of choice starts sprouting they will feed almost exclusively on it, and almost appear to track the "green-up" progression up in elevation.

For example, we saw five bears on my daughters hunt last year and all five were within a few hundred feet of the same elevation, located in the same type of vegetation, same aspect... identical in every respect.  Once we started to notice a pattern, we honed in on that exact habitat and had much better luck locating bears.  In our case, 4,000' was the magical elevation.  We never saw any sign at 3,000' and everything was just melted with no "green-up" at 5,000'... but every open ridge with their preferred forage sprouting was all dug up by bears feeding all over them.  Obviously that will vary with variatons in snow melt/green-up any given year, but just a reference.

Here are a couple example pics of what we started honing in on, again just to give you some ideas.


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Re: A "How To" guide for west side spring bears
« Reply #24 on: March 21, 2012, 08:43:24 AM »
Thanks for the tips. I need all the help I can get. Thank you for taking the time to put it together...
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