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Don’t overlook fall bear hunting

Don’t overlook fall bear hunting

Photo credit: Chris Neville

Though spring bear season gets a lot of attention, many western states also have a fall bear season that hunters shouldn’t overlook. Fall bear hunting is an excellent add-on tag if you are already going to be in the mountains chasing elk, deer or other big game species or a fun standalone tag if you do not have any other plans. It also can be a great tag to grab if you want to join your buddies who have drawn a tag that you didn’t. I have even seen people use a fall bear tag as an excuse to be in the mountains hunting a unit they plan on drawing next year to get boots-on-the-ground scouting during a concurrent hunting season. No matter the reason, here are some tips to finding bears in the fall instead of just relying on good old fashion luck.  

Where to start

Before purchasing a bear tag or heading into the mountains, a good amount of e-scouting should be done, especially if you plan on being successful. Even if you are just adding a tag onto a hunt, you need to be aware of any bear populations in the area and decide whether purchasing a tag is worth it, especially if you have to pay nonresident costs. The quickest and easiest way to do this is to use the information available on goHUNT’s Filtering 2.0 bear tab within the state you are interested in to see harvest success for specific units. Select the fall season and toggle the animal’s harvest or harvest success, depending on the state. If the state reports a reasonable success rate or a significant number of bears are being harvested, the tag might be worth it.  If the report is not so good, then you might want to look elsewhere or keep that money in your pocket.

Where to look

Whether it is spring or fall, bears love to hang out in hard-to-reach areas. Typically, it is suggested to look deep and steep if you want to find higher bear populations. From my experience, they love to be back in difficult drainages. Black bears usually stay far away from human interaction, so I find it quite common to see them in drainages and basins with no trails. Using the terrain steepness is the best and, quite possibly, only way to find bears since you need to glass into hillsides with good food sources and some water access. You may be wondering what bears eat in the fall and how to find these areas. 

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Finding the best fall food

Similar to the spring, the fall has bears mainly concentrating on food. They need to get their fat reserves up if they will make it through the winter and live another year. As you know, bears are omnivores and will eat anything from birds to mammals to fish to plants to insects. The fall is a good time for bears because other hunters focus on harvesting deer and elk and leave the carcasses with some meat scraps in the mountains. This is a tricky thing to hone in on, so sticking with the more stable food sources will help you more than trying to find old carcass piles to hunt over. A more stable food source that bears will seek out and hold onto is berries and nuts. To bears, berries and nuts are easy food sources that can help them pack on the pounds before their winter slumber. When they find an area with a lot of these, they may stay for days or weeks on end. If you are solely hunting bears or adding on this tag, keep an eye out as you are hiking for these food sources and bear scat. If you find a berry-covered hillside with bear scat, it is probably a great area to glass that evening and mornings to come. After all, it does not make sense to overlook a side hill with no berries or nuts if there are areas in the basin with these food sources. A bear’s day revolves nearly entirely around food. 

When to hunt them

Though bears can be active any time of day, they do not usually find themselves out in the sun during midday. During this time, they primarily will forage in dense timber where they are safe from hunting pressure and the hot sun. If there is high hunting pressure in the area, bears may turn primarily nocturnal, which means the best time to see them out and about will be at dusk and dawn. Depending on the elevation, snowfall, temperature and food supply, you may see bears still out and about into late November. Still, typically all bears are in hibernation by Dec. 1 — if not earlier. The bears that live at higher elevations will hibernate first, followed by the lower elevation.  

The spring might be the most popular time to hunt black bears; however, the fall is a great time to chase them as well. Some states only have a fall season which means that it is the only time to hunt bears.  Before you buy a tag, do some research on goHUNT, do some e-scouting to find hard-to-reach trailless basins and then look for active food sources.  Dusk and dawn are the best times of day to spot bears though it is possible to catch them in the open, moving from place to place at any time. Bears can be creatures of habit, especially if there is a good food source, so find the food and you will find the bears this fall.

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