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Over-the-counter spring black bear opportunities

OTC Spring bear hunting opportunities

Photo credit: Chris Neville

Given the current state of the world, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, my mind — and I’m sure the minds of many of you reading this — has been vividly wandering back to memories of the fall months spent in the mountains. Chasing distant bugles or glassing for rut-crazed mule deer has been keeping me going and is also seriously sparking the fire for another adventure.

An often overlooked offseason adventure that most forget about is spring black bear hunting. In general, black bear tags are readily available, cheaper than deer or elk tags and just plain fun. These hunts pack all of the great adventures that any deer or elk hunt do, but without all of the pressure. Temperatures are warm, the woods are gorgeous at this time and the hunting can be great

In the following sections, we will break down my favorite states for over-the-counter (OTC) spring black bear opportunities and take an in-depth look at tag costs, general rules and this season’s outlook. Yes, there are other phenomenal spring bear hunting states. But some of them are on a draw system only. 

Note: Please keep in mind that a lot of these states have heavy changes due to COVID-19 and changes seem to be happening rapidly. All of the states listed below have some form of restriction currently in place. Even with all these changes, I still wanted to get this article out there. You can find all the current state by state updates of COVID-19's impacts on hunting opportunities below.

See all COVID-19 state updates here


IDAHO

Idaho is home to fantastic hunting opportunities and even provides the option to take multiple bears in some areas. Baiting and the use of hounds is legal here but will require additional permits as well as a major time commitment. Great spot and stalk opportunities can be found here and trophy quality for bears is good. Hunters will find a wide array of terrain types to pursue bears with the choice of where to begin the hunt largely hinging on the individual’s aspirations for the trip.

Idaho spring black bear season structure

When considering a prospective unit, hunters will need to play close attention to the regulations. Most seasons open on either April 1 or 15 while the end date for the season can be anywhere from May 31 through June 30.

  • Hunter orange is not required.
  • Hunters do not need to purchase archery or muzzleloader stamps to hunt with either weapon unless hunting a weapon specific area.
  • Tags can be purchased online or at any license dealer.

Idaho black bear tag fees

Item

Resident

Nonresident

Hunting license $15.75 $154.75
Black bear $13.75 $41.75
Total cost to hunt $29.50 $196.50

Auxiliary items

Bear bait $15 $31.75
Hound hunter $15 $169.75

It is important to note that in 2021 nonresident tag fees will see a large price increase. A fully detailed breakdown of the price increases can be found here.

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MONTANA

Like Idaho, Montana has a huge population of bears and plenty of hunting opportunities. Baiting or the use of hounds is not legal in the state; however, hunters still enjoy great harvest during the spring season. In general, glassing opportunities are excellent and hunters have a plethora of terrain types to chase bears in. Montana has historically produced some extremely large bears and opportunities at bears over the 6’ mark are not unreasonable. 

Montana spring black bear season structures

When considering a prospective unit, hunters will need to pay close attention to the regulations. Seasons open statewide on April 15 and last until May 31 or June 15, depending on the unit.

  • Hunter orange is required — even if hunting with archery equipment.
  • Hunters do not need to purchase a bow and arrow license to hunt with archery equipment unless hunting an archery only area.
  • Tags can be purchased online or at any license dealer.
  • Hunters must first pass the bear identification test before they can purchase a license.

Montana black bear license fees

Item

Resident

Nonresident

Base hunting license $10 $15
Conservation license $8 $10
Black bear license $19 $350
Total cost to hunt $37 $375

WYOMING

Wyoming has a slightly smaller population of black bears than the other two states on our list, but still offers good hunting opportunities for anyone willing to put in the effort. Bears can be found nearly statewide; however, the best hunting opportunities are generally found in the northwestern corner of the state. The country can be big here and physical effort will likely be high. Timber can be dense in patches, but hunters can find good vantage points if actively seeking them out. Baiting is legal in some areas; however, hunting with hounds for bears is not. 

Wyoming spring black bear season structure

When considering a prospective unit, hunters will need to play close attention to the regulations. Archery seasons generally open anywhere from April 15 to May 1 while any legal weapon (rifle) seasons open anywhere from May 1 to May 15. Hunters are strongly urged to double check the regulations for any unit they will be hunting. Before hunting in any of the archery seasons, hunters will need to first purchase their archery license. 

  • Hunter orange is not required during archery only seasons.
  • Hunter orange is required during any legal weapon (rifle) seasons.
  • Before hunting in an archery only season, hunters need to purchase an archery license.
  • Tags can be purchased online or at any license dealer.

Wyoming black bear license fees

Item

Resident

Nonresident

Conservation stamp $12.50 $12.50
Black bear license $47 $373
Total cost to hunt $59.50 $385.50

Auxiliary items

Archery stamp $16 $72

ALASKA

Alaska is an interesting state to consider for black bears. Some units can be hunted OTC; however, the best hunting is generally found along the southeastern tip of the state where tags are distributed through the draw. In these locations, bears can grow fat on seasonal fish diets and the hunting is out of this world. Still, with some planning, hunters can find good spring opportunities in a handful of the general units. 

Alaska is by far the most expensive state on our list — primarily from a transport standpoint, but black bear hunting in Alaska is on a whole new level compared to the lower 48. This is absolutely a destination hunt and something everyone should consider.

COVID-19 UPDATE: Alaska is one of these states that has gone back and forth on closures. As of April 2, 2020 restrictions have been lifted for Alaska resident black bear and brown/grizzly bear hunters. Nonresident hunters are still not permitted to hunt black bears or brown/grizzly bears in units 1-26. This restriction is in effect until 11:59 p.m. May 31, 2020 unless superseded by additional emergency orders. Check out the full details here.

Alaska spring black bear season structure

Alaska has a very non-traditional season structure for their bear hunts where seasons generally open in the fall and run into the early summer months. With the long season dates, most of the bears are generally harvested in May and June. Hunters are encouraged to pay close attention to the regulations for their desired unit. 

  • Hunter orange is not required.
  • The best hunts must be drawn.
  • Seasons have very generous dates.

Alaska black bear license fees

Item

Resident

Nonresident

Annual hunting license $45 $160
Black bear locking tag NA $450
Black bear harvest ticket Free Free
Total cost to hunt $45 $610

It is important to note that, in Alaska, residents can hunt many species without any extra additional costs beyond their hunting licenses. This awesome perk is unfortunately not extended to nonresidents.


Closing thoughts

Bear hunting

Really, any of these states can provide good hunting opportunities, but my top two picks are Idaho or Montana simply based upon pricing and opportunity. Alaska is a state that really deserves its own article entirely for bear information and is a hunt I hope to do in the very near future. 

Spring bear hunting can be an exceptional time of the year to get out and enjoy the great weather and sights. Additionally, this is a great opportunity to test out new gear for upcoming hunts in the fall. For someone looking to really dive into western hunting, but balking at the sometimes expensive costs, black bear hunting is where it’s at! For another look at some thoughts on bear hunting, be sure to check out this great article here.

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