Timing is everything in hunting. The best destinations in the world can be highly productive for a certain species at a given time, and at other times year can be only average. Oftentimes spring bear hunting is lumped into one broad category covering the months of May and June. Hunters booking hunts in remote destinations would do well to understand the general phases of the spring hunt and the related bear activity during that time period. Knowing what to expect and what questions to ask your outfitter are critical for choosing the right time hunt. For the do-it-yourselfer, this information will be invaluable as you plan your hunting, too.
The springtime for black bears is dominated by two biological realties and a third external factor. The need for bears to find food and build up their fat reserve after months of denning is the first reality. Black bears emerge from their dens between March and April in most parts of the bear range. They den from 90 to 150 days, depending on their northern latitude and food availability. When they emerge, they are looking for green vegetation, carrion, and basically anything with digestible calories. Spring hunting, whether spot-and-stalk or bait hunting, capitalizes on a bear’s need to eat.
The second springtime reality is the bear rut. Bears can basically breed anytime they aren’t denning, but the peak breeding period is in a 60-day time period between late May, June, and early July. Most spring bear hunting seasons only go through mid-to-late June. The rut has played a part in many successful spring hunts ending with giant-headed boars in the backs of UTV’s and on pack frame backpacks. Understanding the timing of the rut combined with a knowledge of what bears are doing in terms of feeding will help you decide when to go hunting.
The third factor is weather. In hunting, weather is either your greatest ally or your worst enemy. Springtime bear hunting can be dominated by weather conditions. An early spring can have the bears out of the dens early and ahead of their usual schedule. A late spring can have bears way behind and hardly awake by the time you are hunting. Weather is the most unpredictable part of spring bear hunting. However, if you understand the generalizations of the region you’re hunting, you’ll be equipped to make a solid decision about timing.
Three Phases of the Spring
Mature boars are usually the first bears to emerge from the winter den. Sows with cubs are typically the last. Boars come out early in order to start packing on calories to build up their bodies for the coming rut. Just like whitetail deer, boars roam long distances and expend great amounts of energy looking for receptive sows. They burn lots of calories, and feeding becomes secondary to breeding later in the spring. By emerging early they are getting a jump-start on the calorie game. We will categorize the first part of the spring as Phase One, the mid spring as Phase Two, and later part as Phase Three. Timeframes will vary based up how far north you’re hunting. We will make some assumptions with dates that could flex either way. Let’s define these phases and discuss the pros and cons of hunting them.
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