The Guide to Spring Black Bears

Put the deer sheds and grey light gobbles on ice – self-guided spring bear hunting is not only doable, you can find success without breaking the bank.


My spring is no longer in pursuit of turkeys, instead I’m traversing the public lands of Idaho and Montana in search of something bigger. I fell in love with spring black bear hunting several years ago and it has quickly become my second favorite pursuit next to September elk hunting. By the time winter comes to a close, the bears are awakening from their slumbers and moving pretty consistently.

Black bears need to get their metabolisms and G.I. tracts back into gear after hibernation, so they forage on brand new grasses and vegetation for several weeks. We find black bears near dark timber and fresh water, and often times they feed in interval sessions. We take advantage by locating these green spots, and waiting for the inevitable feeding.

Another great location to hunt is out-of-service logging roads. These old roads see very little spring human traffic and a bowhunter can walk these roads for many miles keeping the wind in their face. I have now found several places that I can use my eBike to travel quietly on these deserted paths. Make sure you know the rules and regulations if you’re going to utilize the eBike, otherwise bring your mountain bike.

Best states to hunt black bears

I’m going to put a dent in your workload and tell you the three states to have on your bear hunting radar are Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. These states have legitimate mountains and steep features that host desirable bear habitat. Be prepared for a physically taxing hunt, with a lot of vertical hiking.

There’s scouting, and then more scouting

Don’t be afraid to call a few local game wardens. I prefer them over biologists and other local officials because they are the ones who are in the field and checking successful hunters.

Hop on social media, and reach out to black bear hunters who have had success. You can also geo-locate specific areas to help you find and connect with these hunters. Most bear hunters want you to be successful because it helps with the overall management of the species. Online e-scouting is also very important to some degree. Before you open up Google Earth Pro, make sure you understand that bears come out at different times due to the snow line. Every spring is different so it’s part of the allure and challenge.

Once you’re out there, look for the signs

Spring black bear signs appear in torn up stumps, dug out roots and piles of bear poop. Black bears love south-facing hillsides, near snow-lines where nutrient dense plants grow. Use historical fire data from onX Hunt to locate burns that are relatively new (3-4 years old) Fresh green growth thrive in recently burned areas. Rocky canyons with nearby chutes are always solid, and as mentioned above, logging areas.

Final tips for your trip

Weather Concerns – Spring showers are the norm. Pack Rain gear and gaiters and be ready for storms.

Field Judging – I think field judging bears is challenging. Black 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.

Bear Rut – Generally speaking, you will find males searching for love mid-May through June. Some years it’s an early start and other years 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 as far.

Fitness Requirements – Prior to your arrival make sure you’re hiking with a weighted pack on several miles a week. Simply start getting familiar with a thirty-pound pack on your shoulders and go out and ruck, even if it’s in your neighborhood.

Wind Is King – Bears smell better than all animals including bloodhounds. You won’t fool their noses, but you can fool their eyesight. Stay down-wind, and make your movements slow once you’re getting into bow range and don’t make noise.

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