By Garth Jenson, March 2015
Spot and stalk bear hunting can be very rewarding but also very frustrating, especially if you are in an area that is not conducive for that style of hunting. One of the first things I look for when researching a spot and stalk bear unit is the population/density of bears within the unit. Spot and stalk hunting is far more enjoyable when you’re in an area that offers more opportunity for multiple stalks. Areas with lower densities of bears are a little better suited for baiting to attract what bears are there to a certain area, but if you’re spot and stalk hunting in these areas, it can be pretty disheartening if you’re trying to find a handful of bears within thousands of acres.
The next thing I look for is the type of terrain I’ll be hunting in. I like to hunt in at least semi-open country to glass, but I definitely like to have good vantage points to multiple canyons. During spring hunts, I like to look in canyons holding good feed. Places to key in on will sometimes depend on which feed is best when bears decide to come out of their dens. Any open, south-facing slopes with adjacent thick timbered canyons are always spots I like to glass. One plant I do like to look for is Manzanita shrubs that are blossoming. Bears seem to really key in on these plants when in bloom. I also like hunting later in May more so than April as by this time most bears will be out of their dens and traveling more than when they first emerge. This makes them more visible and vulnerable for spot and stalk hunting.
Fall hunting is a little different than spring hunting as bears will be concentrated on different food sources, depending on the time of year your hunt falls on. Berries are one of the best food sources to key in on, if available. Usually just after the first hard frost of the year berries will ripen and bears will flood these areas. It’s a sight to behold in some of these areas as there might not be any bears in there all year and suddenly there are bears everywhere. If my hunt is in September, I like to focus on berry patches. If my hunt is later in the year, I will shift my focus more on patches of oak trees if the acorn crops are good. Bears love acorns and thick canyon bottoms. These areas can be difficult to spot bears in, but it goes back to hunting in areas with the highest concentration of bears possible.
There are some great states in the West for spot and stalk bear hunting. Some spot and stalk only states that don’t allow baiting include Colorado, Montana, Oregon, and California. California and Oregon have a good population of big bears, but they are tough spot and stalk states as the terrain has a lot more dense forest that can be tough to find bears in. Montana is one of the best states for spot and stalk spring bear hunts as they have over-the-counter tags with big bears and areas of open glassable country. Colorado doesn’t have a spring bear season, but they do have multiple fall seasons with some draw seasons in September followed up with over-the-counter tags for anyone who has a deer or elk license for that area during the second or third rifle seasons. These seasons have quotas, and typically tags for the second rifle season in the better areas will sell out, but the third season has lower harvest rates and is hit and miss on selling out tags.
Other great spot and stalk states are Arizona, Idaho, Utah, and New Mexico. I like Idaho and Arizona over Utah and slightly over New Mexico. I like Idaho the most as they have a high population of bears and good spot and stalk country as well as over-the-counter tags that provide great opportunities every year. Arizona is next due to the high population and their spring spot and stalk only season. Plus, if you don’t harvest in the spring, you can go back and hunt later in the year. New Mexico is also good with a fair population, but size just doesn’t seem to be on par with Arizona. Utah has good size and the population is on the rise, but unfortunately most hunts are on a draw basis. They are starting to implement over-the-counter tags in isolated areas for fall seasons, but the population just isn’t there yet for a high success rate. Some of the spring draw hunts are terrific for spot and stalk but have tough draw odds.