Bait or Spot and Stalk Bear

NAH Staff Writer Larry Weishuhn addresses the age old question

“Want to sit in blind and wait for a bear to come to you?  Or, do you want to walk and try to spot a bear and then go after him?”  I questioned Randy Bartlett someone who used to spend time “just down the road” from where I grew up in the Zimmerscheidt Community, just above the Colorado River in southeastern Central Texas.

“Thinking I might want a more rested hunt, rather than feeling like I’m hunting elk or mule deer in the Rockies.  Find us a baited hunt.  That way we can fish in the morning and hunt in the afternoon.  Got a hankering to catch a pike along with wanting to collect a bear hide for.”  Replied Randy. 

I like to fish, but it always seems whenever I’m on a hunt there is no time to do any fishing when filming episodes for my “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” television show.  Spring bear hunting gives me the opportunity to at least occasionally wet a line.  I liked how Randy was thinking.

I made a few calls and found an outfit in Saskatchewan where we could hunt bears in the afternoon and if we wanted to, fish in the morning. The area was known for big bears, mostly black but occasionally color-phase black bear.  One of my hunting goals is to shoot a monstrous cinnamon, chocolate or blonde black bear. I’ve shot three color-phase bears, and two of the were nice, to say the least, but I am still looking for that 400 pound plus, 21-inch or better skull colored bear.

First afternoon in camp Randy saw bears, I did not.  Randy was interested in a good mature bear, regardless of color.  The outfitter assigned him a bait numerous bears were visiting.  I hunted a bait where previously had been seen a huge brown-colored bear.  But, he only occasionally visited the bait.

Over a late night snack, Randy said he had started seeing bears less than twenty minutes after he got into his stand.  Mostly he saw sows and young bear, nothing that really wanted him to punch his tag the first evening.  “Stayed entertained all afternoon, and from the comfort of what would be a good substitute for an easy chair.  Loved it!” He explained.

Even though I did not see a bear that first evening, I too was entertained throughout the afternoon’s hunt by chipmunks, squirrels and variety of birds.  Thanks to my head net, leather gloves and a Thermacell I was not bothered by the numerous, pesky, tiny vampires which haunted the area.

Second afternoon, Randy found a bear with a luxuriant jet black coat to his liking.  A properly placed Hornady bullet and the bear was Randy’s!  Later that night his salted hide was in the cooler and the bear’s meat hung to properly age in preparation of making the trip to Texas.

It was two evening later that a huge, lanky, almost poor body condition black boar came to my bait.  He showed signs of a long, rigorous breeding season.  Soon as I saw him, I knew he was a bear I wanted to take.  One shot from my Ruger Number 1 chambered in .450-400 NE 3” and shooting Hornady’s 400-grain DGX put the bear down! 

My baited hunt had been a relaxing, late afternoon affair.  It was a hunt on which I ate well, slept great and longer than I usually do, and I got to fish several mid-mornings to mid-day.

Baited hunt are somewhat of a “gentleman’s hunt”, where you do not walk very far or much.  You sit comfortably and wait for bears to appear.  Occasionally bugs can be a bit pesky, but with proper preparation they are not a problem.  With baited hunt is you usually see numerous bears of varying sizes and ages and can spend time learning about bears by watching their behavior.  Such hunts are seldom boring because there are also various birds and smaller animals that frequent the bait sites.  When a bear appears, and with baiting you can usually be selective in terms of size and/or color, you can truly evaluate the bear before pulling the trigger or releasing an arrow.  You can also wait for the bear to give you that perfect shot for proper shot placement. 

I have enjoyed many fun-filled and successful baited black bear hunts.  Rather than hunt from a treestand, I really like sitting on the ground on the same level with the bear!  Doing so just adds a bit “excitement and adventure”!

I do love spot and stalk bear hunting!  And, I have hunted bears that way in New Mexico, Colorado, Alaska, and Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.  Essentially spot and stalk involves going to areas where you have found sign and start glassing.  Natural food sources such as berry patches, occasionally grain fields, salmon or other fish filled streams and similar areas are a good place to start.  So are fresh spots of lush green grass, as well as patches of dandelions.  Glass, glass, and then glass some more.  Use the best binos possible, one of the reason I have long used Zeiss, same with a spotting scope.  Once the bear is spotted quickly size up the bear by comparing it to known size objects near the bear.  Decision made to stalk the bear, find the best possible approach.  Bears are not blind but their eyesight is not par with a pronghorn antelope.  But, when it comes to their sense of smell that’s something else. 

Mountain breezes can be fickle.  I have had numerous stalks ruined because suddenly the wind changed. But….. I remember too, a time hunting on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island with my long-time friend, Jim Shockey where we dealt with changing winds. 

Shockey and I had spotted a promising boar up near the crest of a long “draw”.   We started our stalk.  We were closing the distance when at about 200 yards of where the boar was feeding on dandelions and clover, the slight breeze which had been in our face, switched to coming from our back.  Neither Jim or I said anything and both at the same time started running as fast as we could toward the bear, hoping we could “out run the wind”! 

We ran past where the bear fed in the draw down below us.  Once we had passed him we turned around and completed our stalk, into the the wind.  I shot the boar at less than 15 yards.

If you’ve seen my original “Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” book published by Stoeger Press back in 2003, you may have noticed a black bear trophy pose photo of Shockey and me on the cover. That was the bear he and I took by outrunning the wind!

I love the challenge of spot and stalk bear hunts, getting touching close before pulling the trigger. Such hunts are challenging but also great fun.  A few years ago I shot another gorgeous black bear on Vancouver Island.  I was hunting with a Ruger Number 1 in .300 Win Mag shooting 180-grain soft point Hornady loads.  My guide and I spotted the bear fairly high up on a ridge.  We were able to make our way around the backside of the ridge then came down from the top.  When I pulled the trigger on my Ruger 1 wearing a Zeiss variable, I was about ten yards from him.  Yes, I could have shot the bear from a much greater distance, but doing some would have simply been shooting rather than in my opinion “hunting”.

Over the years I have hunted black bear in British Columbia numerous times.  I have taken some truly nice bears, all been taken by spot and stalk, even the ones along the edge of streams.  Those hunts amounted to playing the wind, the sun and available cover. 

Hunting black bear has long been one of my favorite hunts.  Unfortunately this spring I am not going after black bear.  However, my co-host at “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” television show, Blake Barnett, has two spring bear hunts set up during June.  One is a spot and stalk hunt in British Columbia with Sean Lingl.  The other is a baited hunt in the far northern reaches of Saskatchewan.  He will get to experience the best of the two different styles of bear hunting.  This year I will have to experience black bear hunting vicariously through Blake. 

Since I am not going on the hunts personally, I am trying to talk Blake into taking my Ruger Model 77 FTW Hunter in .375 Ruger, topped with a Zeiss scope and shooting Hornady’s 300-grain DGX ammo, to me the perfect combination for big black bear, whether hunting over bait or spot and stalk.  If I cannot hunt black bear this spring, then at least one of my favorite rifles can!


 Top picture: 

Randy Bartless with his gorgeously haired black bear taken while hunting over bait

Middle picture: Weishuhn and cameramen  Jake Johnson patiently wait for a bear to appear on their bait.

Bottom picture: Whether you hunt along waterways or on mountain sides, spot and stalk can be challenging.



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