Feature Articles from BHM

By Al Raychard

           I have bear hunted Idaho several times over the years, and from the first experience to the last it has remained one of my favorite western destinations. There are several reasons for placing the Gem State so high on my “favorites list,” and not all directly relate to hunting bears.

            Part of a hunt is seeing new country or returning to places that you just can’t get enough of. Idaho has plenty. I have traveled the state quite a bit, but much of my hunting exploits have been in the Clearwater region and Bitterroots. It is a place of lofty mountains, miles of evergreen forests, and crystal clear rivers. I imagine much has changed since Lewis and Clark passed through the area in 1805 and 1806. While crossing Lolo Pass, riding horses to remote camps in the backcountry, sitting around a fire at night under a satin sky studded with stars, or even sitting over bear baits, I’ve wondered on more than one occasion what it must have looked like back then. For a man living in this 21st century world, it is difficult to comprehend, but that is why I love going back to Idaho. It provides me the opportunity to try.

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            The primary reason I enjoy traveling to Idaho is that it offers some of the best black bear hunting opportunities in the West. For one thing, the most recent estimate puts Idaho’s black bear population at between 20,000 and 25,000, although Idaho Fish and Game doesn’t publicize numbers. Whether actually higher or lower, the numbers are strong enough to allow hunters a limit of two bears in 17 management units, which is another drawing feature. Most of these units are in the Panhandle and Clearwater Regions with a few in the Salmon and Southwest Regions. In these units, non-resident hunters can purchase two reduced unit specific bear tags, or one reduced tag and one full price bear tag that can be used outside reduced tag units. Hunters must also purchase a regular hunting license, which includes a three-day fishing license. Hunters may also apply for controlled bear hunts. Licenses are available on-line, by telephone, and through venders statewide.

            The two bear limit option makes Idaho a popular bear-hunting destination, but there are also other attractions, including a spring and fall bear season. The spring season is the more popular of the two, and it produces the highest harvest. It runs three months in most units, with some running four months. Most spring hunts, and some fall hunts, are over bait, although many outfitters offer dog and spot-and-stalk hunts. The fall season opens in late August and ends as late as the end of November, again depending upon the unit. Spring hunts can be combined with wolf hunts in many units, and the fall season generally overlaps or coincides with seasons on elk and deer, making combination hunts possible.

            Another popular attraction is the opportunity to take a colored bear--generally brown, chocolate, and blonde phase. Some units’ color phase bears range from 30 to 50-percent.

            Finding good bear country in Idaho isn’t difficult. About 30,000 square miles of the state is considered bear habitat. In recent years, units in the Panhandle and Clearwater Regions have produced the majority of bears, followed by the Salmon and other regions to the south. There is also plenty of public ground to hunt. About 20 million acres are in national forests. To hunt these vast properties, an impressive list of outfitters is available, offering an array of services. Because baiting and dogs are allowed in many units, success rates at many camps is higher than in some neighboring states where one of the two practices are not allowed.

            Idaho bear guides and outfitters are some of the finest I have ever hunted with. They know bears, where to find them, and how to hunt them. Most offer something for everyone and every pocketbook. There are fully guided hunts out of lodges with most amenities and services, backcountry tent hunts into remote or designated wilderness areas or even guided, no-thrills backpacking hunts and do-it-yourself hunts, all of which gets hunters into areas that see few hunters and where bears have had little human contact.   

Lastly, if that is not enough, as mentioned earlier, the mountain scenery in Idaho is tough to beat.

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Estimated Bear Population: 20,000-25,000

Legal Limit: Two (2) in some units, one (1) in some units.

Hunting Area: Black bears are basically legal game statewide except some state parks, wildlife preserves, and developed areas.

Spring Hunts: Yes. April 1-June 30 or late July depending upon unit.

Fall Hunts: Yes. August 30-end of November in most units.

Popular Hunting Methods: Baiting and dogs are allowed in most units. Spot-and-stalk. License Available/Fees: Licenses are available by phone, on-line and venders statewide. Non-resident reduced/second bear license: $41.75. Non-resident full price bear license: $186.00. Non-resident hunting license: $154.75

Legal Weapons: Rifles and handguns except those that take rim fire ammo;

.50 caliber and larger muzzleloaders; bows with 40 pound pull and higher; crossbows 150 pound minimum draw.

Contacts: Idaho Fish and Game, 1 (208) 334-3700; www.fishandgame.idaho.gov.

                 Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association, 1 (208) 327-7380; www.ioga.org.