Idaho DIY: The Best Tough Hunt Ever

Sometimes the tough ones are the most memorable

The closure of Canada to outsiders was disappointing to me on many levels. For several years I have done at least one spring bear hunt in Canada, and I travel to Ontario for fishing, camping, and generally spending time in the bush multiple times a year. In 2020, I exchanged my Canadian bear hunt for a Wyoming hunt, which was loads of fun and culminated with a nice chocolate bear. During the winter of 2021, it became clear that Canada wasn’t going to open the borders any time soon, so I began to scheme and plan about another spring bear hunting adventure—or two—in the US. I ended up settling on two hunts for May and June, one in Idaho and one in Maine. I’ll explain the unique spring Maine bear hunt in a later piece, but for now I want to relate the experiences I had in the mountains of Idaho, which would become a hunt fraught with difficulties and drama that you just can’t make up. -Bernie Barringer-

4 Hunts, 4 Color Phases, 1 Outfitter

Roger Driesenga got the color phase grand slam in a most unexpected way

Roger Driesenga is an unassuming man from the little village of Zeeland, Michigan. At 78, he’s one of the most active people you’ll ever meet. He has his own museum of nearly 400 animals, big and small, that he mounted himself. It includes mostly animals that have been taken on hunting trips across North America since his retirement. Roger got the idea that he needed color phase black bears for his museum, since most people in Michigan, he says, don’t even realize they come in colors other than black. A couple years later, he came across the Canadian Wilderness Outfitters’ literature again. Scott’s brochure had color phase bears on it, so Roger called him up and set in motion one of the most remarkable experiences any bear hunter could have.
Although the Great White North would not qualify as a traditional western black bear destination, it certainly should be on any serious black bear hunter’s shortlist come spring. And as I begin planning for yet another adventure, it’s hard not to look back at the numerous other hunts I’ve enjoyed in the north country over the years. Manitoba, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta were all adventures highlighted with exceptional encounters and even better experiences overall, but it was the sheer number of bears I witnessed that made Saskatchewan a top-tier destination—and an affordable one as well.
My first exposure to baiting bears with barrels was on a Canadian bear hunt several years ago. At the time, barrels were not allowed in Minnesota so this was my first experience. I was impressed with several aspects of using barrels, but two of the most important were the obvious advantages of protecting bait from the weather, and using an opening in the barrel to regulate how much of the bait the bears could get at a time.
The photo of the bear on my trail camera made me sit up in my chair. This was a really big bear. Huge. Definitely an old male; and he was a regular at this bait in Minnesota’s Zone 24. I would get a couple dozen photos and videos of him over the next couple weeks. Every single photo was at least an hour after dark. He was very recognizable because he had square DNR tags in each of his ears.
He appeared just 12 steps from the base of the pine I was perched in, slipping towards the bait like a ghost floating above the forest floor. His raven-black hide looked impressive through the screen of brush he was easing through, and as he crept forward I knew the quest for my first black bear was about to come to a close. With each slow step he took my heart rate increased; but when he paused and raised his nose to inhale the cool mountain air, he knew something wasn’t right. For 10 minutes he stood statue-like, slowly turning his head in every direction surveying the area, and all I could do was wait.
I have been doing at least one spring bear hunt in Canada every year for many years, and I look forward to it all year. I love spring bear hunting. I was very disappointed when my 2020 spring bear hunt was cancelled, and when 2021 rolled around and left me with no Canadian options, I decided to do something about it. I was going to do two hunts to make up for the loss of the two Canadian opportunities.
Vermont is not a very large state. Wedged between New York on the west and New Hampshire on the east the state covers just 9,609 square miles, making it smaller than 44 other states. With less than 650,000 residents Vermont is also sparsely populated. Only Wyoming has few people. What Vermont lacks in size and people it more than makes up in woods and bears.