By BHM Publisher, Clay Newcomb
I will be headed to Montana for a spring black bear hunt later this week. The hunt will be in the northwestern portion of the state and will be a do-it-yourself hunt with the exception of the advice and direction of a good friend that has given us the inside scoop on a good walk-in area. This will by my first western rifle hunt for black bear. It’s going to be different, but I’m looking forward to the grand views, extended range and freedom that a spot-and-stalk rifle hunt offers over other types of bear hunting.
I love to bear hunt over bait and suspect I always will. Baiting bear is a powerful management tool for bruins in North America that gives the conservationist/hunter the option to be selective. However, I have a feeling I’m going to love spot-and-stalk, western bear hunting. Different regions of the country have different management practices tailor fit to achieve their bear management goals. The wide-open spaces of the West seem to have been made for optic-focused, mobile, long-range hunting.
Here is a list of some of my gear:
Remmington Model 700 .338 with Huskemaw 3x12x42 scope (fluted barrel with custom port and stock)
The .338 is arguably one of the top choices for the broad range of North American big-game species it’s suited for. It’s fully capable and used often for the continents largest predator, the Brown Bear. The gun is also used in multiple smaller game applications, like whitetail, mule deer and elk hunting. Many other smaller cartridges will work fine for black bear, but it’s certainly a top choice for black bruins. For this hunt I’ve opted for some serious knockdown power by using a 250-grain Nosler partition cartridge. The trajectory of this heavy bullet isn’t very flat, but it doesn’t make any difference when you’ve got a Huskemaw scope with a custom turret. If you know the range you’ve got no need for holdover, just dial in the yardage.
The crux of this combination lies in the scope. We went through the whole Huskemaw system to gather the specific data for this rifle. We zeroed the rifle at 200 yards and then took two other readings at 400 and 600 yards. We recorded the ‘clicks’ necessary to adjust the scope to target at these ranges. The bullet speed is on average 2600 fps through this rifle. Using altitude,temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, bullet velocity, bullet weight and number of clicks from our zero, Huskemaw custom built a turret at their Cody, Wyoming headquarters. This is standard procedure for every Huskemaw scope purchased.
The fluted barrel makes this .338 Remmington 700 very light weight for such a large caliber.
I'll be shooting a 250-grain Nosler partition bullet. This is a heavy load for black bear, but it will carry some serious knock down power. The bullet's velocity is 2600 fps. The custom turret makes long range shooting much easier. With a solid rest and no wind, I feel comfortable out to 600 yards with this rifle.
Complete First Lite layering system
To be honest, several years ago when I first started hearing about “high performance” hunting clothing I thought it was a gimmicky fashion trend only used by wanna-be hunters compensating for their lack of blood-stained skinning knives. However, after fully utilizing First Lite’s layering system for the full 2014 hunting season in a wide range of hunting situations from Alberta and Alaska to Arkansas and Oklahoma, I must say that I’m eating crow.
Merino wool is truly an exceptional fabric that is comfortable in a wide range of temperatures and circumstances. Once you wear it it’s hard to go back to cotton clothing for any type of active hunting. The thing I most appreciate about it is its ability to resist odor. You can sweat in a merino wool shirt for days, and after drying it has a fraction of the odor of cotton under the same use. You can wear a pair of First Lite socks for a week straight and they don’t smell. It’s hard to believe until you’ve tested it.
Secondly, merino wool’s ability to deal with body (sweat and body humidity) and environmental moisture (rain, wet leaves, etc) is far superior to cotton. You can be damp, but you don’t feel wet. Once cotton is wet it will not dry until for a long time. Merino wool wicks moisture away from your body, making the surface of your skin feel dry.
First Lite's new Fusion camo is an excellent pattern for most hunting situations. This is my favorite combo for layering with the First Lite system. (Blood stained knife not shown...)
Thirdly, the design of the First Lite clothing is well thought out, intentional and designed by mountain hunters. I didn’t realize that my other hunting jackets were restrictive until I started wearing First Lite’s “shooters cut” design. Some people have a hard time knowing where to start when purchasing this type of clothing. Most of it is ordered online so you aren’t able to try it on at a store. Here are some critical pieces of First Lite that I will be utilizing in Montana with temperatures ranging from 30 to 70 degrees.
First Lite's Kanab pants are rugged and durable.
*I find the First Lite shirts to run large compared to my normal shirt size. The pants I find to be my normal size. I’m about 5’10” and weigh 165. I wear a medium in almost everything they offer. Some of the shirts I’ve started ordering in small and I like the fit.
Allegheny bottom base layer – The most critical base layer for legs. It’s light weight and is the critical skin-on layer. If I could only order one thing from First Lite, it would be this (along with a light weight top….we’ll that’s two things I would order if I could only order one? #confused).
Kanab Pants – I’ll be wearing these in Fusion camo. If it’s below 55 degrees I will be wearing the Allegheny bottoms under the Kanabs. My favorite features are the suspenders and button-free front pockets. The Kanabs are durable and can withstand some abuse in the mountains.
Llano QZ – This light-weight top will be my skin-on layer. The thumbholds in the sleeves make for convenient layering and the deep chest zipper help you cool down quick. This is my favorite shirt made by First Lite.
Uncompagre Puffy Jacket – This jacket is water resistant and wind proof, but what I like most about it is that it’s light weight and very compressible. The jacket stuffs into it’s own pocket and doubles as a camp pillow on warm night if you’re not wearing it. It’s got an insulated hood and very deep pockets. The shooter’s cut is very noticeable on this jacket. This jacket will be my cold-weather security if the temperature drops too much on this early May Montana hunt.
The puffy jacket is wind proof, water resistant, very light and compressible. Shown at right is a Puffy Jacket stuffed into it's own pocket for carrying, pillow or make shift camp football.
Mountain Athlete Compression sock – These socks go up over my calf. I alternated between two pairs of these on a 10-day Alaskan hunt last fall. Neither of them ever smelled. They keep your feet dry, even while sweating. I won’t leave Arkansas anymore without merino wool socks (and my Bruce Lee throwing star).
Merino wools compression socks are very handy to keep your feet dry and comfortable.
Huskemaw 10x42 Binoculars
In 2014, Huskemaw came out with their first binocular. They’ve used their same legendary optics and top-of-line, high definition lens coatings. The bino is light and compact at 5.6 inches long and it weighs 24 oz. I’ve carried these in multiple regions of the country and I find them to be as clear as other top-end brands that cost twice as much money. On our trip we won’t be carrying a spotting scope. Most of our huntable territory will inside of a one-mile glassing distance.
With high definition lens coatings and a compact size, these Huskemaw binoculars stand up against any of the top end optics and are considerably cheaper.
Garmin Dakota 30 GPS
I needed a good GPS for this wilderness hunt. We’ll be backpacking in and camping remotely. The Dakota 30 is the smallest Garmin GPS that takes the state-specific SD cards that give you access to the 24k topo maps. These are detailed maps that will give us accurate topographic info for this unfamiliar region. This GPS fits in your hand and is convenient to carry and use. The screen isn’t big, but I fit it fairly easy to navigate.
It's small, but it still takes state-specfic SD cards, giving you access to 24K topographic maps.
Jetboil zip stove
This will be our heat source for cooking and boiling water. I choose the jet boil because the burner can be used for cooking with other pots or pans, but is most conveniently be used with the metal container that fits on the burner. This is the fastest way to boil water for freeze dried meals. The Jetboil is easy to use, light weight and dependable.
Cooking food and boiling water will be made easy with this Jetboil.
You’ll be hearing about how the trip goes. Wish us luck.