By Clay Newcomb
It may seem out of timing, but now is the time to start considering a spring bear hunt for 2017. The primetime for hunting Canadian bruins is going to be mid-May through mid-June. However, in the United States many spring seasons start in April. If you’ve never considered a big-game hunt during this “off season” time, 2017 may be the time to start. The peak of all most all of our big-game hunting is in the fall, but how unique is it to be able to hunt in May and June?
Things to Consider and Tips for Planning a Spring Hunt:
Outfitted or Unguided?
You’ll need to make up your mind if you’re going to use an outfitter or go on a do-it-yourself hunt. Most outfitted bear hunting takes place in the Canada, but there are many good outfitters in Idaho, Montana and Maine (and other states). Bear hunts range in price from $900 (semi-guided) to fully guided wilderness hunts in trophy destinations at $3,000-plus. Most hunts are 5-7 days, and all vary in what they provide. You can find some quality outfitters that are priced cheap, but usually you’ll be hunting smaller animals. Higher-end black bear hunts usually mean bigger animals.
A DIY hunt pretty much means it will be a spot-and-stalk hunt. This will take a lot of planning and will be a lot more work, but that’s what makes it fun. Montana and Idaho are great DIY states with liberal bear seasons and lots of public hunting ground. Basically, most public ground in the Rocky Mountains that is open to hunting is going to have bears, however you’ll need to do some research on specific locals. I’ve found that you’ll spend about ½ as much on DIY hunt.
Jared Sommers killed this bear in Saskatchewan with Bear Pro Safaris in June 2016. This hunt cost around $3,500 and was a wilderness, boat-based hunt.
Which Canadian Province?
Each Canadian province has a reputation for the type of bear hunting that it provides. Here are some generalizations:
British Columbia has expensive hunts, big mountain bears, and spectacular views and landscape. Known for its spot-and-stalk hunting with prices ranging from $5,000 to $7,000. Most known for the beauty of the landscape in the bear hunting regions.
Alberta is known for its two-bear spring baited hunts, spectacular wilderness camps, and color-phase bears. Hunts are typically $3,000-$5,000 USD. The two-bear hunt is probably what this province is most known for.
Manitoba is known for large bears, lots of color phase bears, and baited hunts. Hunts will range from $2,500-$5,000. Probably most known for its color phase bears.
Ontario has a lot of outfitters, a lot of bears, and the hunts are cheaper. Expect to spend $1,500-$2,500 on a hunt in Ontario. Also expect some fishing opportunity. For the price this is a great province with great opportunity.
Quebec is known for its hospitality, fishing combo hunts, quantity of bears, abundance of outfitters. You’ll spend between $1,000 to $2,000 on a hunt in Quebec. Known for its well-priced hunt and opportunity.
Newfoundland is known for its two-bear baited hunt and big bears. You’ll spend around $2,500 on a guided hunt here. No color-phase bears to speak of. Newfoundland is known for bears with large skulls.
Nova Scotia (only fall hunting) and New Brunswick are relatively new to the bear-outfitting scene, but offer some great hunting at a great price. These areas are easily assessable from the New England states. No color phase-bears to speak of.
Bear tags are relatively cheap. They usually cost between $150 to $200 in Canada.
What if I want to stay in the United States?
There are some great guided spring bear hunting options for those who don’t want to cross the border. To make a long story short, Idaho and Maine are going to be your go-to states for a guided spring bear hunt. In Maine, there is a spring hunt on a few Native American reservations. Several outfitters have outfitting rights and this is a coveted hunt. Most of these are baited hunts. Secondly, Idaho offers spot-and-stalk, baited and hound hunts in the spring. There are lots of great outfitters.
How Can I Trust an Outfitter?
If you’re going to entrust a week of your life and a chunk of your change with an outfitter you’ll want to be 100% convinced in their ability to do what they say they’ll do. The two best things you can do is call the outfitter and talk extensively with them. Let your gut tell you if the outfitter is legit or not. Never be afraid to ask any questions, don’t assume anything, and let them know what is important to you. Whether it’s big bears, great fishing, wilderness experience, comfy lodge accommodations, color phase opportunity, food, travel distance to the hunting area, access to the Internet, or whatever it is. Your definition of a “bear hunt” may be different that theirs. This is important and many people don’t understand this.
Secondly, the other thing you’ll 100% want to do is call their references. Any good outfitter will have references available. Talk to people about them and ask that person the same questions.
Accomadations will differ with each outfitter. Be sure to quiz them on the details and check all their references.
What to expect in bear quality?
Basically, spring bears aren’t going to have the weight that a fall bear will. Don’t think that you’re going to be hunting 500-pound bears in the spring. There are a few that will get that big, but it’s rare. A male that weighs over 300 pounds in the spring is a big bear, especially in the far north. Secondly, hide quality is going to be at its peak in the early spring. Expect long guard hairs and thick under fur. Bears will start to rub later in the spring when the temperatures are warm. This usually doesn’t start happening until late June or July in most parts of the bear range.
The bear rut is a great time to hunt. Expect to see boars cruising for sows starting in late May and running through the month of June. Anything could show up at anytime. That being said, early May is often a great time to catch a big old boar locked down on a feeding pattern. They’ll be eating a lot trying to catch up on weight before the rut. It’s a toss up when the best time to go is. My favorite time to bear hunt in the northern Canada is the last week of May. You start to get into some rutting activity, but you’ll also catch some boars locked on food.