Apr 11 2019
It was only the second bear I’d ever seen in a hunting situation and it happened quickly. I was bored and discouraged, so I climbed out of the stand to go for a walk. Rookie mistake. I was ten yards from the stand when I met a bear face to face emerging from a thicket. Both of us in disbelief of our unfavorable circumstances, the bear burst over the lip of the ridge in retreat, and I tip toed a few yards and peeked over the hill. He hadn’t gone far. Knowing it was a legal bear, I released an arrow that found its mark. I walked up to my prize, which I assumed was a full-grown bear only to find the critter wasn’t much more than a 115 pounds. I experienced some massive ground shrinkage and it didn’t feel good. I vowed I’d never make the same mistake again.
Shooting young bears isn’t just a “trophy” mishap, but it’s a conservation mishap. Targeting mature animals is best from a management standpoint as well. And even better, tar- geting older mature males is the name of the game, and if you can select the right one for harvest, everybody wins. Judging trophy bear is difficult, and many consider the most difficult big game animal to judge. Horned game is relatively easy com- pared to it. Here are five thoughts on judging trophy bear that didn’t come from surfing the internet looking for the traditional judging methods, but have come from personal experience judging bears all across North America.
1. It’s All About Scale
Any bear, no matter its size, standing alone in the forest can look like a mature bear. They’re blobs of black fur making it difficult to distinguish the traits of the body. With lighter colored animals, like deer, you can see their features and more easily infer maturity. In any situation, you’ll have to use objects the bear is near to scale them for size. Whether it’s trees or bait barrel, you need to gain size perspective in the locale you’re hunting. This could be knowing the approximate height of blueberry bushes in Montana when glassing a bear from a mile away. Or it could be knowing that a 55 gallon drum is 36-inches tall, and any bear between the highest ring and the top is a shooter. Scale is everything and if you don’t understand it you’ll make a mistake.
Here’s a great example of understanding scale. A mature boar and a mature sow could easily be mis- taken for one another by their body shape. A sow may have a potbelly, short legs and a stocky neck – all poten- tial traits of a large boar. If you don’t understand scale you’ll think, “That’s a shooter!” However, she may be half the size of the 350-pound shooter you think she is. Your eye recognizes maturity features: saggy belly, thick body, and maybe even a crease in the head, but a mature bear, male or female, have some similar traits. A bear that’s as tall as a 55-gallon drum is a shooter in most any camp in North America. Mature male bears don’t get much taller than 36 inches at the shoulder. The 550- pound bear I killed last fall would have been roughly as tall as the barrel, but his hair would have stood above the top. The bear had an eight-foot wingspan and squared a true 7’6”. Remember, I’m talking about actual height, not perceived height. You can get a trail camera picture that will make a 200-pound look taller than the barrel (if he’s standing in front of it), but he isn’t. Don’t “big-eye” a bear to make your- self feel good. Usually they’re smaller than you think!
2. Use More Than One Trait to Determine Size
Whatever features you key in on you’ll need more than one “positive” to confirm you’re shooting what you think you are. A mistake I’ve made is only using one metric to judge a bear. I like looking at least two or three factors to get a positive on a bear’s size. Once while hunting Northern Saskatchewan I was placed on a bait the outfitter had seen a giant bear on the day before. As he left he said, “Be ready.” Shortly after he left a sow appeared and then a big boar! The boar came in and towered over the 55-gallon drum. Without hesita- tion I said, “That’s him.” I shot the boar and it ended up being only a six-foot bear at best. I thought I was shooting a seven footer. Where did I go wrong? The bears had been digging grease under the barrel and it actually sat about six inches below the ground. The bear towered above the barrel because it was in a hole! I used only one thing to judge the bear and I made a mistake.
Not only will this keep you from shooting a lesser bear, it can keep you from letting a big one walk off. Here is an example: for years I’ve heard people say to “look for a bear with small ears.” Or they’ll say, “don’t shoot a bear with big ears.” What they’re describing is a type of mature bear with a head so large it makes their ears look small. This is a good thing, and sometimes giant bears display this trait. Here’s the catch: some big bears have big ears. One of my first hunts in Alberta three of us killed six Pope and Young bears in a week. I would have described most of those bears as having “Mickey Mouse” ears. Only one bear that week would have qualified as having “small ears.” We had to use mul- tiple variables to determine size. On this hunt it was mainly height. All these big males were really tall and they were easy to distinguish. If all I’d known was the ear thing, I’d have let them walk off. It was on this hunt I learned that height is a major indicator of the size of a bear.
3. Determine Sex & Then Determine Size
While hunting Saskatchewan last year we watched bears for eight hours a day for six days. Determining the bear’s sex was the first thing I learned to do before judging size. Often it would take some time, and was usually relat-ed to one primary factor – height. The males were tall and the sows were short and squatty. The boar’s legs were four to six inches longer, but other than that, it was hard to distinguish them apart. Spring bears have long hair and most of them are relatively thin. The other thing is looking for penal sheath under the bear about 2/3 back from the front of the bear. Often it’s a small cluster of long
hairs that hang down below the other belly hair.
Another common feature that gives away sex is large feet. For some reason I notice this be-fore almost anything. Almost every big boar I’ve killed, I noticed his wide front pads. It’s especially easy if you’ve seen lesser bears and sows and then you see a big one. You’ll notice wide feet and thick ankles. Then moving your eyes up from the feet, look at his front legs. Sows have noticeably thin ankles. Continue looking up the leg and notice the circumference of the front legs. Most mature boars, in any region of North America, will have front legs that look like stove pipes.
4. The Head
In the last two years, I’ve noticed many mature sows will have boxy heads and might even have a forehead crease. This is confusing; because you’ll hear hunters and outfitters describe boar heads as “boxy and creased” – which they certain-ly can be! Not to confuse you anymore, but of the largest-skulled bears I’ve ever killed, not one of them had a noticeable crease down the middle of his forehead. It’s kind of like saying: “all big bucks have antler bases as big as coke cans.” Well some do, but there are plenty of giant bucks that don’t. If that’s the only trait you used to determine a mature buck you’d let a lot of dandies walk off.
In the Boone and Crockett scoring sys-tems, bears are measured by the length and width of the skull. The length is always the longer mea-surement and thus a higher percentage of the score. Typically, what hunters notice is a wide head on a boar, when really the length of the skull is more important! The largest skulled bear I’ve ever taken was tall, relatively thin bodied, but his skull was over 13” long. My point? Length is more import-ant than width. However, an immature bear will look long and thin in the face.
5. They Act Different!
I’ve seen older boars act in all different ways, but the common theme is they act different than most bears. I’ve seen mature boars that bar-reled into the bait like they owned the world. This is the stereo-typical behavior that bear hunters talk about. However, I’ve also seen GIANT boars that seemed timid and skittish like a whitetail. But in almost all situations, the older boars act different than the other bears at the bait. This is espe-cially noticeable on hunts where you see a
lot of bears. More than once, I knew a certain animal was the target animal by how distinct-
ly it acted. I’ve found sows, even the older ones, to be less cautious but the older boars usually have unique actions. And I’ve seen trophy boars all over the spectrum of activity and you can’t put them in box – except this one – they act different. Here’s the key: if you see a bear with multiple of the maturity factors described and he looks like a mature animal that you’d be happy with – take him. Take your time and don’t rush your decision. Bears are notorious for ground shrinkage, so don’t become a statistic in 2019.
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Apr 03 2019
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After all the work of getting within shooting distance of a big bear this spring, you’ll need confidence in your ability to make a great shot. Bears are big, tough animals that are unforgiving when hit bad. Many new bear hunters carry with them shot placement and strategy derived from experience deer hunting. It’s similar, but different. Bear anatomy is slightly different, but more importantly, a bear’s body structure allows for some odd angles and considerations that the bear hunter must understand. Here are five keys to making a great shot this spring.
Go For A Double-Lung Hit (Heart shots are overrated)
Bears seem to always be moving, especially when you’re hunting them over bait. Perhaps it’s a predatory instinct in humans, but seeing our prey move makes us feel like we have to act quickly. The impulsiveness to rush the shot is probably the biggest mistake that a bear hunter can make. My favorite shot is a broadside or slightly quartering shot with the onside front shoulder forward or straight down. A broadside shot gives the most room for error and the greatest opportunity for the most lethal hit of all – a double lung shot. In my opinion, the “heart shot” is overrated. A double lung will often kill an animal quicker, it’s a larger target, and the organs are further away from big bones that stop penetration.
A bear has the body structure to put himself in all types of odd shapes. He can be sitting on his rump like a dog, or be in a “cupped” shape with his head and rump closer to you than the torso. He could be sprawled out lying on his belly. He could be standing up on two legs. All of these positions are much different than a deer. During the magic time when a bear is in shooting range, he’ll more often be in a bad-shooting position than he will be in a favorable one. You’ll need to be disciplined and wait for a broadside shot – especially the archers.
Hunting with firearms for bear is more forgiving. A high shoulder hit will drop a bear, but I’d still suggest a double lung hit. If you’ve got a big caliber gun, a frontal shot square in the sternum is deadly, but requires precision. If you’ve got the time, my advice is to wait for a broadside shot with firearm and bow.
Prioritize Getting Two Holes
Bears are notoriously hard to blood trail. Long hair and fat seem to soak up blood that would usually be on the ground and used for trailing. Additionally, they often inhabit thick, dense brush making tracking conditions difficult. Whether you’re shooting a rifle or a bow, prioritize getting an entrance and exit wound. With a rifle, shoot a bullet that maximizes penetration over expansion (see side bar about bullets). When archery hunting, use a broadhead that maximizes penetration. Personally, I don’t suggest expandable broadheads for bear. However, the biggest issue will be shot placement and shot angle.
The best opportunity to get a pass-through shot is going to be when the bear is broadside. If he’s at a steep quartering angle you won’t get a pass through and you’ll be trailing a bear with single entry wound. If you’re hunting out of a treestand it will be a high wound, and will bleed very little. The bear will die quickly, but without a blood trail he might be hard to find! I almost didn’t recover the largest-skulled bear I’ve ever killed, even though he was less than 150 yards from where I shot him. A steep angled, quartering-away shot from a treestand left me with only an entry wound and no blood. Luckily, we stumbled upon the bear the next morning. If I’d waited for a broadside shot, I would likely recovered the bear within thirty minutes of the shot.
Middle of the Middle?
We published an article a few years ago titled “The Middle of the Middle.” Many Canadian outfitters have had great results instructing their clients with this descriptive phrase for shot placement. I can’t say that I disagree, but I would like to make a slight adjustment – “middle of the middle and then back towards the shoulder a few inches.” If you take the original phrase literally you’d be shooting towards the back edge of the lungs and directly at the liver. I like to aim bit closer to the shoulder without hugging it too tight. The reason for the popularity of this has to do with the greater margin of error. Also, it seems that a bear shot towards the front section of the “guts” usually dies fairly quickly. I’m not suggesting a gut shot, but it is better than a shoulder shot with archery equipment. With a rifle your margin for error is larger, but it’s still a good option for a gun.
I’ve personally done a necropsy on a bear and found the lungs to extend back to the second-to-last rib. A bear’s elongated frame translates to lungs that are slightly (and I mean slightly) further back than a deer. Many bear hunters have been indoctrinated by whitetail shot placement, and it doesn’t completely translate to bear. Aiming towards the middle-mass (from an up and down perspective) of the body cavity is important. In summary, I like to shoot about 4-5 inches back from the shoulder on a broadside bear. Bears are soft skinned and the rib bones are fairly light. The biggest threat to penetration is the front shoulder – stay away from it.
Consider Hair and Fat: Don’t Shoot Too Low
“Low and tight” to the shoulder is a great shot on a deer. Hunters typically aim low when bowhunting deer because they drop at the sound of the shot. A bear doesn’t have the same “flight” response as a deer, so aiming extremely low isn’t necessary and can even be bad. Bears can often have a thick layer of fat on their belly, and they also have long hair. The bottom silhouette of a bear is deceptive. You’ll need to aim well above it to get into the chest cavity! I’ve witnessed multiple bears wounded because the hunter tried to “heart shoot” them like a whitetail. A deer has short hair and little fat. A bear really isn’t as big as he looks because of hair and fat. Again, this takes us back to aiming at the middle mass, not towards the periphery of the animal.
A low-hit bear will often bleed very well for a period of time, then the blood will begin to turn watery and eventually disappear. It’s easy to go on “auto-pilot” when a bear walks up. I once heard the phrase, “You won’t rise to the occasion, but you’ll default to your training.” You’ve got to intentionally train yourself where to aim on a bear.
Don’t Get “Blacked” Out
The Boone-and-Crockett-class black bear sashayed into the bait with confidence. He was only 11 yards away when I drew the bow and looked through the peep. I could see the glowing pin well, but my sight window was full of black fur! I had no idea where I was aiming. More than once while bowhunting bears at close range using riflescopes and archery sights, I’ve had this harrowing experience. The black color absorbs shadows making it difficult to distinguish lines and body parts. Through the sight window I couldn’t tell where I was aiming. The lighter fur of other game animals helps highlight the body with defining shadows – not so on a bruin.
What should you do? Be patient. Pull your eye away from the scope or peep and look at the bear with your naked eye, then look back through the aiming apparatus. After doing this a few times, you’ll get your bearings. Every time this happens I’m tempted to pull the trigger before being 100% sure where I’m aiming. It’s so close and it seems hard to miss. The only advice I have is to be patient and take an extra 10 seconds before shooting.
Bears are not hard animals to kill with a firearm or a bow. A well-hit bear won’t last long, however they are extremely unforgiving when hit marginally. In summary, only take broadside shots, prioritize getting two holes, aim about four to five inches back from the shoulder on a broadside bear, and don’t shoot too low. Finally, that bear isn’t as big as he looks. He’s got a nice layer of fat and fur coat that may be three to four inches long.Watch the VLOG:
Mar 13 2019
By Clay Newcomb
1965 was an epic year for many reasons. The national headlines buzzed with the news that Lyndon Johnson had been reelected as the president of the United States, and the death of Winston Churchill was only overshadowed in the news when the first US combat troops arrived in Vietnam. Back in Arkansas life went on as usual and when November arrived hunting traditions continued as they always had. Unknown to few in the world, Ora Lee Provence, (often called Oree) from rural Crawford County, Arkansas had a phenomenal year hunting public land in the Ozarks that will likely never be topped in terms of number of inches in a single year for this region. In 2019, Ora is now 91-years old and he recently sat down for a podcast with me.
Back in those days only neighbors and kinfolk would have heard of Ora’s incredible deer season. The rural Ozarks in the 1960s had little communication technology available, and anthropologists have noted the region was geographically and culturally isolated through the 1970s. With limited highway or interstate infrastructure, the interior of the Ozarks was just hard to get to – and still is. Electricity didn’t reach Ora’s home until 1948, and they still don’t have rural water to this day. Only in the 1970s did they get telephone service, before that Ora said, “Neighbors communicated with each other through CB radios.”
The Provence name has a longstanding history with these mountains. Ora still has the original deed to an 80-acre tract of land that his great-grandfather got from the United States government when the land could be bought for penny’s an acre in the mid 1800s. Ora was born in 1927 in the hollow he still lives in and has never lived anywhere else. All these years he’s managed to forge a living out of the mountains, only having to get a job “in town” for a short period in 1954. Ora and his brother owned and ran a sawmill for years, cutting and sawing railroad ties. He also farmed chickens for 43 years.
On this episode of the Bear Hunting Magazine podcast Ora tells many stories about his life growing up in the Ozarks and his first introductions to hunting. He tells the story of how he was drafted in the United State military and barely missed going overseas to fight in World War Two because a of 10-acre patch of tomatoes. He also tells the story of his incredible year of deer hunting in 1965 when he killed two giant non-typical bucks scoring 165” and 186” respectively (gross). This region has a lot of limestone bluffs and Ora liked to “slip hunt” the tops of the bluffs looking down on the bench below for bucks. “The deer can’t smell you when you’re above them,” he said.
In the 1950s the region Ora lives in was part of the reintroduction of Arkansas black bears. Regionally extirpated out of the mountains of Arkansas, black bears were reintroduced in three strategic locations that biologists felt would be good habitat for bears. These areas represented the most rugged and biggest blocks of unfragmented habitat in Arkansas. The episode of the Bear Hunting Magazine podcast, titled “Old Mountain Hunter: Ora Provence” is a must-listen for anyone who loves the outdoors and hunting.
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Mar 08 2019
Baiting bears is simple, but when it comes to the execution of a bear-baiting plan many realize the difficulty and complexity of the task. How much bait do I need? Where do I get it? What do I use? How soon before hunting should I put it out? These questions need answered, and everybody has an opinion. Cory Carlson of Lucky 7 Bear Bait in Minnesota has been selling commercial bear bait since 2000, and in these almost 18 years he’s learned a lot. It started out as part-time, but now Cory and his wife, Jenny, operate it as a full-time business.
“One of the biggest questions I get from first time bear baiters is “How much do I need?” Cory said, “And the answer isn’t very simple.” Many questions need to be answered, but most can’t be before you start baiting – sounds complicated. How many bears are you going to feeding? How big are the bears? A good analogy can be used here, “Are you feeding the football team or the Girl Scout troop?” A 400-pound bear eats more than a 100-pounder. Three bears don’t eat as much as six bears, etc. Each site is going to be different. You get the point. The principle, however, is, “You’re going to need to put done some bait.” Cory says. In many cases, his hunters are putting thousands of pounds of bait at each site. Cory believes that you’ve got give the bears variety and plenty of food to keep them consistent. “If you’re only putting out 5 gallons of bait each day and the guy next you is putting out massive amounts of bait, the big bears are going to set up camp at the other guy’s bait.” It’s just that simple.
Bears are similar no matter where you live, but the time of year and availability of natural food affect how they respond to bait. Cory said, “My top three favorite baits all of time are trail mix, chewy granola, and cookie dough. I know bears will eat this anywhere.” He also likes them because they can take some rain. “Here in Minnesota we can’t use a barrel on State land, so our baits have to be fairly water resistant. Donuts can’t take the rain and create a sloppy mess that even the bears don’t like.” Bears do love donuts and other pastries, but they’re hard to get in bear baiting regions because of the high demand. “I’m most interested in baits that can take some rain, and these three can.” Cory said.
One of the bear baiting staples of most Canadian outfitters is oats, fryer grease and beaver carcasses. Cory’s has seen a lot of outfitters start using commercial bait with great results. Beaver carcasses will always be some of the best bear bait around, but the commercial-type bait seems to hold the bears better than just the fryer grease and oats. “Many like it because they can just order bait and be done with it. No dumpster diving or hassle.” However, aside from the ease of aquiring it, does it work better? Outfitter Kolby Morrison used commercial-type bait last year in conjunction with oats and grease. He said, “The trail mix we used last year seemed to hold bears better than just fryer grease and oats. The cookie dough seemed to help also. I think the high calories, fat and protein in the nuts helps hold them.” In past seasons he’d almost exclusively used grease and oats.
Cory went on to say, “People from different places have different ideas of what works for their bears. When guys call from Maine they usually want chewy granola. For years the guys in Alberta always wanted cookies. I think it was because they had a cookie factory there and that’s primarily what they heard of people using.” Many people are stigmatize what works best and are unwilling to try something different. Variety is key, in Cory’s words, “Nobody just wants to eat cheeseburgers for every meal. And bears are the same way.”
- Related BHM Podcast w/ Northwoods Bear Products on commercial scents for bear baits.
When starting a bait, it’s important to use some high-powered commercial scents to broadcast the bait’s location. Many of these baits don’t have extremely powerful scent. “You’ve got to put the scent on them.” Cory said. “I tell guys to put out scent every time they go into the bait, and soon they’ll have 360 degrees of scent going out.” Established baits will draw in the bears quickly, especially if you bait at the same time each year. It’s not uncommon to see sign of bears “checking” the sites weeks before the bait arrives. A bear hunter in Arkansas once documented through trail camera the same adult boar bear arriving at his bait on the same exact day two years in a row before they put out bait. It was as if the bear had marked it on his calendar to check for bait. They have any uncanny ability to remember food sources and check them at certain times of the year. Established baits have a head start on new baits and they get better, attracting more and more bears until they reach their full bear-drawing potential.
Buying commercial bait does cost money, but it has better drawing and staying power than most things you can gather. You can also purchase it easily in large quantities, making it more effective. Many are doing it simply to reduce the hassle. Regardless of what method you use in 2018, get out bait some bears.Become a Patron!
Mar 06 2019
By Bernie Barringer
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Black bears come in a variety of colors, some of which defy description and some are multi-colored. But for the purpose of clarity, we can generally divide the colors into four categories. Black, cinnamon, blonde and chocolate. More than 90% of the black bears in North America are black in color. The western half of the US and Canada has all the other colors, of which chocolate is most common among the colors other than black. The vast majority of color phase bears are found west of the Mississippi River, and a line that would extend northward into Canada. Biologists speculate bear populations that bear that have lived in thick forest for thousands of years are darker, while bears in more open country can be lighter in color.
The Grand Slam of Color Phase bears is when a hunter harvests all color phases. Sounds simple right? Chocolate or dark brown bears are found in a line from the western edge of Minnesota and Ontario south to Arkansas and west of that line. Cinnamon bears can be found scattered throughout the Rocky Mountains, Cascade Mountains and west to California and much of Western Canada including Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Blonde bears are found in generally the same areas as the cinnamons, but are more prevalent in the southern Rockies than anywhere else, where blondes and cinnamons can make up as much as 35% of the population. There are pockets in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta where blonde bears can make up to about 10% of the bear population.
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