Spot & Stalk
Jun 03 2021
By Brian Strickland
After over 20 years I can still remember the first time I headed out west to bowhunt. The 60-plus pound pack seemed to get heavier with each step I took deeper into the wilderness area, and after nearly 4 miles of steady climbing I finally reached the particular bowl I felt held promise. After setting up camp I stood in awe as I took in the vastness of the Creator’s awesome handiwork and dreamed of what I hoped would transpire in the coming days.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t chasing black bears at the time, although I’m sure there were more than a handful in the area. However, what I learned on that particular elk hunt, as well as the countless other western adventures I’ve had the opportunity to embrace since then, is that there are numerous pitfalls when hunting out west compared to other regions of the country. Hunters who successfully overcome and navigate through them are the ones who consistently find success.
Although there are many western obstacles out of your control as hunters, one you can have complete ownership of is “time.” One of the biggest mistakes hunters make when heading out west is not giving themselves enough time and opportunity to hunt. Hunting out west is difficult, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter if you hunt with modern ballistics or the stick and string, the sheer vastness, remoteness and ruggedness the West offers can almost seem impossible to overcome at times, and it takes time to successfully navigate through them.
While a five-day hunt might suffice for whitetails, it generally won’t out west. In fact, it often takes that long just to find a bear worth pursuing. I usually try to dedicate up to ten days for a hunt when possible. Black bears can be even more difficult, even in states that allow baiting, because of the lower bear densities in many areas. Glassing in these vast regions requires time, sometimes days to find a stalkable opportunity, and being able to string as many days as possible together is a huge advantage when making plans to hunt out west.
Having enough time also provides the opportunity to become more familiar with a particular area you are hunting. Successful western hunters hunt the same areas season after season, and over time learn every nook and cranny. This type of knowledge can’t be learned in just a few days, or by surfing the internet or looking at Google Earth. It takes time, and the more time you spend in a specific region can prove to be invaluable in the long run on future hunts.
Being in good physical shape, as well as mentally tough, can’t be overstated either. These beautiful mountains will test your stamina, will and desire everyday, and if you’re not in reasonable shape or have the right mindset, you’re doomed to fail. As the developer of www.elkshape.com, as well as the owner of CrossFit Spokane Valley (www.crossfitspokanvalley.com) in Spokane, Washington, Dan Stanton is no stranger to western hunting.
As Dan explained it to me recently, physical fitness and mental toughness plays a huge role on a successful western hunt. “Physical fitness contributes to mental toughness,” but it’s having the right mind set or “mental toughness” that will get you through the difficult times a western hunt will undoubtedly throw at you. “We all need to be in good shape when hunting out west, and there are many methods to get to that point,” says Dan, “but grinding it out day in and day out, and working as hard on the last day as you did on the first while dealing with the uncertainties that come at you, really begins between the ears.” In a nutshell, to build mental toughness you have to test your limits, get comfortable with being uncomfortable and have a “can’t quit attitude” regardless of the situation.
Patience is often another factor to a successful western bear hunt, and this is especially true for the bowhunter. The most successful and experienced western hunters I know spend far more time hiking, glassing, scouting and ultimately preparing for a hunt than they ever do actually punching their tag. Frankly, it’s easy to let discouragement sink in when you haven’t seen the game you’re after for several days or you’ve had to deal with other struggles that have drained precious time from a hunt. However, those who are patient and prepared when an opportunity comes are the ones who find consistent success when bear hunting out west.
Equipment that Western-tough
Equipment is another pitfall that is in your complete control and can also play a vital role in determining the outcome of a western hunt, especially if it relies on packing into remote areas. Investing in the best gear you can afford often allows you to withstand harsh environments that can occur out west, allowing you to spend more time in the field and less time dealing with failing equipment. It could also very well save your life!
Navigating the Wind
Virtually all western game rely on their sense of smell to survive, especially black bears, so understanding how the wind moves throughout the day is vital when hunting out west. In mountainous terrain, thermal wind currents occur every day and are largely based on the warming and cooling atmosphere. On calm mornings, when the low valleys begin to warm, that heat rises and results in updraft thermals, which carry your scent uphill. Contrarily, when temperatures drop in late afternoon, or during early mornings, colder air sinks, resulting in downdraft.
Lastly, and perhaps the most important aspect of a successful western bear hunt in your overall preparedness. You can’t control the weather, bear behavior, hunting pressure or other difficulties you could be faced with, but you can control how you respond and prepare for them. When you prepare for these and other pitfalls, you’ll become a more effective western bear hunter.