Spot & Stalk
Nov 19 2020
By Douglas Boze
Tucked into an ancient cedar stump with red huckleberries crowing it, overlooking a wonderful swamp bordered by mature evergreen trees and lined with ripe blackberries, I had been calling from my closed reed predator call for just about an hour. I had paused to catch my breath and listen for any incoming animals. The wind was swirling on the late summer evening mainly from my left to right. I heard a snap of a twig right behind me and held motionless, my heart pounding. It was close, literally on the other side of the stump. I remained motionless and quiet for a minute or two and then slowly eased my head around my right shoulder, maneuvering my rifle just in case. There in the brush behind me a few feet from my face was a bear looking at me and I at him. He huffed and turned tail back into the brush, leaving me with the surprise of having a bear that close as well the nagging disappointment of not having a shot at the boar. This is just one example of the success (or failure) you can have calling for bear.
“How do I get started bear calling?” I have been asked numerous times by people looking to get into calling. It is quite simple really, go online or to a store and purchase yourself a predator call (rabbit distress, fawn bleat, that type of thing). You must first decide, however, what type of call you want to use. If you are a bit nervous about calling in a predator that can take you down if it decides to, then you might want to purchase an electronic caller, which allows you to activate the call using a remote from a secured position. This way, the animal will be focused on the call itself and not on you. I have a Foxpro and am very satisfied with it. But electronic callers can be pricey so you may choose to go with a much cheaper, yet very effective mouth call (similar to that of a duck call). Some may prefer an open reed call, for which there are plenty, but if you are a beginner, I recommend a closed reed call. They are easy to learn, but offer lots of room for different sounds.
Once you have chosen a call (closed reed mouth calls are my favorites if I am using a mouth caller) you now need to find a spot to call. Calling in bears, you need to be prepared for the fact you might call in other predators as well. Cougars, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, deer, elk, pretty much any sort of animal may show up, so be aware and be sure of your target. Personally, I will call just about anywhere I think might hold a bear. I like to get a good visual of the place, so that will often require myself to find a nice tall log pile, stump, rock outcrop or other elevated position. After all, if you cannot see the bear coming in, it might be hard to shoot at it. Try to call areas that have some sort of openings that allow you to see bears coming into the call, whether it be a grassy opening, tree line, clear cut and so on.
Do not think that just because you have not seen bear in the area that bear do not exist there. If you have seen any sort of sign, like bear scat or tracks, bear have been through there. If there are wild foods in the area, like fruit, nuts, corn or other edibles that bear might enjoy, and bear are known to be in the general area, give calling a shot. Just because there is a lot of food available does not mean the bear will not come into the call. Bears are very curious animals and may simply want to know what all the fuss is about.
The next thing you will want to consider is the wind. Bears will circle you like a coyote, to find out what it making all that noise, so you will want the wind at your back. You will want your shooting lane to be down wind of you. Now, this is not to say that bear will always come down wind of you, sometimes they will come to your side, right behind you and so on, but in general, you can place money they will try to wind you. No wind is best, but a light wind or medium wind is ok. Strong winds I have never had much luck calling in. I usually don’t even bother calling in heavy winds, but use that as a great time to spot and stalk bears. My favorite times to call are in the late afternoon to dusk or early morning, when bear are most active.
Be proficient in your weapon and know where to shoot a black bear. Take some time to understand how to hit a black bear in the vitals. The last thing you want to do is take all this time and effort calling and then miss or spoil the opportunity by getting a poor shot on the bear. A wounded bear is no fun to track, trust me on this! And remember, make sure the bear does not have cubs! Take your time.
I have hunted bear for many years and have called them for most of that time. I have found they come into calls depending on their mood. Some may come in on the sneak, cautious and wary. Others may just come rushing into the call ready to fight (older, bigger bears are like this), all mad and slobbery. While there are some bears who just want to see what is going on from a distance and will sit and watch you, never deciding to come into the call all the way, yet may offer a shot. Younger bears may do this to avoid a fight.
Now, sit yourself down and take a look at the area you are going to be calling into. Take a few minutes and get to know what the area looks like. Look at the rocks, the trees, any objects that stand out. This will help your brain spot when something changes, for example when a bear peaks around a tree, or if a deer pops out of nowhere (which happens all the time). Try to set yourself in an area that allows bear to approach you easily, meaning you don’t want a huge barrier for them to cross in front of you. Make it easy.
With the wind to your back, sit and call, remaining as still as possible. You will want to call as continuously as possible, meaning only take breaks to listen briefly and to catch your breath. It does not have to be an absolute continuous “waaa waaa waaa” the whole entire time, but some sort of noise, with little time between them helps. Start off quiet and as the call set progresses increase the noise. Think of it like tossing a rock into a mud puddle. A small rock creates small waves throughout the puddle and may only affect a little bit out, whereas a large rock creates bigger waves that expand to the furthest edges of the puddle. Your soft calling will only reach so far, but as you increase your calling volume, your noise goes out further and further, with the possibility of reaching out to animals that are further out. Your breaks should be about 30 seconds to a minute long, between squalls. Bears seem to move as you call, pause when you stop. Keep this in mind as you call.
Bears may have a ways to travel to get to you, so it might take some time. I generally call for about an hour or so, allowing for plenty of time for bear to approach. I will then sit and wait after I am done calling to see if a bear will show up after all is quiet. If after you have done your set and nothing has shown up, walk or drive another half a mile or so and give it another shot. If you do not have success, do not get discouraged! You may have called in a bear, it might not have shown itself to you which happens more times than not. Keep calling, you might not have success your first try, but if you keep at it and bears are in the area, you will have success! Once you get a bear to come in, you will see what I mean about how bear calling is a wonderful addiction and a very effective hunting method!Douglas Boze is the author of “The Ultimate Guide To Black Bear Hunting”