West Coast Giants (Nov/Dec 2020)
By Al Raychard
I have hunted British Columbia just once. It’s a long distance to the western province from the northeast U.S. where I live, and there’s a lot of good bear hunting in between that kept me interested and busy over the years. It saddens me that I’ve never returned. I hope to correct that at some point in the future.
Looking back on it, my sole BC hunt proved highly successful in more ways than one. Even though I only saw a small fraction of the province, what I did see was truly impressive. I have hunted some wild places in my time, but few have proven as beautiful. Towering mountains, dense green forests that seem to go on forever, rushing rivers headed for the Pacific, BC has it all. You can’t help but set eyes on the place and be divinely moved and inspired, just as I was. It’s simply a place that sticks with you in mind and spirit.
And to say BC has lots of bears would be an understatement. In the remote mountainous area I hunted, I saw more shootable bears on that spring hunt than I can accurately recall. It was nothing to glass five, six, seven or more bears each day out. On my next to last day there, my guide and I finally put a successful downwind stalk on a 6-1/2-foot brown-phase boar munching fresh greens on a south-facing cut. I had seen larger bears, some that must have gone closer to or over seven feet by the guide’s estimate, but when I set eyes on the one I killed, I knew immediately that was the one I wanted. I departed more than satisfied having taken one of my largest bears to date and the largest ever of color.
Presently, British Columbia’s bear population is estimated at between 120,000 and 150,000. Some estimates are as high as 160,000. Whatever the case B.C. is home to not only the largest bear population of any province but roughly one-quarter of all the bears in Canada. With exception of the higher alpine and low grassland regions, black bears are found throughout the forested areas of the province, which are extensive. This would include Vancouver Island and most coastal islands to the north and the Queen Charlottes. As a result of prime habitat conditions, it is difficult to find a poor place to hunt bears in this province.
The bear hunting prospects and odds of success are excellent just about everywhere. Many bear camps routinely report 100-percent success rate. Although most management units have a two-bear limit, hunters planning a hunt should keep in mind that some regions have higher bear densities than others. In general, bear numbers are highest in the wetter western regions where vegetation is more plentiful and along the vast coastal zones where bears have access to protein-rich spawning salmon as well as prime living conditions. Vancouver Island, for example has an estimated 7,000-to 9,000 bears, one of the highest bear densities in North America.
The western mainland regions and the coastal islands in particular are also known for their usually large black bears. They consistently produce their share of six and seven foot-plus trophy bears and record book heads. An interesting footnote is ten-thousand-year-old skeletons have been found on Vancouver Island indicating that black bears were on the island soon after the last ice-age glaciers receded. Those skeletons also suggest those early arrivals were larger than modern-day bears. Scientists believe the current island populations have retained some of their ice-age characteristics, namely large body size, due to early ancestral recolonization and the long period of isolation from mainland populations.
The province is also home to roughly 15,000 grizzly bears, but the hunting of grizzlies has been prohibited since 2017. In the extreme north-west near the border with Alaska there is a population of so-called “glacier” or “blue” bear and a population of white-colored Kermode or “Spirit” bear found along the north-central coast, neither of which may be hunted.
British Columbia is special and unique in many ways. Like most provinces, there is both a spring and fall bear season, but unlike most provinces to the east, baiting bears is not allowed. It has been prohibited province-wide since 1971. Spring or fall, this is strictly a spot-and-stalk bear hunting destination. Distress calls are also used in conjunction with spotting, particularly during the spring calving period when big boars prey on young ungulates. The general routine is glassing south-facing cut-overs, avalanche slides, old logging roads and other areas alive with fresh spring greens and fall berry crops, and then making a stalk. Depending upon the hunting area, access to hunting areas is by vehicle or ATV and by foot. Boats are also used, either as a form of access or base camp in remote areas along the coast and islands.
BRITISH COLUMBIA OVERVIEW
Estimated Black Bear Population: 160,000 +/-
- Areas Open to Bear Hunting: Province wide with the exception of all national parks, some provincial parks, national wildlife areas, regional district parks and ecological reserves.
- Spring Season/Dates: Yes. Opening and closing dates may vary slightly by management unit. Most open April 1 and close as late as June 30.
- Fall Season/Dates: Yes, Varies by management unit. Some open as early as August 15 and close as late as December 10.
- Annual Bag Limit: two bears.
- Baiting Allowed: No
- Dogs Allowed: Yes
- Legal Weapons: centerfire rifle calibers, shotguns 20-gauge and larger; bows with minimum 40-pound draw, compound crossbows no less than 100-pound draw; heavier, recurve crossbows with no less than 150-pound draw and muzzleloaders.
- Color Phase Potential: Up to 40-percent of bears east of the Coast Range are some color other than black with brown most common. Blonde and cinnamon-colored bears also common in some mainland interior locations.
- License Fees/Availability: General hunting and bear licenses are available at vendors throughout the province including hunting outfitters. Resident Basic Hunting License-$32, Resident Bear License-$20,
- Non-resident Basic Hunting License-$75, Non-Resident Alien Basic License-$180, Non-resident of BC Bear License -$180.
- Contacts: BC Fish and Wildlife Branch, 1-(877) 855-3222, www.env.gov.bc/fw. Guide Outfitters of BC, 1-(604)541-6332, www.goabc.org.