By Bernie Barringer
As seen in the Jan/Feb 2018 Issue of Bear Hunting Magazine!
I consider myself very fortunate to have experienced a wide variety of bear hunts in many places across the US and Canada. Each hunt has special memories for me and each one was a little different. From a spot & stalk hunt in the stunning scenery of British Columbia, to exciting hound hunts from Idaho to Maine and baited hunts all across North America, I've had many thrilling and unique experiences.
Each of these types of hunts has offered unique opportunities and challenges. Having done them, I feel I am now better able to prepare for each style of hunt. I'd like to share my observations with you in hopes that my experience will help you be prepared for your hunt, no matter what kind or where it might be. Let's break it down into three categories: Hound hunts, spot & stalk hunts and baited hunts.
It doesn ' t matter if you are hunting behind dogs in Idaho, Wisconsin, Maine or the Carolinas, this is going to be an active hunt and you'll need to be in good shape. Not only will you need to prepare yourself to shoot a bear out of a tree, you likely will need to do so after you have just been on a strenuous rush through the woods, and possibly up a steep hill or through a swamp. Physical conditioning is an important part of preparation.
The best way I have found to prepare for this type of activity is running stairs. A treadmill or a jog down a city street just won't cut it. You'll probably be stepping over logs, scrambling up hills and pulling yourself through boot-sucking mud, and possibly all three on the same trek to the sound of treed hounds.
And then you have a bear to get out of the woods through all that. If you have never done this before, take it from me, if you are scrambling uphill and your thighs are aching as you approach the treed bear, that's a good thing. Far better to take a dead bear downhill than uphill.
How much of these workouts should you do prior to the hunt? My best advice is this: The better your physical condition the more you will enjoy the hunt. It's up to you.
The other aspect of preparing for a hound hunt is that most likely your shot is going to be at a steep uphill angle and possibly through a small opening in the branches. It's a difficult situation to duplicate, but hoisting a target up into a tree and shooting arrows at it can help a great deal. This will help you understand the flight of the arrow better. Practice shooting over and under limbs to get a feel for the difference between your sight pin's position and the actual flight of the arrow.
It might surprise you to learn that I believe the physical exertion in hound hunting is often greater than in stalking bears in steep, mountainous terrain. The main reason is because you are not normally in such a hurry. You can take your time working over and through the country; bears are normally spotted feeding and they'll likely be in the area for some time.
That's not an excuse to skimp on the training, however. The closer you get to a bear, the more likely it will detect you, so the chance to draw and shoot can be a very short window of opportunity. The better shape you are in, the lower your heart rate, the better your breathing and the ability to steady the sight picture.
Shots are often at some unusual angles as well. The flight of an arrow will vary with the steepness of the uphill, downhill or even sidehill angle. The value of an an gle-compensating rangefinder cannot be overstated. It will give you a true range of distance over the horizontal plane. Extending your effective range is going to be very benefi cial. A 30 to 40, or even 50-yard archery shot is going to be more common than one inside of 20 yards. My advice is to practice out at 60 and 70 yards while focusing on good form and a smooth release and then you'll find that shoot ing and 40 and 50 yards becomes much easier.
The value of practicing shooting your bow from various body positions is really important on a spot & stalk hunt, too. You may have to shoot from one knee, squat ting, with a foot up on a rock or log, even standing on an unsteady surface . No other kind of hunting produces this many variables in body position at the shot, and the only way to prepare for it is to go out and practice shooting from these oddball stances.
What kind of prep can really be necessary for a baited hunt? Just show up and park yourself in a treestand right? Well, not exactly. First of all, practice from a tree stand at known ranges is important. Get to know the angles of your shot and the point of impact. Your arrow will hit a little high at the steep angles normally associated with treestand hunting. Most will be 15-20 feet high and 12-18 yards from the bait. That's a pretty steep angle.
I have killed about two dozen bears over bait with a bow, and as I look back, I realize I have shot almost all of them while sitting down. I do not like to risk standing up when I have a mature bear at the bait, and I sure am not going to stand the entire five to seven hours of an afternoon and evening hunt. So I practice sitting down and shooting both with the bow between my legs and to the side. Try it; you'll discover that it's a very steady way to shoot.
I like to be in good physical condition when I arrive for a baited bear hunt, not because I am expecting a lot of exertion, but because I want to feel comfortable getting in and out of treestands. I also want to be able to help get a bear out of the woods, mine and others in camp that may need a helping hand.
Another issue is the way most guided hunts take place, especially on spring hunts. You eat a big meal early in the afternoon, then you go sit still for several hours. It may not get dark until after 10:00, and chances are the guide has several hunters
to pick up, plus one of them may have a bear that needs to be tracked , gutted and loaded. It's common to get back to camp around midnight then what happens? We eat, of course. Then we go to bed with a full stomach. At my age I gain weight easily and I confess I have gained ten pounds in a six day hunt. So watching the calorie intake and getting some exercise before a hunt is a good thing for all these reasons.
Each hunt is different and it pays to be aware of the mental and physical aspects of each type of hunt. It also pays to prepare yourself by imitating the probable shot op portunity scenarios, so it won't feel totally foreign to you when the moment of truth arrives. You'll be going home with a trophy and a great memory rather than a list of things you should have done.