By Freddie Mcknight
There are many methods to choose from for hunting black bears across North America, but where legal, driving can be a top producer among them. However it takes considerable knowledge about where and how to put on the right push through the brush to roust any bruin from cover. Follow these five tips to help your crew become a more efficient bear gang.
1) Preplan Your Drives – Being organized is a limiting factor of any drive involving multiple hunters. Use one or two leaders in your group to make the decisions on where and how the drive will go. Before the day of the hunt, the leaders should make plans as to what drives they are going to conduct, how many drivers are going to be needed, and where the standers are to be placed. In this manner everyone will know ahead of time what is happening instead of standing around during the day of the hunt discussing what to do next and all the other details surrounding that particular push.
The leaders of the group need to know how many hunters they are going to have for the day of the hunt so that they can plan the drives for the available manpower. Trying to push out too big of a block of timber with a small group results in nothing but frustration most of the time. The bruins will simply lay tight or circle around the drivers and remain in the cover.
It is great if you know the wind direction for the day as well, so that you can put your hunters in the best place to take advantage of it. However some drives simply don’t allow for this factor and you must press forward knowing that there is a chance the bear will wind you. If the drive conducted properly though, one of the hunters is going to get a crack at the bear.
2) Communicate – With the drive line in place, communication plays a big part in the success of the drive being conducted properly. There are two parts to this, the first being keeping everyone in line across the side length of the drive. Groups can choose various methods to do this, but the simple and most effective is to simply have the members let out a verbal “hoop” every now and again to let the hunters on either side know where they are.
The reason it is important to do so is first and foremost is safety. Should a bear appear in the view of a driver, he or she needs to know where everyone else is so that they can determine if it is safe to shoot or not. The second is to ensure that the territory is being covered efficiently and that any bear moved will be pushed out to the waiting hunters on the other end.
To keep the drive in line for its forward push, predetermined GPS spots should be assigned to the drivers for their point of rendezvous. In thick or twisty terrain, it is easy for the human element in all of us to get twisted off track. Having these points in place will allow the hunters to walk as straight a line as possible to cover all the area they are hunting and not let any gaps in the line for bears to get back through.
One rule that must be followed, make sure the watchers are in place before the drivers enter into an area. In this manner any bruin you spook on your way in will not run through the region and get away without being seen. Sometimes the bears will spook at the slightest whiff of human and take off for the next county over.
3) Play the Terrain – When planning a drive, it is best to start at an end that is larger and push it to the smaller end when possible. This will allow the hunters to converge and force the bruins from cover at the end of the drive. Bears are famous for waiting until the last hundred or so yards of the push to make an appearance and when all the hunters are closer, it forces the issue to make the bear break from cover and come in to the line of sight of the standers.
Bears are also animals of a certain habit, that is that when pushed they take the easiest route of escape to try and put distance between the hunters and themselves. Using maps to determine these routes will help in planning out the drives with a line of departure fairly predictable. Bears will use the terrain much like humans when pushed, so it becomes a matter of placing the standers near where these routes will exit the timber you are hunting.
4) Don’t Overlook the Small Stuff – One point to bring up is never overlook a small piece of structure when it comes to bear hunting. After a day and a half of pushing big clearcuts and pine thickets, our group had not rousted a bear from an area, even though there had been many recent sightings and plenty of sign around. The only cover that we had not pushed was two standing cornfields. Getting permission from the land owner, we set off to do these. Neither was more than 10 acres in size, but the two held three bruins in among the stalks.
So tight were the bears holding that two where shot where they lay and the third was taken just after it emerged from cover only about 25 yards ahead of the drivers. This was not the first time our group had taken a bear(s) from small blocks of cover that many other hunters had passed by.
5) Use Hunting Pressure – In my home state, our bear season is short and hunting pressure can be intense, especially on the public lands we mainly hunt. Sometimes other hunters know of our plans because of previous years success and will try and infiltrate the area to take their own bruin. There is nothing illegal about this, but having decided long ago that if we were the ones doing all the work, we were going to set about the drive to give our hunters the best chance of taking a bear. After more than 20 years, no hunters outside of our group have succeeded in doing so, even though there have been multiple times when they had their chances.
Bears may be forced from their normal haunts by the sudden influx of hunters in the woods, so be flexible with your plans. You may need to reverse the drive in one case to avoid hunters who are already posted in the area where your watchers are. At other times you may need to skip a good spot because too many other hunters are there or perhaps you need to go to another area simply because the bruins have been pushed far from their home range.
Be prepared to be flexible with your plans too. If one of your members sights a bruin during your day of hunting, get in the area it was headed to as fast as possible. Bears can cover a lot of territory in a short amount of time, but when you have this most recent information, you need to act on it as soon as possible. With the bruin already on its feet, it is usually easier to roust from cover than normal, giving you a bonus opportunity to take a trophy.
The conclusion is that this is bear hunting and for certain there are no guarantees. If you are part of a bear gang, or are trying to put a group of hunters together to try this method, follow these simple guidelines to help you be successful.