Bow hunting a bear. Sounds scary, right? When you’re new to it, it can be. And just like when hunting any other big game animal, you’ll need to be safe. There are many different types of bear that one can encounter when bow hunting, depending on your state and location, of course, but there are basic tips that can apply to all of them. With that said, let’s see what they are. But first …
Can you bow hunt a bear? Yes, you can bow hunt a bear. Before you do so, though, please check your state’s laws and regulations before you set off for your hunt. Some states restrict bear hunting in certain areas and without the proper licensing, you could end up in hot water with the law.
Unfortunately, your deer hunting license won’t cut it when it comes to hunting bear, so make sure you have the proper licensing before you go. Your bear hunting license will let you know what type of bear you’re allowed to hunt whether it be a black bear, grizzly bear, male, female, etc. This helps your state keep track of the bear population and also helps with funding conservation in your state, as stated by this post here on this bear hunting site.
The Most Commonly Hunted Bears
Although most bears can be treated the same when it comes to baiting, hunting, and scouting, there are some visual and behavioral differences between each species. With the following
knowledge, you’ll be able to know exactly what type of bear you’re looking at when you spot one.
Black Bear – If you’ve spotted a dark bear with a long nose, small eyes, round ears, and a short tail, you’ve likely just found a black bear. Like many other wild animals, black bear like to eat
berries, nuts, and fruit. They also like to eat nutrition-packed foods such as termites, bees, and moths.
According to this article here on Wikipedia, black bears have really only shown aggression when encountered in times of hunger, with most times just resulting in bluffs to scare the human away. Also, it states that 23 people were killed between 1900 and 1980, and even though this is tragic, this is an extremely low number for 80 years of encounters.
Grizzly Bear – It is said that grizzly bears will try to avoid human contact by all means, but it is also said that they can be the most aggressive out of this list of commonly hunted bears. The good thing, though, is that they have been known to be poor tree-climbers and this fact alone is a great reason
to hunt from a tree stand opposed to being on the ground.
Grizzly bears are known to have flatter noses compared to other bears, brown fur, large ears, and smaller claws. Their diet consists of everything that the black bear eats, but they are open to eating human food as well. This is why people use different kinds of junk food to attract them.
Brown Bear – Aside from being a different sub-species than the grizzly bear, brown bears are practically the same animal. They look the same and eat the same types of foods, so telling them apart can be difficult.
The only real difference that I’ve been able to find upon research is that they typically have more access to foods like fatty salmon and are a little larger in size compared to a grizzly because of this.
Training for any type of game hunting whether that be small game or large game is always an important key to a successful hunt, but when you’re new to hunting larger and more aggressive game like bears, I personally feel that training for the situation is a little more important than when hunting for a squirrel, for example.
Many think that training just means that you are working on practicing your shot, but there are so many other things that go into hunting that should be taken into consideration. These things include silence, patience, and mental preparation.
When bow hunting bears, safety and mental preparation should be highly stressed. With that said, learning basic safety procedures such as not getting too close, staying silent, or making mistakes that could make the bear agitated or attracted to you are very important skills to acquire for the hunt you have ahead of you.
It is said that driving to your hunting destination is more dangerous than actually hunting down a bear, but bear encounters do happen every single year, so it’s good to be on the safe side and practice not only your shot but your safety skills extensively so that you can stay safe on your first or next bear hunt.
Signs To Look For
Just like when hunting most game, you’ll want to put in the time, effort, and energy into scouting so that you know exactly where bear primarily hang out at. Each animal gives their own unique clues to help track them down and fortunately for us, the bear’s aren’t that hard to differentiate from other animals. Here are a few things you can expect to look for on your scout for bear:
Telling the difference between a grizzly bears hair and a brown bears hair can be difficult, but knowing what type of bears generally hunt in your desired hunting area will give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect. Whether it be brown or black, though, a bears hair will usually be coarse and long (1-4 inches).
Their hair can usually be found caught on wired fences, on tree trunks, telephone poles, and thorns. Depending on how long it’s been out in the open, sunlight may cause a lightening of the fur.
Just like you may have expected, a bears scat will generally be pretty large. This fact alone may tell you that a bear is near, but there are other tips that may help you identify a bears poo as well.
Their poop will vary depending on their diet, but it is typically dark brown. It sometimes contains vegetation such as grass along with fruit skins and seeds. It can range anywhere from 1 to 2 inches in diameter and can be found on hunting trails, at the base of a tree, and at the base of plants as well.
If you find a bear footprint, you’ll more than likely know exactly what animal it belongs to pretty quickly. Unless you’re hunting Sasquatch, differentiating between a bears paw and another animals paw should not be too difficult.
Depending on the age and how big a bear is, you can expect to find paw prints that are very wide and about 4-7 inches in length. Because of its mass, you will typically find that all parts on the paw are visible. Another good indicator of a bears print is that the biggest toe will be on the outside of the print and that the hind tracks are usually triangular because of how their paws are shaped.
You can find these prints in areas where there are soft or wet patches of mud, sand, or soil. Despite their size, trying to find these tracks on dry grounds can be quite difficult.
Another good way to tell if bear are nearby is to look for markings on trees. There claw marks will typically be deeper, wider, and overall just bigger than most animals. Their claw marks will also typically be parallel and strong enough to peel back the bark all the way to the cambium. Not only can these markings be found on trees, but on fallen logs as well.
Scratching and rubbing on trees is a communication technique that they use to mark territory and to let fellow bears know that they are nearby.
Type Of Bow To Use
To be completely honest, as long as the bow you’re using has immense power, any type of bow you choose to hunt bear with will be perfectly fine. If you’re a beginner, you might know how easy it is to get caught up in choosing which bow will be the best to satisfy your needs, but, I’ve tried them all, and from experience, I can tell you that the skill lies more in the hunter instead of the actual bow.
I’m not saying go out and go bowhunting with any old bow that you pick up at a garage sale, but any decent bow with a good broadhead and draw weight will give you what you need for your hunt. With that said, I highly recommend this crossbow found here on Amazon.
I enjoy using every style of bow, but the crossbow has always been my primary go-to bow when hunting larger game. For me, it is just easier to handle and gives me a little more confidence when preparing for a shot. I highly recommend it for not only beginners but for seasoned hunters as well.
If you want to successfully take down a bear, you’ll want to be aiming for either the heart or the lungs. I could go more into why, but common sense should tell you that these two particular hit zones are very lethal and will drop a bear fairly quickly.
Before making your shot, though, make sure the bears front leg that’s facing towards you moves forward before releasing your arrow. Bears have very thick bones and if you hit one you will lose your kill or make them agitated depending on the circumstance.
A well-executed shot should either pierce the heart or go through both lungs resulting in a definite kill. And aiming your shot just behind the shoulder will get you in what they call the “lethal zone”, or in other words the area to shoot for a takedown.
Landing that perfect shot on a big bear may sound like an impossible feat for someone who is new to bear hunting, but with enough practice, getting it can be just as easy as hunting any other game animal.
How To Attract Them
There are a few ways to attract bear and these include baiting, spot-and-stalk, and luring. Baiting has always been a popular way to hunt bears, but, unfortunately, it is not legal in every state. So before doing so, please check your state’s laws regarding this particular style of attracting bear before doing so.
The same goes for luring. As harmless as it might sound, even trying to attract a bear with a scent is illegal in some states. So, again, please check your state’s laws before you do any type of luring as well. If you found out that you’re allowed to, scents that smell like bait are great for attracting them. These scents include bacon, fish, sweets, and more.
And although these two styles of hunting can be illegal in some states, spot-and-stalking isn’t. Spot-and-stalking basically consists of getting a good pair of binoculars, stalking your prey from a good distance away to avoid being spotted, and then planning your hunting strategy and location depending on what type of activity you were able to see.
Some hunters actually prefer this style over baiting and if done correctly, can be done just as good, if not better, then using attractants. It also gives hunters who want a challenge a run for their money as well.
What Bait Do Bear Like Best
As I sat here and tried to think about what type of foods bear like the best, I eventually just came to the conclusion that bears will eat practically anything that you put in front of them if they’re hungry enough.
And even though this is true, there are some more ‘popular’ baits that hunters have used over the years that they swear bear love to devour when given the opportunity to do so. These baits include:
- Syrup-Covered Dog Food
- Honey Buns
As you can see, bears have a huge sweet tooth, and many hunters have found great success using these same types of baits to attract them to their stand or bait barrel. With that said, you should probably get your hands on some of these goodies when planning for your bear hunt.
Although sweets are a bear’s favorite, keep in mind that they also enjoy other foods such as fish, chicken, bacon, and pretty much any other kind of meat you can think of.
The only thing that I’ve found that you should avoid feeding them upon further research, though, is chocolate. Chocolate contains an alkaloid that certain animals don’t react very well to and can even result in death because of it. Chocolate baiting has even become a big enough problem that some states have even banned it as a bear bait altogether.
I haven’t seen many bear hunters run into any real issues while hunting, but that does not mean that there isn’t always a possibility that things could go left on your hunt. Even if there were only one bear attack per year, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
With that said, it’s always good to have protection on you in the instance that you have to protect yourself from a bear that is hungry or just flat out agitated.
Two good forms of protection are bear spray and a handgun. Keep in mind that no bear spray is %100 effective and the usefulness of it will depend on how well it is used. Although it is a very effective deterrent, it should not be relied on as a way to get you out of any bear encounter or as an excuse to be reckless.
Please make sure to read directions carefully so that you get a good understanding of how to use it for full effectiveness.
Another good alternative is a handgun. Small handguns such as a revolver can be a great way to take down a bear in the case in which you are unable to quickly draw and shoot your bow in an effective way that will take the bear down.
Aiming and shooting a bow is harder than aiming and shooting a gun, so just for emergency purposes, bring a handgun along with you for a quicker takedown.
Type Of Arrows To Use
Just like the bow, arrow types don’t matter when it comes to bear hunting. If you have a solid arrow with a good broadhead, you have what it takes to bring a bear down. Here are some of the different types of arrows you can expect to find as you look around for them:
- Carbon Arrows
- Wooden Arrows
- Aluminum Arrows
- Fiberglass Arrows
- Composite Arrows
Keep in mind that your arrow is totally different than your broadhead. You can have the best type of arrow in the world, but if you don’t have the right broadhead to take down the game you’re after, it doesn’t matter.
When starting off, though, I definitely recommend these hunting arrows here from Amazon. These arrows are designed to give you the straightest shot possible, and when you’re new to bowhunting, especially bowhunting bear, accuracy is something you’ll definitely want to stress until you’re able to get comfortable using other types.
Aside from having the correct broadheads, having a good draw weight is probably one of the most important things to have down when hunting any game animal. A draw weight for a squirrel won’t be the same for a deer just as a draw weight for a deer won’t be the same for a bear.
You need different levels of force to take down each game and if you don’t have that, your bow is pretty much useless. With that said, it is best to have a draw weight of at least 50-70 lbs. Anything in this range will definitely be enough to take down any bear with a steady, well-placed shot.
Some states require a minimum and maximum draw weight, though, so please check your state’s laws on what these requirements are before hunting so that you don’t get into any trouble.
I’m not trying to scare you away from hunting bear, because honestly if you’re doing everything right on your part to stay protected, there’s nothing to worry about. But, it is very important to not do the wrong things when dealing with large, threatening game.
This includes not attracting too much attention to yourself, not getting too close to make your shot, not forgetting to bring safety equipment, and so on. But, keep in mind that any game animal can be aggressive and threatening if the proper safety precautions aren’t being taken, so use extreme caution and practice good safety habits so that you’re not putting yourself in harm’s way not only during a bear hunt. but during all your other hunt’s as well.
Hunt From A Stand
Some hunter’s say that hunting bear from the ground is no different than hunting from a stand when it comes to safety, but in my opinion, there is a difference. As a beginner, bowhunting a bear from the ground can be very intimidating.
The feeling of being in the presence of something so large can make us feel uneasy and with this feeling comes poor decisions. These decisions may include anything from a poor shot, carelessness, a foggy mind, and even anxiousness.
Although bears are just as equally dangerous from the ground as they are in the stand, the peace of mind that you will get from hunting on a stand will make things a little smoother. Unlike a grizzly bear, black bear and brown bear are very fast climbers, but the time it takes them to climb the tree opposed to just running up to you on the ground might make a world of difference when it comes to protecting yourself.
Again I’m not trying to scare you away from hunting bear, but these are some things that you should take into consideration. Many mistakes can be made when hunting any animal, so it is best to be knowledgeable of the risks beforehand so that you can avoid these mistakes to the best of your ability.
Don’t Hold Any Food On You
Many people don’t know this, but a bears sense of smell is the strongest out of any species on the planet, and there are a lot of species. They have such good smell that it is even said they can smell foods from up to 20 miles out.
Now, if that doesn’t tell you something, I don’t know what does. With that said, it is best to keep all foods off of you at all times when it comes to hunting them, even foods that are concealed.
If a bear has the ability to smell something from many, many miles away, I think it’s safe to say that they can probably smell whatever you have in your bag as well. Just because you can’t smell it, doesn’t mean they can’t, so stay safe and keep the snacks away from you.
Control Your Nerves
Have you ever heard of buck fever? well, there’s a thing I like to call bear fever as well. The reason being is because hunting a bear can cause the same physical and mental symptoms that hunters get when hunting one.
When hunting something so big, it is natural to freeze up, get nervous, hesitate with your shot, and even avoid a shot altogether, but with the right preparation, you can minimize this feeling.
Most people think hunting is all physical, but I believe that %50 of it is somewhat mental, too. If you can ease your mind and calm your nerves by meditating, practicing on a target of equivalent size, or maybe even by listening to music that soothes your anxious feelings, then hunting bear won’t be all that difficult when it comes time to do it.
Concealing Your Smell
Since bear have such a great sense of smell, staying and keeping scent-free should be a top priority for our hunt. In fact, staying scent-free is so important that I wrote a whole article on it here.
The article is geared towards deer hunting, but the same tips can be applied for any hunting situation. If deer can easily pick up on a humans scent, then you better believe that a bear, the animal with the strongest sense of smell in the world, can pick up on us as well.
That article will go in-depth on how to stay scent-free, how to handle your hunting clothes before and after a hunt, and will also suggest natural and store-bought scent covers that you can use to mask your smell from an animal.
Respecting The Bears
To avoid making a bear angry or suspicious, it is always best to have the utmost respect for them when hunting them. This means staying a good distance away, giving them their space, not doing anything that may cause them to harm you, and not using baiting tactics that might kill them in abundance, such as chocolate.
They Don’t Want Confrontation
Despite the fact that bears are huge, they usually aren’t looking for trouble. Although they have the size advantage over us, bears are not these big, scary human predators that some of us may think they are. In fact, eating us is not even a preference for them.
They’d rather just stay away from us, snack on our delicious bait traps, and go on about their business. If you stay out of a bears way, you should have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Eating Bear Meat
If eating bear meat is something you think you might be interested in doing, then I’d highly recommend it. Just like any other game animal you cook, bear meat should be thoroughly cared for and handled to prevent and eliminate any diseases that may be present.
Their meat can contain parasites that could make us very, very sick if consumed, so it is suggested that for your first time you cook it with someone who has experience in dealing with raw game meats.
If handled and cooked properly, it is a very delicious meat to feast on. Your bear’s meat will likely taste like the last thing it ate, and depending on what that was, this can be either a good or bad thing.
Bear meat is great in chili’s and stew’s, and with the proper care, it can taste just as good, if not better, than any other game animal, depending on the animal, of course.
I realize that hunting a bear can be a very scary thing to some people, and to be completely honest, I totally understand because I was once like that. Once you can turn that fear into excitement, though, hunting them can be an absolute blast.
Some find bear hunting easy, while other’s find it hard, but nevertheless, hunting them is always an adrenaline-packed experience. And with enough skill, preparation, and self-control, tagging one isn’t as hard as you might think it’d be.