As I approached the start of Montana’s 2016 Spring black bear season I didn’t really know where to start. Growing up in Wisconsin, spot and stalk bear hunting was far from the ordinary. In Wisconsin it’s a waiting game. Ten years of applying for a tag, and you might get lucky. Even then you will have to get even luckier if you plan on killing a bear over five feet. With that being said, your odds of success and a guaranteed tag make Montana a much better option for the aspiring bear hunter. In Montana, Spring bear season runs from April 15th to June 15th (in most units). This gives you two months of time to stop tying flies, forget about your fishing withdrawals, and hit the hills of western Montana in search of a big old black bear.
With short notice, I quickly gathered as much information as I could from reading articles and talking to a few seasoned bear hunters, and prepared to hit the hills come mid April. During opening week of bear season I was fortunate enough to be floating Montana’s famous Smith River. This would not only turn out to be an awesome experience, but it gave me the opportunity to hunt bears on a section of remote National Forest land.
After a mild hike from camp to the top of the ridge, we found ourselves in the snow. As we worked our way up the ridge, we cut a set of tracks, and shortly after Sam spotted another bear on the other side of the canyon in some of the gnarliest country imaginable. As we sat and glassed the bear for a few minutes we exchanged a wide range of opinions on the bear’s size and distance. The bear was too far away. We chose not to lob one across the canyon, and returned to camp empty handed, but it was an exciting adventure none the less.
As the season continued I went out in search bears in Western Montana. The rugged landscape combined with the green grass made for some of the best scenery my eyes have ever seen, but to my surprise I was having a lot harder of a time finding bears than I thought I would. It quickly became apparent that if I wanted to fill my tag, I was going to have to check out some new country, and gain a lot more elevation than I thought.
After crossing two creeks and packing into a gnarly canyon, we quickly bumped a bear off of a dead deer, and shortly after we were surrounded by bear sign. We hunted hard the next couple of days, but to my surprise, I still had yet to have a shot opportunity at a bear.
The following Wednesday I texted Zack asking him what he wanted me to work on that day. He quickly responded with “I want you to work on killing a bear today Calvin.” and so I went. Having already missed the prime hours of the morning, I headed into a spot that I was very familiar with, and that I had seen some bears in the past. After glassing a large clear cut for the better part of the morning, I was left scratching my head wondering “Who would have thought I would have this much trouble finding a bear.” Little did I know, that was all about to change. As the afternoon rolled around, I found myself working a logging road to a point where I knew I would be able to glass an entirely new section for the next couple of hours. After glassing and again coming up with nothing, I decided to work my way up the ridge.
After hiking a few hundred yards up the ridge, I found myself surrounded in fresh bear sign. Although the wind was blowing my scent directly uphill, I decided to get settled in a patch of timber, and start calling. Not 30 seconds into my call sequence and I spotted a bear no more than 300 yards away standing on a log looking directly at me. Before I could get my rifle settled for a shot, the bear started running directly towards me as I kept screeching on the call.
With my heart racing, I quickly realized that this bear was going to get a lot closer to me than I had hoped. As the bear got to 50 yards at a dead run, I screeched one last time, stopping the bear. I settled my crosshairs, squeezed the trigger, and just like that I had harvested my first black bear.
A quick phone call later and I had help on the way to get my bear off the mountain in one trip. Gus and Tex quickly made their way up the mountain, and the work began. We made quick work of the bear, quartering out the meat, skinning the hide, and heading back to the truck with full packs.
The best kind of text message to send after a day on the mountain.