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bear hunt, montana, spring

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.

bear hunting, montana, wild

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.

Stars, Bear Hunting, Smith River, River, Hunting

Smith River Stargazing.

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.

Smith River, Hunting, Bears, Fishing, Bear Hunting

Snow covered cliffs along the Smith River.

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.

Rocks, Hunting, Bears, Montana, Mountains

Chance making his way up a gnarly rockslide.

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.

Deer, Bear, Hunting, Conservation, Mountain

Chance checking out a fresh bear kill.

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.

Glassing, Hunting, Bear Hunting, Bears

“Where da bears at?”

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.

Rifle, Gun, Hunting, Bears, Montana

Ready to roll.

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.

Hunting, Brass, Guns, Bears, Montana

Bear, Hunting, Bear Hunting, Mountains, Montana

Bear Down!

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.

Bear, Hunting, Meat, Conservation, Montana, Spring

The work begins.

The best kind of text message to send after a day on the mountain.

Hunting, Bears, Stoked, Bear Hunting, Montana, Mountains

 

– Calvin

 

bear camp, montana, hunting

Bear Camp, a most underrated event.  Montana bear hunting has to be, hands-down, one of the most fun hunts we go on each year.  You get the opportunity to test out new gear and work on fixing parts of your system that failed you the previous year.  You get to hone in your hunting skills and senses after a few long months off.  You get to lace up the boots and start busting you butt back into mountain shape and the things you see rarely disappoint.  The icing on the cake is tagging a bear and helping out the local ungulate population.  This year bear camp was going to be a little different than last year’s inaugural camp.  You can read all about why bear camp is so badass in our post > 10 Reasons Why Spring Bear Hunting Is The Cat’s Ass.  For 2016 we’d be a small trimmed down crew of three hunting in a new, more rugged location.  This year we’d be hunting the mountains and looking for those small pockets of green amidst a sea of dark timber and scree fields.

montana, bear hunting, spring, wild, black

Heading up the first canyon of the trip.

Camp started with a flat tire, rain, snow and general poor conditions.  With only three and a half days penciled in to get it done we knew we’d need to hunt hard and put some miles on the boots.  The first full day was spent driving and hiking into various locations we’d scouted on Google Earth and seeing if they translated in real life.  All the areas we hunted looked like they could hold bears but nothing screamed “hunt here!” The second afternoon was spent glassing green hilsides when the fog and rain allowed.

spring, bear hunting, montana, wild, mountains

A necessary hike up the scree revealed more of the opposite hillside.

With a few hours left we split up into two groups to try to locate a bear.  That evening turned up a sow and two cubs and a few elk and sheep.  With little to go off we trudged our way back to camp and fired up the wood stove to dry out and refuel for the next day.

wood stove, montana, canvas, riley stove, wall, tent, hunting

The wall tent is always welcome when the weather is bad.

Our goal for our last full day was to head up into a long draw I’d spent some time looking at back home on the computer.  It appeared about 3 miles up the canyon a few large avalanche shoots opened up and would be a nice, secluded spot to find a mature bear.  5:30 A.M. came quick and a look outside the tent showed us that the visibility had dropped overnight.  With our prospects of glassing looking dismal, we decided to sleep in till 8 and then see if the forecasted sun would start to burn off some fog.  By 9 we were in the truck headed off to find our trail winding up a thick canyon.  As we pulled off the main dirt road we found our access road covered in trees.  I mumbled a few comments that I’ll keep to myself and fired up the chainsaw.  Two trees out and we hopped back in to head up the road.  Around the next bend lay a group of about 10 more trees draped over the road.  As I was cutting Brandon informed me my pull cord had frayed and was laying on the ground.  Well that’s just peachy.  I now had to keep the chainsaw running until we hit our trail.  After cutting the visible trees out I jumped on my tailgate and keep the chainsaw humming while Brandon quickly navigated my truck up the mountain.  Eventually we made it to our trail, a small, grown-in trail that seemed like a bad idea.  We contemplated the options from the comfort of the truck and decided we didn’t cut all those damn trees out for nothing.  We’d start bushwacking up the wet canyon and see what we thought in an hour.  What started out as a decent trail soon faded into a trail that appeared it hadn’t been cleared in 8-10 years.  We navigated wet and snowy brush and downfall for two and a half hours before breaking out into our first big opening.  Within seconds I’d put my binos on a suspiciously black spot and we had spotted our first bear of the day.

spring, bear hunting, montana, kimber, mountains, sitka gear

Brandon sizing up the first bear of the day.

black bear, montana, bear, hunting, snow, mountains

An epic spot to see a bear but this one had cubs and eventually moved off.

Brandon quickly had a pack down and his gun lined up on the bear staring down into the valley as a light snow fell through the valley.  The encounter was surprisingly calm.  Brandon explained he wasn’t sure how big the bear was and he was going to watch it for a bit.  I snapped away on the camera enjoying the wild mix of conditions.  As Brandon examined the bear two small black cubs came crawling up the mountain navigating the boulders twice their size.  We both were glad we hadn’t rushed into taking a shot at this bear.  It’s a hard thing for new guys and even experienced guys to do when bear hunting, but watching a bear and determining its sex and if it has cubs is a necessity.  We watched mom lead her cubs up through the timber and we threw our packs back on and continued up the canyon.

bear hunting, montana, spring

Brandon picks his way up the canyon among snow covered downfall and an almost non-existent trail.

Soon we had climbed into the next avalanche chute and it was looking good.  Snow was still slowly filtering down and the upper half of the mountain was fogged in but we were starting to see the kind of habitat we were looking for.  After examining the side of the creek we were on we slowly worked out into the bottom of the clearing when Brandon spotted a bear across the creek.  Living in a small alder choked chute in the hill was a black bear, completely unaware of our presence.  Brandon quickly got a good rest on his pack and settled in for a good broadside shot.

montana, bear hunting, kimber, mountains, spring

Patiently waiting for the right shot.

As bears will do they seem to feed in all the right spots that don’t offer a good shot.  We waited in position for about 20 minutes as the bear feed amongst the alders and then climbed the cliff up next to some pine trees where she rubbed her back on a dead tree.  Finally she worked downhill and stood quartering to the right.  Brandon eased into the trigger and the Kimber rang out through the tight canyon.  The bear dropped like a sack of potatoes.  We were jacked!!  We gathered our gear and set out to attempt to cross the creek that was swollen by runoff.

bear hunting, montana, spring, creek, crossing

The second crossing creek crossing. This one was slick!

bear, hunting, montana, spring, wild, mountains

Bears living in crazy zones.

We were able to track down two different logs and made it over the river in one piece.  A scramble up another scree field and up through the alder choked chute led us to a cliff edge and Brandon’s bear laying feet from a 75′ cliff.  A little work and we got the bear off the cliff and down to a safer place to skin and quarter the bear.

montana, spring, bear hunting, wild, black bear

Finding a good spot to make quick work of this younger, dry sow.

From our new vantage point we could see the entire other hillside and new that we had found a nice pocket that definitely held a number of bears.  We pulled out our knives and began the process of skinning his bear and deboning the quarters for the pack out.  An hour later we were finished and I moved off next to an alder to take a piss.  Mid way through I noticed a very tan shape moving on the opposite hillside.  I instantly knew it was a bear and when I could finally put my binos on the spot I knew it was a good one.  I quickly rushed to grab my gun and pack and had to scramble down in the scree about 30 yards to find a boulder big which was high enough to get behind and get a rest to shoot uphill across the canyon.

bear, hunting, montana, spring, mountains

Set up and waiting for a cross canyon shot.

My first range on the bear had him at 630 yards.  I practice to 700-800 consistently out in the field and knew anything shooting for 700 or less was fair game if I could get a good solid rest and settle down.  The bear offered two opportunities for a shot in the first few minutes but I couldn’t settle into a good rest and my adrenaline was keeping me from holding steady enough to feel comfortable taking a shot.  I knew the bear wasn’t going anywhere and we watched him as I tried to find an ideal rest and wait for a better shot.  Over the next twenty minutes the bear fed up the hill offering no clear broadside shots.  It was frustrating to say the least.  Finally the bear popped up on top of the large cliff and began traversing across it.  It was a cool moment to watch a big bear cross a cliff like that in such an epic setting and made the whole trip worth it right there.  We knew he was headed to the next avy chute over and I ranged and got settled in for a shot opportunity.  My shot yardage would now be in the 650-670 range.  I had now settled down considerably and found a solid rest.  As the bear came out in the next chute he began moving downhill.  He wasn’t really feeding and wasn’t stopping much at all.  Finally he cleared some brush and stood broadside.  I slowly squeezed the trigger and my .300WSM barked.  I lost sight of him as my gun kicked my scope off the bear’s location.  I reloaded and quickly was back on the bear.  I didn’t know if I’d hit him but sent another shot at him as he slowly ran uphill straight away.  The second shot had good elevation but missed just a foot right.  I was pretty upset.  My track record with a rifle has been pretty much spotless on big game over the past three years and this was my first flat miss.  We knew we’d see that bear on the hillside and we held our spots.  Soon we saw the bear running left through the timber and picked him up again as he hit the next scree field.  At that point we lost sight of him.  We vigilantly scanned the hillside for the next ten minutes without any sign of him.  I was sitting there with my eyes looking for movement when I noticed a bear crossing a lower clearing and this time he was headed towards us.  My binos revealed it was the same bear!  He was going to cross below the cliff he had earlier crossed and the new range was 470.  I spun my turret to 500 and got ready for the boar to hit the rock field.  As he hit the center of the rock field Brandon whistled and somehow the bear stopped.  This time my shot was perfect and I saw the bear spinning holding and biting at his off shoulder.  A quick minute later the bear lay dead in the rock field among a few sparse aspen.  Emotions were extremely high as we’d just had an epic double unfold in some of the most beautiful and rugged country either of us had hunted bears in.  We quickly loaded up Brandon’s bear and set out across the canyon.

blood, trail, montana, bear, hunting

Who says bears don’t bleed?

When we got to the bear it was apparent the bullet had made quick work of this bear.  A quick kill is what we strive for and after my initial miss I was glad I pulled it together and made a great shot on my second opportunity.  As we looked the bear over we both noticed the size of his paws.

black bear, paws, hunting, spring, montana

Big ole smackers.

I’ve killed some 6’+ bears in the past but this one had the biggest paws of any I’d shot.  He was a beautiful chocolate color with thick forearms and a big round head.  A bear any sportsman would be happy with.  This day had quickly turned into one of the sickest hunting days either Brandon or myself had ever had.

black bear, spring, montana, zack boughton

Zack breaking into the color phase club.

With a nasty two hour hike out ahead of us we knew it would be advantageous to not hike out in the dark.  With the day quickly fading we decided to skin and quarter the bear quickly and then hang it in the nearby aspen trees and retrieve it in the morning.  We made quick work of the second bear and soon had the quarters hanging and hide safely hanging in the trees.  We shouldered Brandon’s bear and set off back down the trail.  Two hours later we emerged from the forest at the truck and went back to camp to drink a few celebratory beers, fuel up and get some needed rest.

black, bear, hunting, montana, zack boughton, brandon purcell, stoke

Resting after a long hike in.

The following morning we came back up the canyon to retrieve the second bear. After two and a half hours we made it back to the kill site and began the process of deboning the quarters and divvying up the load among the three of us.  The weather was beautiful and with no other bears spotted we headed back down the canyon.  As with every kill the sweet weight of success hung on all our shoulders as we bushwacked our way out of the tight box canyon and ended our bear camp for the year.

bear, hunting, packing, out, meat, hide, montana, wild

Better be able to handle the bushwack back in this canyon.

Words by: Zack Boughton

Photos by: Travis Boughton, Zack Boughton, and Brandon Purcell

black, bear, hunting, montana, idaho, rifle, lever, action

Trucks loaded and wheels rolling, we left town around 8:30 a.m. headed for the mountains of western Montana. Bear Camp, time to spend a week in pursuit of bruins. This would be my first spring spent chasing black bears. I had opted to hunt with my Marlin .30-30, my first gun I got back when I was a scrawny 10 year old. Growing up in Tennessee I spent many early mornings clutching that rifle while waiting for the elusive whitetail. So for me to bring down my first bear with that gun would be extra special.

No bears were tagged on that first week of hunting, new country and tough stalking conditions made for difficult hunting. We did get real close to bagging a nice bear on an old dirt logging road. Sock footed we crept after him, adrenaline pumping. He went around a bend in the road and vanished into thin air. Still it was a great first bear experience for me.

If hunting wasn’t a challenge then the reward of filling your tag wouldn’t feel as good. You’ve got to put forth the effort to receive a prize. Time spent in the mountains is never time wasted, I learned a lot in that week of hunting. It gave me a better perspective on how to locate bears, and hopefully punch my tag.

The following week we were back after it.

The rain fell steadily as we trekked uphill. Soaking wet downfall and moss-covered sticks made the climb to the logging road challenging, but by the time we reached the road the rain had all but ceased. It was around 4:00 p.m. as we began scanning the surrounding trees in search of bear but the sparse timber and grass covered openings turned up nothing.

About a half mile in, we had yet to see any bear sign. We trudged on.

Suddenly Travis froze, “Bear!” he hissed. My heart began to beat rapidly as I moved into position, clutching my rifle tightly. Before I knew it my gun had been discharged, and my Montana black bear tag was filled.

My knees began to shake as it hit me that I had just shot my first bear, and I had done it with my trusty old .30-30. I couldn’t have been happier as we made our way toward the bear.

His coat was a beautiful chocolate color with a small white patch on his chest. Just an all-around pretty bear. We set to work on him and before long we had the meat and hide strapped to our packs and were making the mile and a half hike back to the truck. The stars were just beginning to shine.

It was special for me to kill my first bear with my .30-30, a gun that means so much to me. That rifle has quite a few memories in it, from me as a ten year old kid shooting my first deer with my dad beside me, to several solo hunts – some successful and others not – and now here in Montana with new friends and new memories ahead. So here’s to the sport of hunting and the wild places it takes you. May your memories always be grand.

-Jay Siske

black bear, hunting, spring, montana, wild

Today is the release of ALL NATURAL. The film is completely all natural audio. No music, no sound fx, just a day following Zack on a successful spring black bear hunt.

Want to find more info on the rifle used? Go here: http://www.snowymountainrifles.com

 

 

-Travis