Fall Bear Hunting: Proven Tactics for Western Success
The opportunities for hunting fall bears in the West are vast, but no small feat.
If you ask 10 hunters what season comes to mind when you say bear huntingI bet nine of those hunters would say spring. Well Named. Spring is a fantastic time to get out in the mountains. You can see the flowers start to bloom and be the first to see the bears waking up after a long winter siesta.
Not to mention that there are no other major big game seasons outside of turkey. That being said, I’m definitely the one in 10 who would say fall.
Fall brings incredible bear hunting opportunities that few take advantage of. Those who try to find hardship seem to do so because they are trying to hunt the bear the same way they do in the spring. It’s the same animal, yes, but a different time of year calls for a different approach.
Not to mention, those hungry, hungry spring bears are now thick after their summer feast; a pursuit worth pursuing.
Finding those fall bears is the hardest part of being successful. I’m going to break down some tried-and-true tactics that have helped me fill my freezer with fall bears year after year.
Fall Bear Hunting Tactics
Locations of Bears in Spring vs. Fall
In order to better understand how to hunt bears in the fall, we need to look at their motivations given the time of year.
Bears can be found under snows and fairly close to den sites in the spring, especially in early spring. This mainly occurs at low to medium altitudes (2k-5k).
They don’t move much when they wake up and will gradually increase the distance they travel from their den as spring progresses. They are trying to get their systems back up and running properly during this time.
They do this by eating fresh, colorful vegetation. Grass, flowers and leaves are on the menu. It’s gentle on their tummy and helps to “get things moving” again.
Once fall comes, the bears are now in a complete feeding frenzy. They will gorge on all available food sources as they put on as much fat as possible before the coming winter. This constant search for food can push them over 100 miles from where they came from in the spring.
During this time we usually find bears at medium to high elevations (5k-11k). They climb higher than you would find them in the spring because that is where the majority of their fall food is. Edible plants sway and roll there, and a ton of wildlife clings to high ground before the snow falls.
Bears feed throughout the day, with emphasis on the first and last hours of daylight.
Drainages = Bears
The first thing I do after choosing a unit to hunt is pull out my maps and start focusing on the drains the land offers. Drains, most of the time, provide a bear with everything it needs to survive. These things are havens of food, water, and safety.
What I’m looking for in a drainage is a drainage with water flowing into the bottom and secondary drainages (fingers) coming out of those main ridges. Drains, canyons, cuts, whatever you want to call them, are generally great places to start looking for bears. And the steeper, the better.
The hard part is finding the right drainage to hunt. This is a question that can only be answered with hard work and lots of trial and error.
search for food
The hunter who takes the time to research fall bear food sources in advance is the one who will usually win. It’s relatively easy via a quick Google search or browsing local hunting forums for information on the subject.
Research common food sources that black bears consume in the fall based on the locality of your hunt. An example would be researching “food sources for Colorado fall bears”.
Make a list of these main foods and learn what they look like when they ripen. Also note at what elevations these food sources occur most often.
You’ll probably learn more about plants in your quest to become a successful fall bear hunter than anything else.
Popular fall bear foods include, but are not limited to:
- Acorns: There are several different species of oak trees that fruit at different times in the fall.
- Berries: prickly pear, juniper berries, blueberries, etc.
- Carrion: Roadkill, remains of hunter crops, etc.
- Roots: Bears will dig roots into the ground to eat.
- Insects: Bears will do things like turn over rocks and break logs in an attempt to find insects to eat.
Once you’ve done your research on food sources, now is the time to get out there and start looking. I call this “proofing the food”, and it’s crucial. You can’t just bet on a certain species of plant that bears fruit every year, in the same place, at the same time. Mother Nature doesn’t work that way.
Total precipitation fluctuates and has a significant impact on fall crop yields from year to year. Because of this, you will have to put boots on the ground and physically search for this larva. If it’s there, great. If not, move on. The Bears Won’t do to be where the food is not.
A quick note on the bear sign
Throughout your endeavors, knowing what a bear sign looks like is essential. Some of them are quite subtle and may go unnoticed by the untrained eye. Of course, there are the obvious markers, like leads and scat. However, there are also broken logs, toppled rocks, and bark-stripped trees, to name a few.
Be on the lookout for these subtleties, as they could pave the way to success that you might otherwise cross.
sooner and later
In the spring, it’s quite a popular practice not to start bear hunting until mid-morning. Without going too far to weed out this fallacy, I don’t recommend taking this tactic in the fall.
Fall, and especially early fall, can be quite warm. The heat of the day usually pushes the movement of the bears at the first and last hour of light. For this reason, it is imperative that you are in your place before dawn and then again in the dark.
I don’t care if you’re watching, sitting or calling, be there early and late. You have a headlamp For a reason. Use it.
To note: As fall progresses and the weather gets colder, bears will move around more often throughout the day.
Bears like water
Water is a non-negotiable feature for me when looking for bears in the fall. Not only does it have to be present for the bears to be present, but it also provides excellent hunting tactics. I’ve never met a bear that didn’t to like the water.
Water sitting is a proven method of bear hunting in the fall, especially in drought years. The bears will lay there, play there and of course, have a drink. To do this, you must have the right wind. Bears have a strange sense of smell; if your wind is bad, you’re wasting your time.
I had better luck sitting in natural brush shades than pop-up shades sold in stores. They’re not as off-putting and out of place for a bear. I also managed to sit above the bottom of the canyon and watch the water sources from afar with a rifle.
More than any other time of year, I think the predator call in the fall is the most productive time to call a bear. They are indeed a predator, and do you remember what I said about them going into a feeding frenzy?
I saw bears running straight towards me as I called predators during the fall. As for the calls, I love the Arizona game calls T Rex. It’s simple and it works.
You’ll want to call for at least 30 minutes at a time, but 45-60 minutes is ideal. Bears are easily distracted, and if you stop calling, they might just stop coming.
Try leaning against a tree or a rock to get something behind your back. Also, being on a feature that will force the bear to show itself when it enters to investigate would be better.
For example, put yourself at the mouth of a small rise. The bear should climb up to your vantage point, delivering a shot. If a bear can see where the call is coming from, it may not close the distance all the way.
And don’t forget your wind. Never forget your wind. The bear will likely try to block you upwind as it approaches. For this reason, I like to call with the wind or with a crosswind. This will cause the bear to move somewhere in front of you for a shot.
Fall Bear Hunting Tactics in the West: Final Thoughts
The secret to harvesting Fall Bears consistently is finding Fall Bears consistently. How you go hunting them once you do will reflect the country you find them in.
If it can be glazed, spot-and-stalking is an excellent method. In thicker land, sitting in travel lanes, still hunting and calling predators are all superb ways to succeed.
Regardless of the method, remember this: Look for bear necessities, simple bear necessities. You do this, and you’ll be elbow-deep in bear chorizo before you know it.