As the 2018-19 waterfowl season comes to an end, we start gearing up for the next season ahead. In some areas of the country, the focus shifts to coyote, hog, or rabbit hunting. As the saying goes, something is “always in season”. More feather-focused hunters opt to wait for the start of turkey season in late spring. And for those of us who reside in the western United States, we also have the opportunity to hunt spring bear.
While some states offer spring bear tags OTC, in Washington State you have to apply and be drawn for a special permit. Hunters submit applications for designated GMUs, some of which can take over 7 years to be drawn for. So, a spring black bear tag can be highly coveted. With just under a month left in the application period, I’m trying to decide whether to apply for a permit.
Now, if at this point you’re wondering why on earth I would even want to hunt black bear, I’ll provide you with a few tidbits why states leverage hunting as a tactic for bear management.
- Spring hunting mitigates forest damage caused by bear consumption of sapling bark
- Hunting reduces bear-human conflicts
- Spring season facilitates the re-distribution of bear populations to conserve habitat
And, to answer the elephant in the room – Yes, most hunters eat (or would eat) their bear harvests, myself included. If you don’t know me by know, I’m a proponent of the circle of life, sustainable food sources, and all that jazz.
For those of you avid predator hunters who are wondering the opposite – why in the world WOULDN’T I go out for spring black bear? – I’ll fill you in on my perspective.
The WA fall bear season is less prohibitive in that tags are purchasable OTC and hunters do not have to stick to a single GMU. This is also why the majority of bear harvests annually (93-99%) are in the fall. Being a new big game hunter with a history of beginner’s luck (I harvested a cougar and whitetail on public land my first season in WA), I was optimistic about my chances last August to be one of the hundreds who harvest a fall bear.
After researching various GMUs and strategizing via OnX, I headed out with my boyfriend opening weekend with tags in our pockets. We came across an abundance of bear sign but ultimately were unsuccessful in the first area we explored. “We’ll just go further north!”, we thought. Week after week we jumped around to varying GMUs, each time e-scouting prior but going in to the areas remotely blind. The last couple weekends of season we hunted the same location near the Canadian border, which looked absolutely perfect with fresh bear scat, digs, and claw markings all around. But, in the end, we didn’t see a single furry creature.
Failure is a tough pill to swallow when you’ve dedicated so much time and effort to the pursuit. But, it’s not the failure itself that is causing me to pause before I apply for a spring permit. It’s the fact that I have no idea what I did wrong. Admittedly, there were externals factors that played into the fall hunt. Washington’s 2018 wildfire season was the second worst on record in terms of number of fires. The entire state was encased by a cloud of smoke throughout July and August, which may have impacted wildlife patterns in unpredictable ways. However, the reality of why I didn’t tag out is likely this: 1) bears are a new species for me, 2) I didn’t take the time to scout and pattern them before the opener, and 3) I moved around too much during season to truly learn any specific area and hunt it well.
Taking those learnings and the knowledge I’ve accumulated from books & podcasts the past few months, I’ll argue that I can put together a productive strategy for a spring hunt. But, I’m also planning my first turkey hunt this April, so I want to ensure that I’m allocating my time wisely and not overwhelming myself with two DIY spring hunts (in the event that I get drawn for a bear tag, too.)
What would you do in my shoes? Novice hunter seeking advice – to spring bear hunt or not?