Bear Hunting Tips – Bear hunting season Opens in September in Colorado. That’s next week! Get ready for a great hunting season with these helpful tips:
BLACK BEAR BEHAVIOR
The key to hunting Colorado black bears in September is understanding that the physiology and behavior of bears dramatically change in mid-August. Black bears enter a period of hyperphagia, or feeding frenzy. More importantly, they change their diet. Where leaves and flowers of broad-leafed plants and insects had dominated the summer diet, bears switch to a fall diet of fruits and nuts.. Fruits and nuts provide the high fat and carbohydrates needed to put on fat for winter hibernation. Many bears actively forage up to 20 hours per day during the fall feeding frenzy. This contrasts with 2-4 hours of active foraging during much of the spring and summer. Areas of good fruit and nut production are known to bears over a wide area. Often bears make migrations of 20-30 miles from their summer range to traditional fall ranges. Nearly all bears concentrate at the lower-elevation habitats where fruits and nuts are abundant from mid-August to late-September or early-October.
What does this mean for the bear hunter? First, the location of bears is highly predictable during September. Second, where you observed black bear sign and activity in mid-summer is irrelevant. Keep in mind you are pursuing an animal that may have a resident home range of 20-200 square miles, may migrate 30 miles for fruit and can travel 15 miles during a day of rambling.
Best hunting success can be found in areas with abundant fruits and nuts. The species of fruit is not all that important and will vary around the state. Fruits of serviceberry, chokecherry, pin cherry, squawapple, mountain ash, buffaloberry and currant are all eaten by Colorado black bears. The primary nut producing trees are Gambel oak and pinon pine.
Many bears will feed at the same site but usually at different times. Intuitively one would think that a bear would find a productive site and stay there until all the fruit/nuts were eaten. However, bears rarely do this. More often they move on after filling their belly and look for new sites. They will likely return to good sites periodically. During the feeding frenzy, each bear may defecate 5-15 times daily; thus bear sign is abundant. A casual examination will guide hunters to the specific species of fruits being used and will narrow the area to be hunted. Most of the better fruit areas are at the lower elevations of bear habitat, often distant from the pine and spruce-fir forests that many hunters associate with bears. The fruit-producing areas may not be adjacent to summer habitat. For instance, in some high-elevation parks, bears may travel across several miles of sagebrush-dominated mountains to lower canyons where chokecherries are found along streams. Bears move across open sagebrush at night, but actively forage in riparian zone throughout the day. Wherever ‘oakbrush thickets’ dominate the mountains, you can count on finding black bears in September.
If you hunt an area with poor fall bear foods, you may want to look at nearby areas (up to 30 miles away) where bears could migrate to. Hunting on travel zones may be productive when bears return to their summer range. These return migrations usually occur in late September or early October. Bears are like us in many ways; they travel the paths of least resistance during long trips, so scout natural passes and game trails. Still hunting in fruit/nut sites with abundant bear sign can be productive.
Bears are active throughout the day, but peak activity probably still occurs in early morning and late evening. It is not unusual to see several bears using a site during one day, but usually not at the same time. Their new fall coat will be in good to excellent shape during September, and their long hair can cause many to overestimate the size of a bear. Yearling bears tend to grow their fall coat slowly, so if you see a bear with badly bleached, thin hair it is probably a yearling (55-90 lb.s.). Yearlings and cubs can be nearly the same size and distinguishing them can be difficult. It is best to observe small bears for several minutes. The presence of a larger bear that is familiar to a small bear suggests a family unit. However, the cubs and mother are not always in close proximity, they wander several hundred yards apart much of the time. Another clue to identifying cubs is to see two or three small bears of similar size together. Even without the mother present, this suggests a sibling group. All members of the family group, mother and cubs, are protected.
The relative size of the ears and the shape of the head are the best indicators of large bears. The smaller the ears appear to be, the larger the head is, and usually the larger the bear. Bears with narrow faces and long noses are usually subadults.
CARE OF THE MEAT AND PELT
The warm temperatures of September, coupled with the heavy fall pelt and fat layer of bears, dictate special attention be given to proper care of the meat and pelt. A bear should be skinned immediately after death to cool the carcass. Thick layers of fat should be removed. Even with cold nights, the pelt and fat will insulate the meat and spoil the meat. The pelt should be refrigerated as soon as possible. If you plan to have a bear rug made or a head mount, it is always advisable to consult your taxidermist BEFORE the hunt for specific instructions on pelt care.
HOW TO HUNT BEARS
Most of the good berry and nut producing vegetation in Colorado is found in dense stands where visibility is limited. Hunter should use terrain to obtain visibility into stands of shrubs. Quality binoculars will help locate bears and in assessing size. Even though the bears are concentrating on feeding, their senses are quite keen. Their sense of smell is astounding, and contrary to much of the popular literature on bears, they also possess keen eyesight. Moving slowly through dense brush stands will not prove an effective hunting technique for most hunters. The better technique is to scout for areas with abundant bear food and bear sign, locate a higher point for observation and patiently watch the area. This allows you to sight the bear and have time to carefully identify your target.
BE ESPECIALLY CAREFUL IN IDENTIFYING YOUR TARGET
- The fall bear season overlaps with archery deer and elk seasons. Many archers, dressed in camouflage clothing, successfully hunt deer and elk by stalking in the dense, low-elevation shrublands. Use binoculars, not rifle scopes, to look for bears.
- The pelt and head of all hunter-killed black bears must be presented to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer by the hunter within five days of the kill. The pelts will be sealed and data on age, sex and location of kill will be collected. This is an effort to monitor the number of bears killed and age and sex of animals harvested by hunting time.
- Hunting black bears without hounds or bait will require a lot of scouting and a familiarity in recognizing bear sign and foods. Find the abundant food production areas, and you will find the black bear. Scouting and persistence are keys.
Written by: Tom Beck, Wildlife Researcher for Colorado Parks and Wildlife