The fall big game seasons are still months away. But there's no reason to wait! Spring bear hunting is the perfect opportunity to get into the mountains. States like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming offer over-the-counter licenses for black bear. Grab your hunting gear, purchase a license and go hunting this spring!
Spring bear hunting will require some obvious gear like good optics, a quality backpack and a versatile layering system. But there are a few items that might be easy to overlook as you’re packing for a spring bear hunt.
Here are a few things you might want to remember, and why we think they’re important:
1. Mountain Boots
Some of the best places to look for emerging black bears in the spring are on steep slopes in very rugged terrain. While mountain black bears tend to hibernate on steep, north-facing slopes, the first place you’re likely to see them in the spring is on the opposite south side, where green grass and flowers first appear.
When hunting in steep and rugged terrain, one of the first pieces of gear to consider is a pair of quality mountain boots. We’d recommend a tall boot with excellent support and a waterproof/breathable membrane. Our pick on spring hunts is the Kenetrek Mountain Extreme. This boot comes in a 400-gram insulated men’s version and women’s version. We find this lightly insulated boot to be a perfect fit for spring and fall hunts when the weather is highly variable.
These boots are comfortably stiff yet lightweight, making them an ideal boot for steep mountain terrain. We highly recommend a tall boot like this, plus a set of gaiters when hunting in wet spring conditions. This combination will keep your feet dry and comfortable.
Finally, don't forget the importance of high quality socks. The best boots in the world won't function properly with poor socks. Kenetrek's merino-blend socks manage moisture effectively, keeping your feet blister-free and comfortable on long hunts. These socks are available in a medium weight, heavy weight and super heavy weight. Additionally, we recommend carrying a liner sock. This can be a great addition when the weather turns cold or when you need additional padding.
2. Glassing Kit
It’s no secret that spring black bear hunting means glassing…lots and lots of glassing. But beyond the binoculars, what else should you bring?
When you’re glassing for hours, it’s essential to have your binoculars on a tripod. If you’re not used to mounting binoculars on a tripod, you might be surprised at the difference it makes. Binocular mounting adapters are available from most optics companies.
Of course higher powered binos like 12s or 15s require a tripod. But even your standard 8x42 or 10x42 binoculars will greatly benefit from being mounted on a tripod. The difference can be so remarkable, you might feel like you’re using a new set of binos. Use a tripod with a smooth-panning head, and you’ll be much more comfortable for hours behind your binoculars.
Long days on the mountain glassing for black bears will require also require some comfort items. Pack a lightweight sitting pad or folding chair. A great ultra-lightweight option is the Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat. If you'll be glassing close to your vehicle, a folding camp chair is a great item to have in the truck.
3. Lightweight Stove System
Speaking of comfort items - since you'll be spending hours behind the glass on a spring bear hunt, be sure to pack a lightweight stove system so that you can enjoy warm meals on the mountain.
Your best bet for spotting a bear is to live where the bears are. Plan on being in a glassing position throughout the daylight hours. A lightweight and fuel-efficient JetBoil cook system will help you stay energized and focused during those long days of hunting.
Quick, lightweight meals from Peak Refuel or Mountain House are the perfect pick-me-up. Whether it's a breakfast or a mid-day meal, the extra calories and the hot food will help keep you in the game.
Additionally, pack some of your favorite snacks. A break from the typical backpacking food can lift your spirits. Whether it’s Fritos, candy bars, hot chocolate, or your favorite salami, bring whatever it takes to stay comfortable during these long days. The more you can stay focused, the better your chances for success.
4. Bullet Wallet
Keep extra ammo quickly accessible with a Caribou Gear Bullet Wallet. Built with Cordura Ballistic fabric, these bullet wallets are designed to securely hold extra rounds while protecting soft and polymer tips.
The Bullet Wallets are available in a 5-round and 10-round versions. For those carrying a sidearm in grizzly country, check out the Bullet Wallet that holds 5 rifle and 10 handgun rounds.
5. Hunter's Tarp
The Caribou Gear Hunter's Tarp is the ultimate backcountry hunting companion. At just 4.3 ounces, it's a no-brainer to keep in your pack on any mountain hunt.
The new Hunter’s Tarp comes with 4 stakes. At 4-feet by 5-feet, it provides a clean surface while you're quartering an animal and is perfect for deboning meat on the ground.
When packing out bear meat and hide, it doesn’t have to leave your backpack a bloody mess. The Caribou Gear Hunter's Tarp is no ordinary SilTarp. It is totally waterproof and highly durable. Even under heavy weight, blood will not soak through. Swaddle your meat and/or hide in the Hunter’s Tarp to keep your pack clean and blood-free.
When you’re not packing meat, the Hunter’s Tarp can quickly pitch for an impromptu shelter during a spring snow or thunderstorm. Use a tree, trekking poles or a combination of the two, create a perfect shelter to continue glassing while you wait out a storm.
With so many uses and in such a lightweight package, the Hunter's Tarp should be an essential part of every hunter’s kit.
6. Kill Kit
Black bear meat is excellent, especially from mountain bears. Come prepared to take care of the meat as well as the hide.
Your kill kit starts with good knives. The Randy Newberg Series knives from Gerber are perfect for skinning and quartering a black bear.
Next, you’ll need a quality set of game bags. The Caribou Gear Small Magnum Pack is the right size for a black bear and includes seven game bags: 4 quarter bags, 1 parts bag for loose meat, 1 cape bag for the hide and 1 camp meat bag.
If you’d like to go with a lighter weight system, consider the Muley from our High Country Series. This system will fit an entire bone-in quartered black bear and includes five game bags: 4 quarter bags and 1 meat parts bag for loins and other loose meat.
If you plan to debone your bear meat in the field, you’ll want to use our Carnivore system. With five bags for deboned meat and I.D. tags for each bag, you’ll be able to fit the meat from an entire deboned black bear.
Finally, your kill kit isn't complete without plenty of paracord. We also recommend a Hanger system for hanging meat and/or your food at camp. When used along with a micro pulley and carabiner, you've got a system to safely hang food in nearly any situation.
By Ryan McSparran
Ryan is an outdoor writer based in Colorado, and is proud to be a part of the team at Caribou Gear.