Since 2000 a total of 84 black bears from Alaska’s Prince of Whales Island have made the Boone and Crockett Club’s (B&C) record book. No other place in the U.S. comes close. No other place in Alaska even comes close. The next highest number of B&C bears came Alaska’s Kuiu Island, which has had eight black bears make book since 2000. The second highest county is Wisconsin’s Barron County with 36 bears big enough to officially make the B&C’s book; in fact, Wisconsin’s counties took all the top spots from two to nine in the list of counties with the most B&C black bears since 2000. But there is no spring bear season in Wisconsin. There isn’t even a spring bear season in Colorado, though state officials there say they have way too many bears.
So where are the best areas to hunt black bears this spring? I mined the B&C’s statistics and contacted a number of NRA Outdoors’ outfitters who specialize in black bears. Here are the areas they say are tops for big bears, lots of bears or color-phase bears.
Greg Ray, with NRAOuttdoors.com, says, “There are quite a few more options for bear hunting than people realize. We may talk to a client who is under the impression that the only option is sitting in a stand over bait, but when we start explaining that spot-and-stalk is the only option in British Columbia (you can’t bait because of Grizzly Bears), a place with a lot of trophy bears, or that they can be hunt bears with an outfitter of ours who specializes in calling bears and more, well, that’s when they start to realize how much adventure is to be had.”
1. Montana The top trophy county in Montana, according to B&C, is Fergus County in the central part of the state, which has had three make book since 2000. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP) it has a good population of bears in the southern part of the county. Meagher County was right behind it with two B&C bears taken. South-central Meagher County has one of the highest black bear populations in the state, according to MTFWP. But the far northwestern corner of Montana has the highest number of black bears in the state.
2. Idaho Idaho’s top trophy county since 2000 has been Idaho County with four bears qualifying for B&C’s record book. This is a big, mountainous county with a lot of public land. Ray says he has outfitters in this region that boast having upwards of 2.5 black bears per square mile. The color of the bears in this region can be blond, cinnamon, reddish chocolate or traditional black.
3. British Columbia The top trophy areas in B.C., according to B&C, have long been the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island. But there are quite a few 7-foot bears being taken by spot-and-stalk hunters away from the coast. Mike Hawkridge is one of NRAOutdoors' quality outfitters. He hunts areas in central B.C.
Hawkridge says, “We spot-and-stalk bears or use hounds. During the spring hunts we concentrate on green-up areas—logging roads, cut blocks and south-facing slopes. During the spring ungulate calving season our black bears take on a darker personality and start looking to prey on the freshly born. At this time, we use distress calls and bring in huge boars. Our interior bears are true apex predators. The bear rut usually begins towards the end of May and runs through mid June. This is a great time to search out some of the giants within a particular area—it is funny what happens to a male’s mind when females are the first thing on it!”
FAST FACT New Mexico This is a top state for those who want a color-phase black bear. About 90 percent of the bears in this the northwestern part of the state are cinnamon, blond or another color phase. Very few are coal black. The top trophy county since 2000, according to B&C’s records, has been Rio Arriba County in the north-central part of the state. But New Mexico doesn’t have a spring season.