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IDAHO SPRING BEAR GUIDE – 2024

Rob’s 2023 Spring Bear

It’s almost halfway through February and one of our favorite hunting seasons is rapidly approaching, spring bear. In Idaho we’re lucky to be one of the few states with spring bear seasons due to our robust black bear population. Most hunts open up on April 15th, but some areas open as soon as April 1st. With over-the-counter tags for both residents and non-residents there’s tons of opportunities for anyone that wants to hunt. We’re going to go over some of the hunting methods, gear, and rifle systems that we use for spring bear. This is our beginners guide to hunting spring bear in Idaho. As always, make sure you understand the rules and regulations where you’re hunting. 

HUNTING METHODS

In addition to spot and stalk, Idaho also allows for baiting. Both methods of hunting have their pros and cons, and depending on your style of hunting and the preparation you put in, one might make more sense than the other. At the end of the day both methods require you to put in work for a successful hunt. We’ve hunted and tagged out using both methods.

Baiting

Baiting for bears is going to require a lot more preparation on the end of the hunter. Because bears are coming out of hibernation in the spring they’re hungry and looking for food, which can make baiting very advantageous. Where you bait, what you bait with, and how you set up your bait is going to play a huge role in your success. In order to bear bait you need baiting permit from Idaho Fish & Game and a solid understanding of baiting rules, which can be found on the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s website. 

Bears are like any other wild game and they don’t like human interaction. You want to set your bait up in an area that has very little or no vehicle traffic nearby, doesn’t see a ton of traffic from hikers, and is nearby a water source (but it must be 200ft. from the water source). Setting up your bait, you want to make sure that you have a clear line of sight from your blind and that you’re not going to get easily winded by bears that will be coming into your bait. If your bait is in an area that has cell reception, we highly recommend picking up a cellular trail camera that can send photos straight to your phone. With a cellular trail camera, you’ll be able to start picking up on feeding patterns of bears that are habitually coming into your bait. 

When it comes to the actual bait we categorize them into two categories, sweets and meats. Sweets like cookies, gummy bears, donuts, and breads are great for attracting bears, plus you can usually buy expired cookies and snacks in 55 gallon drums for cheap. Meats definitely seem to attract bigger bears, but meat in bulk quantities is more expensive and harder to find. Another thing to keep in mind about meat, it’s going to sit outside and spoil. If you’ve got a weak stomach we don’t recommend baiting with meat.

Spot and Stalk

Bears are everywhere in Idaho which makes spot and stalk a very viable option, plus you don’t have the baiting restrictions to worry about in certain units. On top of that, spot and stalk gives you the ability to pivot and change areas because you don’t have a stationary bait site. Some of us here at the shop prefer spot and stalk because you’re out hiking through some of the most scenic areas of the United States instead of just sitting in a blind. Depending on the previous winter though, some spot and stalk areas are difficult to access until very late season due to snow pack. 

You’re going to want to get up high and glass breaks in the trees and on hillsides where bears will be turning over rocks and looking for bugs to grub on. Bears are very active at night, which means that your best spotting opportunities are going to be early in the morning or late in the evening around last light. That being said, some areas are so thick with hungry bears foraging for food that you’ll see them throughout the day. 

EQUIPMENT

Caliber Selection

Rifle and caliber selection are by far one of the most hotly contested topics amongst bear hunters. Legally you can use any centerfire caliber to hunt bears in Idaho, but that doesn’t mean any centerfire caliber will be effective. Bears are super unique animals, with a thick cape, fatty tissue, and anatomy that’s far different than elk and deer, caliber selection is crucial to ensure a clean, quick, and ethical kill. Regardless of caliber, we recommend selecting a bullet that’s going to open up quickly, retain weight, and dump as much energy into the bear as possible. In the past we’ve had great success with Nosler Accubonds, Barnes TTSX, and Berger Hybrids. 

When it comes to selecting the actual caliber, the most important thing is getting something you can shoot well and practice with. Having a big caliber with lots of energy is great, but if it’s so big that you can’t be consistent with it and place accurate hits, then you should step it down. We’ve killed bears with the following calibers over the last couple of years:

  • 6.5 PRC
  • 7 PRC
  • 7mm Rem Mag
  • .300 Blackout
  • .308 Win
  • .300 Win Mag
  • .300 WSM
  • .300 PRC
  • .338 Win Mag

As you can see, we’ve used a wide variety of calibers successfully. It’s all about knowing your ability, the distances you’ll be shooting at, and getting accurate shots on target. 

Rifle Selection

In Idaho you have to make sure that your rifle with everything attached is less than 16 lbs. That means your rifle, scope, sling, and loaded magazine need to be under that 16 lb limit. Depending on your budget there’s a ton of different options out there. Everything is going to have a slightly different set of features, and as you spend more you’re going to get a more refined rifle. Here’s a few different set ups depending on how much you want to spend:

  • Sub-$1000
    • Mossberg Patriot Predator
    • Ruger American
    • Tikka T3X Lite
    • Bergara B-14 
  • Sub-$2000
    • Bergara Crest
    • Sig Sauer Cross
    • Tikka T3X Roughtech
    • Seekins Precision Havak PH2
  • Over $2000
    • Gunwerks Nexus
    • Seekins Precision Havak Element
    • Proof Research Elevation MTR
    • And any of our full custom builds

The further you anticipate shooting, the more we recommend stepping up into something nicer. Tighter tolerances, quality control, trigger quality, and better materials take more variables out of the equation when hunting. As you go up in price, you’re usually going to get a lighter rifle that’s going to be easier to pack and carry over a full day of hunting. When it comes to optics for the rifle there are tons of amazing options for any budget. On many of our personal guns we run the Leupold Mark 5HD, it’s an extremely robust optic with amazing glass that’s less than 32 ounces. If spending $1,800+ isn’t in the cards, we also have less expensive options from Vortex or Arken. Stop into the store or give us a call, we can get you into a solid rifle set up that’s tailored to you regardless of budget. 

BE BEAR AWARE – KNOW WHAT YOU’RE SHOOTING

Differences between Grizzly & Black Bears – Graphic from idfg.idaho.gov

Black bears aren’t always black, and some of the coolest bears we’ve seen are cinnamon or blonde like you would expect a grizzly to be. In Idaho, a lot of the prime black bear habitat is also home to grizzly bears. Know how to identify the differences between the two species and give grizzly bears as much space as possible, especially if it’s a sow with cubs. You don’t want a run into or have a close encounter with a grizzly if it’s avoidable. We highly recommend carrying a 10mm pistol as a sidearm in units home to grizzly bears, unfortunately we’ve had customers who have had to shoot grizzly bears in self-defense. Bear spray is a great option to have available, but shouldn’t be your sole defense. Due to weather conditions and problem bears that have previously been exposed to bear spray, bear spray is not always effective. While you don’t want to bump into a grizzly, you need to be prepared for an encounter and know how to identify them if you’re out hunting black bears. 

CLOSING

Spring bear in Idaho is by far one of our favorite hunting seasons. It’s a great way to start off the year with a fun and accessible hunt. If you’re willing to put in some time and get outdoors, it’s a great way to show beginners what tagging out feels like. If you’re ready to jump into hunting bears and need help getting your next rifle set up, we’re here to help!

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