While using predator calls to conjure up black bears is not recommended for the faint of heart, it can be a good strategy to use. Know, however, that calling bears can quickly escalate from tranquil to incredibly intense. You need to plan ahead, be prepared and ready.
Predator calling tactics can be used on both spring and fall bears. I prefer to focus on spring bears, mainly because I’m chasing so many other critters in the fall. Having fresh organic bear meat in the spring is another added bonus. Bears emerge from hibernation hungry and focused on restoring their depleted bodies. Black bears are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders by nature. That, along with the birth of fawns, creates the perfect scenario for calling bears. Don’t fall into thinking that harvesting one will be easy. Hunting western state black bears is as much of a challenge as any big game animal. Specific skills, tactics and strategies are needed to routinely harvest black bears.
The Risk Of Using a Predator Call on Bears
Grizzlies are part of the hunting equation here in Montana and in an expanding area of other western states. If you are going to use a predator call, you need to be fully aware of the risk and take precautions. There is serious talk about delisting grizzly bears for a reason. The risk of a bear attack it extremely low, but don’t be lulled into thinking that a black bruin charging into a distress call is not a threat. There’s no reason to take undue chances with an apex predator.
- Be ready and alert at all times.
- Keep your focus and remain extremely careful after a shot. Some people argue that grizzlies are becoming known for responding to gunshots. It makes sense that an intense session of distress calls followed by a gunshot could be playing with fire.
- Always carry bear spray, no exceptions. Keep it close, and ready, even when rifle hunting. It’s ok and wise to be a bit nervous. It may end up being your best asset.
“No other recreational group is more at risk of an attack by a bear than hunters,” says Frank van Manen, Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team leader. The Study Team is responsible for research and monitoring of grizzly bears in the GYE with representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
Identifying The Bear
This sounds simple enough, but the fact is, it can sometimes be difficult to tell black and grizzly bears apart. Black bears are not always black and color phase bears are relatively common in many areas. Some states require passing a bear identification test before you can purchase a bear tag. Before you head to the mountains chasing Ursus americanus, you should take responsibility to thoroughly understand the differences. The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Western Wildlife both have good bear identification programs.
Solo Bear Hunting
It’s not for everyone, but I do a lot of solo hunting. Solo predator calling especially in grizzly country is not for the timid. You certainly should do a gut check before you head into the backcountry for such a hunt. Calling black bears can be unpredictable. Bears can respond to calls by stalking in over long periods of time, charging in ready for action or anything in between. By the very nature of blowing the distress call, you have become the prey. The are coming for dinner. Do not forget that.
Even the best callers can’t call in bears that aren’t there. Identifying prime potential bear areas is critical. More remote areas should always be at top of the list, but don’t overlook the possibility of calling bears that are closer to human activity. Finding bear sign is great, but bears can be elusive and you may not always find fresh bear sign in good areas. Find new spring grasses and berry sources next to old timber, slides, or logged out areas and you are on the right track.
Wind & Sound
Like most big game animals you have to keep the wind working for you at all times. You may benefit a little from the nearsightedness of a bear, but you will not fool its nose and ears. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and if you ignore those two senses, you will not get close to those bruins.
Setting Up To Use Your Predator Call
Your setup is essential to success. You must be able to see a good distance in all directions. The bigger the buffer zone between you and thick cover, the better. Bears may seem to slumber around, but they can be deceivingly fast, closing distance quickly when needed or provoked. Natural barriers are good as long as they don’t obstruct your view. Do not leave any blind spots. Those could end up being dangerous. If hunting with a partner, which I recommend, sit back to back or look opposite directions. This may sound counter productive, but you should position your setup so your longest clear view is downwind. Like most predators, bears will many times try to get downwind to catch a scent. You have a better chance at a shot if you can spot them before they get in your scent cone.
Using Your Predator Call: Distress Calls
Other distress calls will work, but I prefer to use deer fawn or elk calf distress calls. I think the larger the reward the more willing the predator might be to cover long distances. This type of distress call is also quite loud reaching bears that are further away.
Volume and Intensity of the Predator Call
You want your calling sequences long and loud. Bears unlike some other predators will lose interest quickly. You need to keep the bear focused on your call. You can pause a few seconds to catch your breath, but keep any break short. Blowing a predator call for 30 to 40 minutes straight is much tougher than you might think. I believe one of the biggest mistakes hunters make is not calling long enough and not calling loud enough. If you’re uncomfortable with the duration and the volume of your calling, you are probably doing it just right.
Time: How Long to Blow Your Predator Call
You must give bears ample time to respond. I would never leave a stand before 30 minutes. I try to always exceed 45 minutes. It will ultimately come down to fatigue and how long you can keep your calling sequence going. When blind calling, it could take several setups over the course of a few days. Don’t be discouraged. Bears are big game animals, not your standard run of the mill coyote.
Bears are not particularly hard to kill. At the same time, they do not have a reputation for going down easy. You will likely be dealing with a bruin at close range. Bears have thick hide and fur that can make blood trailing problematic. A wounded bear can be an aggressive bear. You need a gun that packs a real knockdown punch. Some of the better choices might be the .30, and .338 calibers. The new short magnums are great options to consider. Make sure your scope is always set and focused at it’s lowest magnification. A 2-3X is preferred for handling close range fast moving bears.
If you are looking to increase the adrenaline flow in your hunting adventures, using a predator call on your next black bear hunt might be just the ticket.