As spring takes root, claiming victory over another cold and long winter, there is an anticipation that builds in the spirit of every hunter. The receding snowline, resulting from the warmth brought by the new season has many implications.
As water levels rise from run-off, it creates new challenges for the individual in pursuit of fish. It signifies the transition to stalking an entirely different species, one that has lain dormant at the headwaters of our rivers for months. The hibernating bear is tired no longer and emerges from its den. The fresh blossoms and new leaves seen while commuting are not the only entities welcoming the return of spring. This is the time of year that brings life out from every corner.
The number of days to be spent waiting for the new hunting seasons are now gone. In the great state of Montana the years first big game hunting opportunity is marked by the opening of Spring Bear. This will be our first chance to re-enter the wilderness with a goal that is not focused on wild trout. The excitement towards this opportunity is not something that is rhetorically justified.
As the opportunity to hunt presents itself closer and closer, our preparation takes a new form. Out of the closet comes our pack, camouflage, and optics. Our practice tips are replaced with broadheads. Our weapons are checked time and time again for functionality and consistency. The term “overkill” has no place or meaning to those who strive for excellence. Focus and determination has been placed on our goal of harvesting a spring black bear.
As the bear awakens from its slumber, it does so with one thing on its mind, that being food. As you can imagine, after months of fast these animals are hungry. They operate opportunistically in constant search of a viable food source. This principle is the basis for a hunter’s tactics. Since it is early in the season, food is somewhat limited, therefore requiring the animal to travel more so than it would later in the year. To the hunter this creates an opportunistic time to spot the animal as traverses the countryside. One can only hope that when you do spot the animal you are looking for, that is it in a huntable area that provides means for a stalk.
Many variables go into the equation that results in a successful stalk. The time of day, the distance separating the hunter from the prey, and the wind are all effects that are mandatory for consideration. Over the years I have spent hunting black bear in the alpine lakes of the Pacific North West, I learned many things about the animal. Through trial and error, I feel at this stage confident as a hunter in my knowledge of bear behavior and tendency. The saying, “They didn’t get that big for no reason” applies enormously to the bear species. Trust me when I tell you that I have had multiple exceptional bears pull a spin on me, never to be seen again.
This leads me to bring forth a consideration that took years for me to recognize. If one can implement the following into their method of operation I am sure they will find a higher percentage of success in the field. But first I will explain the situation.
It was my first hunting season out of high school. My father and I had found an area that many bears funneled in and out of. To validate this statement I will tell you that a friend of ours took the number 4 bear in the state of Washington out of this area. This particular area was an old mountain top clear cut, the habitat had grown up, making the hunting more difficult. It was not uncommon to spot a bear that was in an area that was unhuntable. We had to be very critical on when we would and would not enter the country. It seemed to blow up easily, scattering the animals in the area.
One morning after reaching the spot we used to glass we spotted a bear that is still to this date the biggest black bear I have ever witnessed. Unfortunately he was in an area that was unreachable. Patiently we waited. After years of watching bears I have gathered that they do not move much between roughly 10:00 in the morning and 3:00 in the afternoon. This bear fell right into that category.
We put the spotter on the boar and watched him eat berries in same general proximity for hours. At about 9:30 I got restless, went against my father’s advice, and entered the country. My plan was to sit above the bear a couple hundred yards on a spine that paralleled where he was feeding. After an hour of bushwhacking I had carefully made my way to the destination I had in mind.
It was now around 11:00 and here is where the consideration comes into play. You see at this time I had no knowledge of how thermals work. If by chance you are like I was, I will explain. A thermal is a moving column of air; it acts as a supplement to wind. Dictated by the ambient temperature it carries your scent either up or down the countryside. Since the heat of the day had not yet taken its effect the thermals were essentially dropping my scent directly on top on that bear. Needless to say I never got another look at that boar. I often wonder how it would have transpired if I had listened to my dad and had just waited a couple more hours for the thermals to change.
This all plays into the education one acquires when you put in time and effort towards hunting. It is a big game of learning from your past experiences. I have not made that mistake since nor do I plan on making it again. As you begin to prepare for your upcoming adventure let me encourage you to draw back upon your past experiences. Ask yourself why you were or were not successful. Look for the areas that need improvement and strive to better yourself as an outdoorsman. We should all strive to be the best we can be at anything we partake in.
Once bear season starts here in Montana you will find us in the woods, on top of mountains, glassing for an opportunity at one of the magnificent animals our good Lord has created. We have evolved as hunters and are not the same as we were last season. We have learned from our failure just as much as we have learned from our success. Our expectations are high and we feel that the sky is the limit.
Written by Brandon Smith
Bear hunting is a key tool in managing predators across the West and especially here in Montana. No, we do not want to wipe out the entire population of black bears; actually I think they are an amazing animal and without actually hunting them I’d never have gained that appreciation. By hunting them we simply are doing our part in keeping a balance, which is weighing heavily in the predators favor in certain areas which we hunt. Black bears kill fawns and elk calves in high numbers in the spring and have only one known predator, humans.
Bear hunting is one of my favorite types of hunting that one can partake in here in Montana. It gets you back into the mountains and forces you to get back into shape. It’s not hard to see bears, but I can say that it’s much more difficult to close the gap, relocate the bear, and try to sneak within bow range.
This past Spring we saw 26+ black bears. I had set a goal of taking a black bear with my bow and was planning on sticking it out unless a true giant crossed our paths. Travis and I had some amazing close encounters, and many great memories. It is truly amazing to be out in the wild, getting close to a predator that has the power to take down a human being. With spring like conditions and lightning storms, we were given the full Montana bear hunting experience. Watch our latest short film Trial & Error as I get close to multiple black bears in my pursuit of an archery kill.
We are excited for the upcoming spring, and will be going out on numerous hunts with the camera in hand. To follow along with us be sure to join us over on our Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/Montana.Wild.Productions.
We’ve been slacking a bit on fresh content on the website, but it’s not for lack of effort. A few days of fishing haven’t stirred up much, and we decided to take a little break from the Missoula scene and head home for a few. We loaded up our growing pile of gear and headed north. We soon made it to our parents house located on the beautiful Flathead lake.
The first day ended up being the nicest of the four, and we fortunately were able to head down to the lake and enjoy the summer weather. Our German Sheppard Max, is just learning to swim and his form is beyond poor most of the time. His ambition for the water is second to none though. We were hoping to share his unique swimming technique, but the weather never allowed us to get back down to the lake with the camera. The weather quickly decided to change as it does on those hot dog days of summer and thunderstorms rolled in and out most every night.
When it pours in really pours. We got about an inch of rain during a half an hour fit of weather. Things of course cleared back up nicely as the sun set, and we got ready for the next day which would be filled with plenty of elk scouting.
The next morning we left the house bright and early and got comfortable in the truck. About ten miles into our drive off the highway we encountered a big downed log over the road. Apparently the strong winds that accompanied the rain from the previous night did some work on this tree. We were a bit bummed, but decided to head home and grab the chainsaws and come back and clear things out. On the way down we saw a forest service truck headed up the mountain, and despite my words of wisdom, Travis decided against flagging him down and seeing if he was clearing roads that day. Of course after heading back and getting the saws, we once again returned to the spot where the tree was down, and it had been conveniently cut down by the forest ranger. Zack 1 Travis 0. Soon we were at our spot, and off we went into the jungle like terrain. We had plans to set up two game cameras after last season left us with a feeling that this spot might hold a good bull or two. Sure enough there were fresh elk tracks along the game trail we planned to set the first camera on.
After searching for a tree that was small enough to accomodate my Moultrie M80, we got to work setting up the first camera of the day.
After testing a couple angles, we finally got things set up to maximize quality pictures and locked her up. The terrain in this area is extremely dense. It’s literally a battle to wander off this main game trail. The bushes are overhead, and things get tight and dense real quick. This is by far the best trail we’ve found in the area, and we hope to get a good idea of what’s hanging in this spot from just this one camera. Even though we both have Breaks tags it’s always good to keep tabs on some local hunting grounds, you never know when a big bull might show up and at the very worst it’s some quality scouting for next fall when I will be looking to tag my elk in the dark timber of western Montana.
We packed up and made a big loop into some territory we had yet to explore. We found a nice big north facing slope full of dark downfall. This area would make a great bedroom for a big bull during the fall. I’m sure we’ll be cold calling this area once or twice next time we hunt the area. We finally located another trail to set up our second camera and got to work. Some serious bush pruning was due to keep the bushes from growing in front of the camera during the following months. After about a half an hour we had camera two set up, and we were back to the trail on and on the way to the truck.
As we were walking back up the logging road Travis spotted a young blonde black bear feeding off the side of the road. He was young and stupid, and we were able to get fairly close to him and watch as he fed for over half an hour.
We kept sneaking closer and closer as he fed around a small bend in the road. After about twenty minutes we had closed the gap to 60 yards. We were in plain view on the side of the road, and I’m surprised it took him so long to finally see us. When he did he reverted to his cub like instincts and ran as fast as he could to the nearest tree and clung.
After a minute he decided to back down to the ground. We snuck up to the tree only to see him pop out on the road about a hundred yards up the road. He then decided running away was a bit better tactic and that was the last we saw of him. We weren’t done seeing bears yet. After getting in the truck we had only driven about a mile when a small black bear showed up on the road only a hundred yards in front of the truck. He went screaming off into the timber. Another half mile down the road and we again saw a chocolate phased bear feeding in the road. He decided to run down the road. Man those bears can truck, and he dipped back into the woods in the tightest spot possible. I don’t even know how he squeezed back into the woods at that speed but he did. We cruised back home and cracked open some fresh beers. The next day was again less than stellar weather.
I decided that this day would be a good day to get a whole slew of bullets made for the upcoming hunting season. I set up our .223 die and press and got about 60 rounds loaded. Next was the 6×284, and I loaded up 40 of those with a 75 grain V Max. The two main hunting rigs are sighted in and ready to rip.
As is the usual, the weather finally began to turn nice just as we headed home to work. I hope everyone had a great fourth of July and hopefully some fish will start popping up on the site soon.
Spring in Montana. It brings beauty and beast to the western half of the state each and every year. Mostly it’s been beast. Since Travis killed his bear, we’ve been blasted with rain almost every day. The state of the weather flips on a dime it seems and the second you think the weather is shaping up, well think again. The conditions have been making my goal of arrowing a black bear more and more difficult. With the rain and longer days the grass is green almost everywhere, and it’s making the bears less and less reluctant to stay in the open for long. Fortunately we’ve still been getting after them and we have upped the bear count to 20 for the year with 7 seen in the last 7 days. Let’s just say seeing bears doesn’t convert into killing bears. Often they are a ways off and on the move. I could have killed at least 4 with a rifle, but the challenge of the bow makes it more intense and rewarding when it’s all said and done.
The weekend started slow as we left town and drove 30 miles into the mountains. We were able to glass one clearcut before the rain started coming down and hard. Soon we were fogged in and had to call it a day. It’s a bummer when you can’t even get out of the truck, but the mountains make the rules.
The next day we were in a spot we hadn’t hunted this year but knew held bears. We had ran into two last year doing some elk scouting and there was plenty of open landscape to glass. About 20 minutes in on our bike Travis made a crazy good spot. There was a good black bear crossing some rocks and moving up a north facing slope.
He was about 850 yards across a deep ravine. We watched him bed down right behind that tree and watched him for a while. He seemed to be staying put despite it only being 8AM. We decided we better try to locate him and try to get a shot. We backtracked on the bikes and went down into a steep ravine before climbing up onto the ridge the bear was bedded on. We had taken landmarks and knew we only had to go down this ridge about 100 yards. We slowly started creeping down the ridge. I knew we were getting close but it was thick. The wind was perfect, the only problem was we had a bunch of downfall between us and the bears position. Finally I saw black fur through the trees. He was still laying down and I could see his butt and legs. We were only 45 yards away, but there was no shot with all the branches and downed trees. There was no option of approaching him any other way and getting a clean shot so I kept sneaking forward. Every step was slow and we were being as quiet as we could be. Of course a chipmunk decided now was a good time to start screaming at us. That combined with one tiny, and I mean tiny twig breaking was enough to make this bear sleepily sit up. I could see him sitting there, groggy, and contemplating laying back down. Well his intuition had the better of him, and he slowly stood and walked back down and to our left. There was never a shot and we were only 37 yards away at that point. We slowly crept down the hill only to never see him again. It was a letdown but it felt great putting such a stalk on a mature wild animal. I truly believe this is the best way to hunt, and I hope you’ll never see us hunt from a treestand over bait. I feel that bears should be hunted fair chase, spot and stalk just like every other animal unless they become a problem or there’s zero open terrain to catch a bear in. It’s just seems like the American way to throw out your bait and sit there and pick your bear. You just learn so much more being out there, seeing new areas, learning about animal movements, and experiencing God’s country. It’s also going to be so rewarding when it comes together. We left that area and decided to explore some new roads on the other side of the highway. Well we made it way up in the mountains and decided to get some more time in with the new Razor HD spotting scope before the weather changed.
We found a few new areas that looked promising as far as bear hunting or some elk scouting but it’s still a little brown that high up and the snow is still sticking around. We both took turns on the scope but only found one lone cow elk bedded in a small cut in the timber.
We finally packed it up and head back to Missoula. After a couple hour break we were back up the mountain and glassing more open country. After about 20 minutes Travis made another solid spot. He could see a nice blond bear about a mile away. Ordinarily we would have gone after this bear right away. On this day we pulled the spotting scope out and took a closer look. Good thing because it was a sow and two cubs and it saved us a heck of a trek. We watched them until the weather began to change and we knew it was time to call it a day.
The next day we woke up at 545 only to find it raining and foggy. We’ll looks like we’re sleeping in. When I got up around 930 it was clear out and sunny. Uhhhhh ok Montana you win. Looks like you’ll let us hunt this evening. Well of course as we start heading out of town the clouds start building.
About 2 minutes into driving the dirt road it starts pouring rain. Soon it began to hail and we were surrounded by lightning. We decided to see if it would pass and reluctantly turned around as it was just too dangerous to get out of the truck. We rallied some mud puddles and made it about a mile down the road before we stopped to get a few timelapses. We’ll by the time we had finished some filming it was turning out to be pretty nice again. We figured we’d drive back up top and at least glass and see if we saw anything pop out of the timber.
We continued to glass for about an hour but only were able to spot one lone mule deer doe. The weather was shifting so much I’m sure most of the animals were seeking cover in the timber and waiting for nicer weather to really come out and feed.
Things aren’t shaping up to be too great the rest of the week. It’s raining now and the forecast is calling for 100% tomorrow. I’m sure we’ll be back at it again this weekend. It’s coming down to crunch time as this Thursday marks the one week mark until season is over and it’s officially summer fishing. I hope we can pull it together and get one more chance before it’s over. If not it’s been an amazing spring and time spent in the mountains is always a blessing.
Memorial Day weekend is always hit or miss in Montana. Well this year it was a big ole swing and a miss. If there was one good thing about the crappy weather though it was the fact that we were forced to stay home and glue our butts in front of the computer and do some long awaited editing. Two eight hour days and I’m glad to say were finished with our first short fishing film of the year. We should have that up here later this week so be checking back and we’ll also be releasing our 4th and final installment of hunting episodes from 2011.
Well by Monday we had the itch to get back after it and we geared up for a long day doing something in the great outdoors of Montana. We drove up into the mountains and headed off on a gated logging road in search of bears. We were in new country and sort of looking for sign and hoping the area was a good one. We ended up making it up to the snow line which probably wasn’t the best hunting strategy following a snow storm in the mountains. I think the weather had pushed everything down towards the valley but I wanted to check out a new area. We found some sign and a pretty solid area that we’ll definitely go back to as soon as the weather warms up and the bears start moving up to higher country.
We headed back to the truck and figured we’d kill the afternoon with some fly fishing. The water is still high and off colored and even the creeks are tough fishing but soon enough there was some tug in the line and a little fishy in the net. I led things off with a solid string of whitefish and couldn’t seem to trick the old trout but Travis finally warmed up and landed a few nice browns.
We ventured back to the truck and got back into hunt mode to finish off the holiday. We once again found a gated road and headed off on the bikes. This spring weather makes for some on and off showers that come and go like a ____________ (insert your own lolz here). It made for some beautiful scenery or some very gay bears in the area.
The video below was basically how we felt about it.
After that we kept hiking for another mile and a half but didn’t see much other than a lone cow elk. We cruised back and got to the bikes and loaded up. Of course it was all downhill and when your on a bike you can cruise pretty fast. Well just our luck about two minutes into biking back down the mountain we round a bend at about 20mph and there’s a cinnamon black bear feeding up the road. He saw us and went scorching back into the woods. We tried tricking him into making a second appearance with the distress call but he was a little too smart for that trickery. Of course we had the pleasure of seeing another rainbow right afterwards.
We figured it would be pretty unreal if we were to find a bear at the end of the rainbow. Like all such dreams we didn’t find a bear at the end and had to call it a day.
Well the day’s are getting shorter and that means summer is slowly leaving us for fall. Travis and I have been trying to get in some fishing in cause there’s only 23 days till archery season! Stoked. Anyways we headed up to the Blackfoot to get some fishing in.
If your ever looking to take a guide out around Missoula be sure to check out Doug Jones @ Clear Creek Outfitters. He’s a good friend of ours and always knows the goods. He said that the spruce moths were coming off in the mornings and sure enough we showed up on the river around 8:30 and they were everywhere. The fish were keyed in on them and we were surrounded by rising fish for a good couple hours.
A size 12 caddis did the trick, and I finally got in some fun dry fly fishing. The small fish were everywhere and it was tough to keep them off your fly. A couple good fish missed my fly, and I didn’t catch any fatties. Overall it was a fun hatch to be able to fish.
Travis and I set off down river and I milked a couple more fish to the net before we headed home.
A couple days later we were headed up to Holland Lake which is north of Seeley Lake.
The lake is fed by a small river which has a great waterfall just a few thousand yards up from the edge of the lake. It’s an easy mile and a half hike in.
On the way down from the falls we got to see a small black bear and he let us get about 50 yards from him.
After that we made it back to the Dodge and has a great feast on our tailgate. We were eating subway and drinking some Bud Light Limes next to a family going on what looked like a week long backpack trip. I don’t think those kids made it more than a couple miles before they dropped to their knees screaming at their dad. We rooster tailed out of there and headed to the lodge to rent a canoe. After three hours of canoeing, fishing, and swimming we headed back towards Missoula. Of course we had to stop and throw a few flies on the way.
Overall it’s been a nice relaxing week and next Tuesday were headed to the South Fork of the Flathead to do some fishing.