Eye to Eye Bruins

By Brian Barney

Eye to Eye BruinsBrian Barney
Montana, 2009, DIY, Public Land

After hours of sitting and watching, I finally spotted a jet black bear coming out of nowhere. He was a good boar with a pumpkin for a head, and was headed out to feed on the neon green ramps that make up the foothills of the mountains in spring.

I began closing the distance, holding a pace more suited for a 10K race while trying to carry my bow and keep my binos from bouncing into my face. Finally, I caught another glimpse of the bruin and got a new surge of adrenalin as I dropped off the hill. I looked in every coulee and ridge for the rest of the day, but he had vanished. He had given me the slip, but I still yearned to stalk inside of spitting distance and place a good arrow in one of these trophy bruins.

Spring bear season in Montana opens in April and closes in June. It’s a general rifle season, but if you really want a touch of excitement, I suggest picking up archery gear. It’s not a coastal brown bear, but stalking inside 30 yards of a 300-pound black bear can definitely rattle even the most experienced bowhunter’s cage. There is no doubt they can and have mauled humans, causing serious injury. To be honest, that’s some of the lure for me. I love the extra dose of adrenalin. Every spring you can find me with a $19 tag in my home state, taking on the challenge of hunting spot-and-stalk style at ground level.

The truth is it’s a tall order to be a spot-and-stalk bear hunter. The key for me is to first locate a bear I’m interested in. I concentrate on their food sources and cover as much country with my eyes as I can. I average spotting a bear every two or three glassing sessions. In my part of the country, early in the spring it’s grasses, and green chutes. As it gets later, fawns and calves are included in the bear diet. I have seen these bears carry off elk calves, antelope fawns, and deer fawns. They really key on them late in the spring.

Also, as it gets into late May June, these bears start their breeding. Seeing a big boar chasing a smaller color phase sow is a great thing for a bowhunter, as I believe it is one of the ground hunter’s best opportunities at killing a bear.

I have found that judging and identifying these bears is a learning process. Let me just say that any bear stalked within bow range is a good one. Eventually though, large boars are the trophy we are out for. First, you must identify sex. Sows are lengthy in appearance; they are all legs, with a skinny chest, and no belly. Also a sow’s head is long and skinny. In comparison, a good boar will look like a linebacker - wide chest, thick legs, no neck and a big wide head. Judging size can be tough. The fact is that there is just no substitute for experience. The best thing to do is to look at a lot of different bears. Over time, you will tune your eye, not only to size, but also to mannerisms. You will find a big boar has a dominant attitude, and all characteristics of a boar will be exaggerated. His ears are another giveaway; if they appear small and on the sides of his head, he’s a good one. When you see a really big bear, there is no doubt; you’ll just know.

Eye to Eye Bruins

For a full account of Brian's adventure, go to page 38 in the March/April 2010 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.