Depending on the latitude and weather, spring bears have excellent thick coats until the first or second week of June. In many regions the hunting season closes before pelt rubbing becomes a serious problem.
When bears first come out of their winter dens, they feed sparingly for a week or so. During this time, berries quick frozen and left over from the previous fall, grasses, and other vegetation make up the majority of the bear’s diet. It doesn’t take long for spring bears to develop a taste for more substantial foods.
Fish, carrion, berries, insects, and just about anything else edible finds its way into a bear’s stomach. In many areas bears feed heavily on carrion from deer, elk, or caribou shot during the preceding fall and winter. As soon as this important food source thaws out and ripens a bit, bears from miles around will gather for the easy meal.
If the weather is cool, spring bears often forage all day long. During a June trip booked with Drover’s Labrador Outfitters, the lakes were still frozen and snow drifts covered the north sides of hills. Our first bear of the trip was taken within sight of camp at 1:00 p.m. while the guides cooked lunch! During the week-long hunt, bears were spotted routinely during the middle of the day. The only time bear sightings slacked off during the day was one afternoon that turned warm and sunny.
Because bears are often active in the spring, this time is an excellent opportunity to use spot-and-stalk methods. Bait is also very attractive to spring bears that haven’t fed heavily since last fall. On our hunt it quickly became obvious that bears enjoy fresh fish. We established half a dozen bait stations during our trip. Of these baits, bears hit every one and fish was the first food they would reach for.
A trick used by outfitter Alonzo Drover kept a steady path of bears visiting our baits. Drover poured gallons of used cooking oil over rocks and on the ground at each bait site. Bears that visited the bait got oil all over their feet and promptly tracked this enticing scent off in every direction of the compass. Other bears in the area quickly picked up on the trail of oil left behind. Within a few days some of our baits were attracting as many as six different bears.
Cooking oil also has another advantage. The scent and attraction lasts long after visiting bears have eaten other foods.
Spring hunts are the ideal time to combine both baiting and spot-and-stalk hunting techniques. If baits are placed in areas where they can be seen from a distance, the hunter has the option of sitting at the bait or glassing the area from a distant vantage point. If several baits are set in a region, the hunter can divide his time traveling between bait sites, quietly sneaking in, and judging animals before deciding if a stalk is justified.
This style of hunting also allows the hunter to practice stalking on smaller animals, sharpening skills that will be needed when a large bear shows up.