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Archery Spot & Stalk Black Bears with a Bow

Spot & Stalk Black Bears with a Bow

Bowhunting over bait can be fun, but if you really want an adrenaline rush, try spotting and stalking a black bear at eye level. Before you go, however, be sure to practice shooting – a lot. The best pre-hunt advice I can offer is to practice shooting at a 3D target from variable distances. Targets like the Real Wild 3D Walking Bear with EZ Pull Foam or the Delta McKenzie Backyard 3D Target Aim Rite Black Bear are both great choices for realistic pre-hunt and year round shooting practice.

Ideal for Spot and Stalk

Black bears really are the ideal species for the spot and stalk bowhunter. Be aware, that there can be situational risks associated with sneaking up on bears, but because they feed heavily in the spring and fall, they can be more visible focusing intently on available food sources. In turn, this makes them relatively easy to approach undetected. Drawn to the first lush green grasses, clover and dandelions, bears will invariably find the best available food sources in the Spring. Similarly, in the Fall they’re drawn to standing oat fields and other prime agricultural food sources close to the best habitat.

black bear in meadow
Every spot and stalk bowhunter’s goal should be to locate one of these high-quality food sources.

Bowhunt Non-Baiting Areas & Good Habitat

The first rule to finding and sneaking up on black bears, is to focus on areas where baiting is not allowed. Bears hone in on bait sites, and rarely travel far from them. Opportunistic feeders, when bait is available, they’re less likely to risk feeding out in the open.

To find a bear, focus on the best habitat. Boreal forest, mountains, foothills, and even some parkland deciduous forest areas often hold high densities of both black bears. The more wild and remote it is, the better it may be. Whenever I venture out on a spot and stalk hunt, I target old growth boreal forest habitats with ridges, streams, valleys, and wetlands with beaver dams.

While bears are omnivorous, most days organic food sources are a top priority – especially in the Spring. Every spot and stalk bowhunter’s goal should be to locate one of these high-quality food sources. Spot a bear munching on a meal and its game time.

Sneaking in Close

Sneaking in close to a bear or waiting them out on a food source, requires strategy. Snapping twigs underfoot, uncooperative air currents, and moving at the wrong time have foiled many a stalk. Play your cards right though, and bears can be fairly easy to sneak up on. The key is to move slowly and only when the bear has his head down and he’s preoccupied with eating.

Your first priority should be to assess the wind. A light constant breeze, or even a strong wind can be ideal. During the early morning hours – just after sunrise – and late evening hours – just before sunset, winds often die down and that can make it difficult to sneak in quietly. It can also mean you need to pay closer attention to sometimes subtle thermals. On calm days, almost unnoticeable shifts in air currents can turn the tables fast and give away your position.

On the flip side, I have seen bears that can’t smell me, suddenly express interest. Uncertain of what I was, they approached. Sometimes they even stood up on their hind legs to get a better look. Being prepared for each of these scenarios will help you close the distance to capitalize on a bruin within bow range.

If you watch bear behavior for any time at all, you quickly learn that, most of the time they’re slow and methodical in their movements. They are constantly sniffing the air, and listening. As a rule, they can see well, but it’s safe to say their eyesight is the lesser of their senses.  

Stay Safe

It’s been said that the only thing predictable about bears is that they are unpredictable. In general, bears want nothing to do with people. Again, as top-level predators, they are motivated mostly by food.

In broad terms, spot and stalk hunting black bears is a relatively safe endeavor, however any time we attempt to sneak in close to a predator, there is risk. When bears attack, its often in defense of food or their young. Any time they feel cornered with no option for escape, there’s potential for aggression. Although relatively few in number, some black bears are indeed predacious. These ones you need to be particularly careful with. Just know that bears can be dangerous and if you choose to hunt them at eye level, you need take precautions to either have bear spray or quick access to a firearm.

Taking the Shot

Bowhunting bears on the ground is different than hunting them from a stand. Shot placement is always critical. A big part of this is confirming shot distance. Using a laser range finding device like the TenPoint Align 800 Rangefinder, can help with this.

As far as shot placement goes, know that a black bear’s skeletal structure is dense with their front shoulder and top portion of their leg bone more or less covering the heart and front part of the lungs. In other words, their vitals are positioned more forward that those of a deer for instance. The very back of the lungs extend just past the mid-point of the body. Immediately behind the lungs are the liver and kidney.

Kevin Wilson triumphant on bear bowhunting trip. author posing next to downed black bear.
The author spotted this bruin feeding in a clearing. By sneaking in, and waiting for a 21-yard broadside shot, he was able to send an arrow to put this bear down quickly.

As archers, we should always limit ourselves to broadside, quartering away or a standing facing shot opportunity. Heart and lungs are the only aiming points for a bowhunter – this means tight behind the shoulder and almost half-way up the torso.

The bears I’ve seen lost, were typically shot by bowhunters who didn’t understand arrow placement, in turn missing the vitals. Sometimes failing to wait for the right angle, most were hit either too low, too far back or even too far forward. In my opinion, a shot should never be taken when the bear is either standing facing directly away from you, sitting, or lying down.

Their long hair presents some challenges as it can obscure musculature. The hair and predominant darker pelage can make it difficult to zero in on a specific aiming point. Always adjust aiming points to consider entry and exit on the bear’s torso. Waiting until the bear extends his leg forward exposing the vitals for an unobstructed archery shot through the heart and lungs will serve you best. With this archery shot, rarely will a bear run more than 40 yards before collapsing.

If you’re looking for a fun and exhilarating experience, don’t let another season pass you buy – try bowhunting bears at eye level.

author avatar
Kevin Wilson
Kevin is an award-winning outdoor writer for over 30 years, team member on Wild TV’s popular Bowzone Live show, and operates Alberta Hunting Adventures. He currently lives in Alberta, Canada where he shares a passion for the outdoors with his family. As a professional outfitter and guide, Kevin offers his perspective on what it takes to have a successful hunt and shares his outdoor adventures.

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