By Mike Willis
Last week we discussed an abundant resource of the northwest, the huckleberry. For the hunter-gatherer, huckleberries serve many purposes. This fruit pairs well with any breakfast, and it also provides a distinct advantage for the bear hunter. The late summer offers a unique time to identify dwindling food sources for bears.
As the summer comes to an end, many hunters venture out to find a fat bear in a huckleberry patch. During this time of year, bears are gorging themselves on this tremendous resource in preparation for the inevitable harshness of winter. As the berry season comes to an end, you will see the bears aggressively feeding on the last fruits.
If you are quiet enough, you can actually hear the bears peeling the leaves and berries off these bushes as they pull them through their teeth. Lacking the needed dexterity to pick berries, bears chomp down on the bush and rake the branches clean. For the granola-packing hiker, this is a terrifying sound. For the well-armed hunter with a void in his freezer, this is a joyful noise.
Aside from chaining a bait barrel to a tree, huckleberries are your best chance of narrowing your search for a bear. Once the berries have all been scorched by the sun, your window of opportunity has closed. While baiting bears has its advantages, it is not always allowed in certain states and hunting areas.
In my home state of Idaho, we can bait bears where grizzlies are not present. Many of my favorite bear hunting areas have an abundance of grizzlies, and therefore the regs prohibit the use of bait. Knowing that baiting is not an option, I am especially motivated to hunt for bears during the end of the huckleberry season.
If you plan on targeting bears in the upcoming weeks, check out the following GAW article to learn more about finding huckleberries:
It is not difficult to find areas where bears have been feeding. When you stumble upon an area heavily grazed by bears, you will find a minefield of huckleberry pies. Spending hours a day feeding in these bushes, bears leave concentrations of scat piles. If you find one of these areas, keep your head on a swivel!
Know Your Bears
If there is any possibility of encountering grizzly bears, be sure that you can distinguish a black bear from a grizzly bear. You do not want to be the person who accidentally shoots a grizzly. With a little education, you can avoid this co$tly mistake.
Look for Cubs
In the excitement of finding a quality bear, it can be easy to forget to look for more bears. Since cubs are much smaller, they can be hidden in tall huckleberry bushes. It is always best to give yourself an observation period before pulling the trigger. Watch the bear’s behavior. A momma bear will periodically look for her cubs. If the bear keeps looking in a particular direction, wait for a bit.
Have a Plan for the Meat
Since it is still very hot outside, make sure that you have a solid plan for dealing with the bear meat. If you are hunting high on a mountain, make sure you can get the bear home before the meat spoils. I keep my pack frame and game bags on my ATV. I ride as far up the mountain as I can and have my supplies nearby in case I tip over a bear.
Now Go Get That Bear!
This time of year, you need to be moving to higher elevations. With any luck, you will find one of the last patches of ripe huckleberries. Early in the huckleberry growing season, bears can forage just about anywhere. As the season progresses, their options become limited. If all of the lower elevation’s berries have dried up, YOU WILL SHOOT A BEAR in that higher-elevation patch!