This past week I was out Bear hunting in some thick, forested mountains of Idaho. I have now hunted Idaho 3 times in the past 4 years and every time I go out hunting there, I learn something new that I add to my toolbox. The hunting in Idaho might be some of the hardest that I have seen. The difficulty lies in a few different components.
- Non-patternable animals
Terrain- The terrain is just steep. Some of the mountains are literally vertical so trying to get up the mountain is brutal. The need to be in shape is very real and that goes for 2 things. One is for getting into the places you want to hunt and the second is because you will need to pack out the animal. Going up and down thick, steep rock ridden vegetation with 100-150lbs of meat on your back is not an easy feat and it isn’t for the faint of heart. I personally had to resort to driving up a mountain and using mostly logging roads to get into spots which personally isn’t ideal when hunting. While roads are great and “easy,” it is also the least ideal situation for me since every Tom, Dick and Harry can go the same way. I also get irritated when the weekend warriors come out and blast through those roads running things like dirt bikes and quads.
Vegetation- While vegetation is great in the mountains as food for animals and cover for them as well, it is brutal for the woodsman. I needed to constantly try and find vantage points just to see over certain areas because when you are eye level with the hunting spots, there is about 10 feet of visibility in the thick, gnarly woods. There is a certain amount of fear that I have here because the lack of visibility can cause a mountain lion or large bear to sneak up on me and really cause some havoc if not careful.
Non-Patternable animals- My buddy and I were talking about the difficulty in hunting an animal that truly doesn’t have a pattern. We both came to the conclusion that a Whitetail deer is difficult to hunt already due to their finicky nature and their great noses. Add a Whitetail in an environment where it has food all around it all the time and there is truly no need for pattern. On game cameras, you might see the same deer once every couple of weeks which shows that there are no consistent patterns that these deer have. This will make a Whitetail possibly the most difficult animal to hunt in North America, in the State of Idaho. I give large kudos to anyone that has taken down a big old buck in that state with a bow. You are really good! With that said, bears are a bit more patternable because there can be baiting being utilized but again, these bears have so much food around them that they don’t really have to come to the bait and we saw this for weeks/months on the trail cam pics. Rarely did you see the same bear and we went days without any bears hitting the baits. The countless hours, days, weeks and months of buying food, hiking it up the mountain, checking trail cams, sitting out for hours, etc, makes these hunts quite brutal and very difficult. I don’t think people realize the difficulty associated.
Now, for the things that I learned this last week. My buddy was hunting the same black bear for over 4 weeks. Every time he would be there in the morning, the bear would hit in the evening. Every time he was there in the evening, the bear would come overnight. It was almost like the bear was messing with him and outsmarting him on the daily, which honestly was true. On my first day in Idaho, we went up the mountain in the morning to refresh our baits. When we got to his spot, we realized that the bear he is trying to get was hitting the bait at 5am. Later that day, he was not hunting but I was heading up the mountain to my spot and realized in the binoculars that there was a bear hitting his bait. Now, I realized quickly it was a different bear that was never on camera. I hunted that evening and saw nothing on my bait but when I headed back home, he was the first call I placed. I let him know what I saw and he was in shock. The next day, we went up to his spot at 3am to get into place to ensure that we could be in place for that 5am munching time from his monster bear. We stayed in our spot until 6:15am and then we left due to other commitments. Well, guess what. On camera, we saw that his bear came out at 6:30am! Was it coincidence? Maybe, but I think not. What I realized is that the bear is super smart and is paying attention to car noises. The next day, we made a plan that I would drop him off and then drive up the mountain to make the bear think that the car went off and didn’t park remotely close to the hunting area. I was hunting on a completely different side of the mountain so there was no way that bear could hear that vehicle anymore. 3 hours later and that big bear showed up to the bait. My buddy did make a fantastic shot and harvested that bear that night. Lesson learned: Bears are smart and they are trained over the years to pay attention to cars. Be sneaky and outsmart them in order to win.
I was hunting a completely different bait that was getting hit on the daily by different bears for a solid month. When we both arrived to my bait that I would be hunting, we realized that a bear had flipped the entire barrel over and cleaned it out. When looking at the game cams, we realized that the last time there was food in the barrel was 3 days ago! This to me meant that the bear might be long gone! I certainly wasn’t sure of this but my buddy assured me he was not gone and he would be back that day. Well, 3 days go by after baiting that barrel and we didn’t see a thing. The 4th day, I arrived to a bait that was finally hit! Based on camera footage, it was late night the prior evening and that was a completely different bear. Lesson learned: Bears will quickly move on and roam other areas leaving their former spots in the past if they believe food is no longer around. They are opportunists and you cannot bank on them being around in a small area.
As I was hunting on my final day, I was laying on the ground watching my spot via a camera that I had placed on a tripod. This camera connected to my phone and I was streaming the site of what I needed to view on my phone instead of having to bob up and down with my binoculars. I was fearful that my movement would be an issue and I could spook a bear. Well, while I was on the ground, I had a bear come up the side of the mountain and pop it’s head up 5 feet from me! The only thing that I heard was a small twig snap that alerted me to something possibly coming up close to me. 2 Seconds after I heard that snap, I saw a large black bear head pop up and swivel over to only stare straight into my eyes before slowly putting its head back down. I will save the rest of the story here but what was learned was something I always believe but needed affirmation to. Lesson Learned: Bears are super quiet. Their paws are soft and they move at a very slow pace. This makes them super predators when it comes down to sneaking up on things. It also give them the opportunity to go into what I would call, full blast mode and catch their prey quickly. Bears can move very fast while still being very well sized. Overall, I was impressed and felt that my feelings were truly fact after witnessing that piece on my hunt.
Use these 3 lessons on your next excursion and see if it helps you with your quarry.
Scout, Hunt, Repeat