As the old saying goes, planning makes perfect. These words are quite true for the serious Michigan black bear hunter. But for those who are new to bear hunting and want to hunt one of our state’s largest and most interesting big-game animals, getting “into the game” may be confusing. Where does one begin and how do I do it? The answers to these questions are found below bear hunters follow these seven steps to hunting Michigan’s bruins during September and October.
Step 1: Right now, go online to www.michigan.gov/dnr. On the left side of the screen, scroll down to Hunting/Trapping and click. Then scroll to Big Game and click on Black Bear. Here you will see several black bear topics including bear hunting, bear research and information, and a copy of the State’s Bear Management Plan. All of these topics will lead you to additional bear information. You’ll find wealth of bear-related information here to help you plan your hunt and to learn about the black bear.
At this DNR website/link you’ll also learn how to apply for a bear hunting license. Hunting licenses are drawn after the hunter has earned a number of preference points. Here you’ll find a useful explanation on how the preference point system works. The application period is May 1 to June 1 with the result posted online in late June. So the time to start the bear hunting process is now.
Step 2: Research and find an outfitter/guide. There are several ways to do this. The DNR offers a list of established hunting guides. Again at the DNR website, the list of guides can be found by typing the words “guides and outfitters” in the search box. From there you will find a 17-page Hunting Guide Information document that lists the guides’ names, areas they hunt, and contact information. Be sure to ask your potential guide for a list of references to ensure you’ll get the kind of hunt you want.
Another way to get started is to get to know any local bear hunters. Check with any local sportsman club to find out if there are bear hunters from your area. If you’re lucky they may take you under wing and teach you the ropes. Finally, if you plan to “go it alone” get ahold of maps for your hunting area, choose a likely spot (large areas of State land) and look for tracks, droppings, and foliage that’s been disturbed or “smashed” down by the travels of a local bruin.
Step 3: Gather up your gear. The hunters in my group all have what we call a “bear box.” That is, one of those fairly large, plastic snap-lid containers to house the following items: ammunition, binoculars, compass, camera, first-aid kit, flashlight and extra batteries, a knife, a lantern, lighters, area maps, an orange vest or hat, and two-way radios. You’ll add/subtract gear from this list according to your preferences.
Make sure your bear box always has a change or two of clothes because if you’re hunting bears with dogs you’re bound to get wet and dirty from head to toe as you chase bruins. A black bear doesn’t just wander along a hiking trail, you know. My bear box is a permanent fixture and is always ready when it’s time to head to the woods.
Step 4: Scout your hunting area. Bear Hunting Units are located around the state in various counties. In the Lower Peninsula the units are Baldwin, Gladwin, and the Red Oak Unit which includes several areas in the northern Lower Peninsula. There are about seven Upper Peninsula Units reaching from the far western U.P. (Bergland) to the east (Newberry and Drummond). It would be a good idea to find the time to go directly to your hunting area and scout around. Like they say, to get a good feel for the “lay of the land.” Again, look for bear droppings, tracks, and food sources (blueberry patches are a bear’s go-to food). Bear trails can be found much in the same way as deer trails are located.
The best way to locate bear tracks is to drive the roads very slowly with you window down and scout for tracks. A driver and a co-pilot work best together—as a team–to accomplish this. It’s also helps to get to know your hunting area and familiarize yourself with a number of geographic landmarks. Several members of our hunting group use GPS units to mark not only bear areas but other landmarks, too.
Step 5: The dog training season and baiting. This is where the men are separated from the boys. The dog training season begins in early July (this year July 8) and runs through September 4. It’s a time to do all of the above with an emphasis on getting the dogs in shape for the season. For the bear hunter this is the time to get yourself in shape and learn your bear hunt unit like the back of your hand. Those who put in their time here will greatly increase the chances for success.
Baiting a location for your bear hunt is a lot of hard work—and somebody’s got to do it! The guides who are dedicated bait the bruins daily. They are constantly checking for bear activity in their hunting areas and making any necessary adjustments. If you are baiting for bear on your own you will be the one doing all of the hard work—so be ready to go the extra mile for your bear (and it will be an extra mile or two). Think about it: if you bait sporadically, do you think the bear will come to your bait site if there is nothing to eat? Now you get the picture. And be prepared to spend a fair amount of your hard-earned dollars on food (bait) for the bear you want to hunt.
Trail cameras are another key to pinning down and identifying bear activity in your hunting unit. Most guides use these to determine how often the bears are hitting the bait and it gives visible proof of the bear’s size.
Step 6: Never sit back and wait. It’s never a good idea to take a “wait and see” approach to bear hunting. By this I mean it will pay huge dividends to read as much as possible about black bear behavior and hunting black bears. Hunters who are more aggressive in their approach to the upcoming hunting season will be more likely to find success. These will be the hunters who have bear steaks in the freezer and a bear rug mount looking so good at camp or in the home.
Yes, planning makes perfect for the best bear hunting season of your life. And when you follow these steps to implement your fall 2013 bear hunt, you’ll probably agree with another old saying, as well: no truer words were ever spoken. And now is the time to get organized and plan for this fall’s bear hunting season in Michigan.
One last step: Be sure to carefully read over and study the DNR’s current Bear Hunting Digest before you go bear hunting. Rules and regulations are explained in detail and offer a wealth of information about this incredible and exciting hunting opportunity. Be sure to visit the DNR’s website at www.michigan.gov/dnr.
Author’s note: The above steps will not guarantee that you’ll bag a Michigan black bear. However, if you follow these suggestion you will certainly put yourself in an excellent position to be successful. Plus you will experience your fair share of outdoor fun while preparing for and taking part in a Michigan bear hunt.
This article originally appeared on Michigan Sportsman and is republished here with permission.
Image copyright iStockPhoto/Keith Binns