Idaho: A Spring Bear Hunting Mecca
Bernie Barringer 03.13.15
Idaho is a rare combination of beautiful scenery and amazing bear hunting opportunities. You can hunt with hounds, spot and stalk, or hunt over bait. The license and tags are cheap and available over the counter. How can you beat that?
As editor of Bear Hunting Magazine and author of a book on bear hunting, I get a lot of questions about bear hunting across North America. The number-one question I get is “Where’s the best place to go for a bear hunt?” That should come as no surprise, but what is surprising is the number of people who are asking that question who want to stay within the borders of the United States for a hunt.
My answer is complex because there are so many factors involved. Usually I try to get a feel for what they want in a hunt and how far they are willing to travel before I answer. There are so many options to consider; there are hound hunts, baited hunts, and spot and stalk hunts. There are places with color-phase bears and there are places with really big bears. There are spring hunts and fall hunts. So many choices.
But there is only one place that offers every single one of these things. Idaho offers all three styles of bear hunting. There are both spring and fall hunting opportunities, and they have a large number of colors of bears including black, brown, cinnamon, and blonde. Idaho has it all! Oh, and you want fantastic scenery? Got that, too.
I have heard the statement, “If you want to experience fantastic things, you must put yourself in fantastic places.” It’s become a motto for me, and that’s one reason I love bear hunting in Idaho.
I have traveled extensively in Idaho, mostly fishing and vacationing, but I have only been on one bear hunt there. It was enough to convince me that the state offers some of the best bear hunting anywhere with a couple of additional perks. First, Idaho bear tags are cheap and available over the counter so you do not have to apply and build points to draw a tag. A nonresident bear tag is $186. Secondly, there are so many bears that some areas of the state are designated as two-bear areas. You can buy a second tag for $41.75 and keep hunting until you bag your second bear.
I decided to just shoot one bear while I was there, but now I regret it. I wish I would have stayed for the second, because my first hunt happened really fast. Let me tell you about it and show you some video from the hunt.
If being really good at what you do means you can get results fast, what I experienced in Idaho must have been some kind of a world record of being good at what you do. It happened with Travis Reggear, known as one of the best houndsmen in the Western United States. He consistently puts people on bears, cougars, and bobcats with remarkable regularity.
Mornings come early in Idaho bear camp. The alarm rang at 3:30 a.m. and breakfast was at 4:00. Travis’s mother has a home on the same property, and she is the camp cook. With a hearty country breakfast in our bellies we started loading up dogs at 4:30 and it was full daylight already. No wonder they were usually back by noon with a bear!
By 5:30 in the morning the sun was on the mountaintops and all the dogs had their collars on and were anxiously awaiting a chance to go to a bear fight. Despite the long and arduous previous day and the weeks of hunting back to back, they eagerly loaded onto the six-wheelers and readied for the trail.
Everyone loaded onto the ATVs and headed off down the logging road. This is part of the fun—riding ATVs in the mountains and seeing new and beautiful country. After a mile on the trail, I was so struck by the beauty of the sun on the green mountains contrasting with the blue of the lake far down in the valley that I had to stop and take a few pictures.
After shooting a couple photos I got on the throttle pretty hard to try to catch up with the rest of the crew, and it was a good thing I did. As I came around the corner in the road, I found the other ATVs stopped and hounds were howling as the strike dogs had smelled a bear. Within a minute or so, all the dogs were being turned loose and howling their way up the hill, giving chase! Now that was fast! It couldn’t have been 60 seconds more and the change to the short, choppy vocalizations proved that they were barking treed. I looked at my watch. It was 5:54. We had a bear treed only 24 minutes into the hunt!
We scrambled up the mountainside and discovered a nice black bear in the tree. Now I had a decision to make. I have been on a quest for a cinnamon or blonde bear for some time, and I was really hoping to find one here in Idaho since there are good numbers of color-phase bears here. But there were other issues at play. It was the last hunt of the year for some tired guides and dogs. They were pretty thrilled with this gift they had been given. Now don’t get me wrong, these are tough guys and they would have gladly gone on for another bear. There was a good representative bear in the tree and it didn’t make sense to throw away such an amazing opportunity. This bear was going home with me.
The numbers of bears are high in Idaho, the color phase bears are there too. The scenery is amazing and the different styles of hunting will appeal to any hunter. Every bear hunter should put an Idaho hunt on their bucket list. You can see video of my hunt below.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.