Ready for a new adventure? How about sneaking up to a predator that can tip the scales at double your own weight?
Canada’s Nick Trehearne has been hunting black bears since his teens, when he bagged his first bruin on a hunt over bait, but soon after that early success the budding bear hunter chose to switch gears. Now 34, Trehearne’s zeal for bear hunting has only heightened—bears are easily his favorite big game target—but his methods have narrowed considerably. Ever since Bear Number One Trehearne has pursued black bears solely by spotting and stalking, and the results have been impressive.
Although being a Canadian resident does have many bear-hunting advantages, maybe chief among them might be quick and easy access to loads of prime habitat, and the ability to partake in do-it-yourself hunts over multiple provinces, all without need for a guide. And Trehearne, an outdoor photographer by trade, has made the most of that good fortune.
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Over the years he figures he has spent an average of 50 to 60 days chasing bears each spring across several provinces. That extreme focus and dedication has allowed Trehearne to bag, to this point, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 black bears, using both compound bows and rifles. He said that breaks down to about two to six bruins per year; if you count hanging with like-minded friends, Trehearne estimates he’s been a part of somewhere near 130 successful spot-and-stalk black bear hunts. His largest personal trophy is a bruin measuring 20 14/16 inches, and each year, typically, he’ll take one (or more) bears measuring in the 18-19-inch range. Solid Pope and Young recordbook contenders.I write all the amazing numbers above to arrive at this: If your goal is spotting and stalking spring black bears, especially on a DIY hunt in, say, Montana or Oregon, you can learn much from the wide-ranging experiences of British Columbia’s Nick Trehearne.
Q. Hunting bears 50 to 60 days each spring is a lot. How soon do you get started?
“It starts in April, and at that time of year, it’s all about putting miles on your boots; covering ground until you cut the track of a decent bear [in the snow]. I’m looking for front-pad tracks measuring 5 to 6 inches wide, which shows that you’re into that decent class of male; a 6-inch pad is pushing a bear that you don’t want to pass up, in my experience. At this time I’m typically putting on about four to five miles per day; that’s usually the first two to three weeks, the ‘pre-green-up’ time period.”
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Q. So you’ve found a good track. What next?
“Then it can be a waiting game, and I do a lot of sitting and glassing in the area. If I find a good track, if you’re on it for two days, it’s almost a lock that you’re going to get a crack at that bear. At that time, those tracks are probably a couple hundred yards from their winter dens. So on a daily basis, they’re venturing out, they’re looking for food, which is any type of new greenery. Maybe their dens are starting to flood and they’re being forced out. For glassing I like to use binos, very rarely a spotter; I like a 10×42, personally I’m rocking the Leica Geovid rangefinding bino. They’re spendy but I’m a pretty firm believer in buying the best optics you can afford.”Q. You’re glassing and suddenly glimpse what looks to be a large boar, maybe a couple hundred yards away. What are your next moves?
“I’m an extremely aggressive stalker. Once I see a bear in a conducive spot, I close on it very quickly. Up until about 80 yards, I’m covering ground virtually as fast as I can; most times I don’t think twice, I just go. To me, it’s not like you’re hunting a 170-plus-inch mule deer that you might get just one chance at all year. With spring bears I know I will likely have numerous chances at several different bears, so I figure I might as well go balls to the wall.”
Q. Say you’ve made it to 80 yards from a large bruin with your compound bow in hand.
“At 80 yards I’ll get a lot more meticulous with my movement. My personal belief is that black bears are the easiest game animal to stalk in North America; I’ve found you can make a lot of mistakes and still be fine, as long as you’re playing the wind effectively. If it looks like the bear catches your movement, just freeze. If you don’t move, very rarely will a bear blow out of there; if nothing else makes them suspicious, eight out of 10 times they’ll go back to feeding.”
Q. What have been the causes of most blown stalks?
“Definitely, swirling wind is Number One. Another is getting caught in the motion of drawing my bow, or letting down. I’m comfortable shooting at longer ranges because I practice shooting daily out to 100 yards, although I’d never take a shot at a bear anywhere near that far. But within 20 to 30 yards, I know my bow setup very well, and I’ll shoot every single angle as long as I can get the broadhead through the bear’s vitals. I’m shooting 75 pounds, and have a 31-inch draw, and usually, I’m shooting a 125-grain broadhead with total arrow weight over 600 grains. So that’s a lot of kinetic energy, which helps.”
Q. What are some critical points to consider for first-time spot-and-stalk bear hunters?
“For people new to bear hunting, it’s worth risking losing the bear, by taking the time to calm your nerves before taking your shot. I’ve seen people that were just too worked up, and it messed up their shot. You’re much better off sitting there a couple minutes, figuring out your breathing, losing the shakes. Personally, I always make damn sure that I’ve got the right shot opportunity before releasing that arrow. I’m not going to rush a shot no matter how big the bear might be. If the right shot doesn’t present itself, so be it; I know I will get them the next day, or the next week.”
Q. What are some other favorite pieces of gear for spot-and-stalk bears?
“We’ve talked about my bow setup, which I’ve used to take about two-thirds of my bears, but for a rifle, I like my tried-and-true .338. It’s my go-to gun for 99 percent of my rifle hunting, whether it’s for mountain goats, sheep, moose, deer; I’ve killed just about everything with it and it’s worked nicely, with wicked stopping power and it hits like a brick wall, so why change? And especially when I’m bowhunting, I carry along slippers for my boots, a product called SneekTec Sneek Boots that feature 2-inch thick memory foam lined with Berber fleece. They’re silent and a lot better than simply stalking in your socks; you won’t ever lose your boots or deal with getting stabbed by sticks and rocks.”
Q. Have you had any hairy encounters sneaking up to point-blank range on a big black bear?
“I’ve definitely run into a few aggressive bears, and it’s usually the younger bears; once they start pushing that 18-19-inch (skull size) they don’t seem to care if you are there; they are very confident that you don’t pose a threat and don’t feel they have to prove anything. But there are always exceptions. The first bear I encountered after I moved to B.C., he was in a draw about 100 yards wide, and I stalked in to about 70 yards when he busted me. He came at me in a full charge; at that point I had an arrow nocked, and drew and shot him at 9 yards. Luckily, on impact that bear spun and peeled by me just 4 yards to my right; I had buried the arrow in his chest and he probably went 70 yards before expiring. But had I missed I definitely would have been in for interesting times. I always carry bear spray, I never carry a sidearm; but by the time you need the spray you’re usually in so close that drawing and shooting is just as easy; I’m either going to be flinging an arrow or spraying.”
Q. What are some things most people don’t realize about spotting and stalking black bears?
“Most people underestimate the actual threat of them. They don’t realize how many people get mauled by black bears; they disregard the danger in getting close to them. Having sprayed a few of them, I’ve been put in my place enough to know they demand respect. Not too long ago there was a guy eaten by a black bear about an hour from my house; I know the risk is there.”
Q. There are varying opinions on the palatability of bear meat. What’s your take?
“I love bear meat, it represents 100-percent of my yearly burger supply, which is how I like to process it; I utilize literally every ounce of meat. With that said, I will not hunt over bait, and the same with bears that are feeding on salmon, because the meat ends up tasting like what the bear is eating. But once you’ve tasted it, a grass-fed bear is great…I’ll eat that all day long. And to be clear, I keep every last bear I bag. Some are given away, but I’m keeping the meat from as many as four to six bears a year.”