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Idaho Fish and Game

Black bear with huckleberries in the background

Top 10 tips for Idaho spring black bear hunting


Season opens April 15 in many units, and some backcountry units opened April 1

Idaho provides hunters the opportunity to hunt black bears during the spring so you don’t have to wait until fall to start big game hunting. All you need is a 2022 hunting license and bear tag. People typically hunt bears by pursuing them with hounds, baiting them or spotting and stalking.

If you have hounds, you’re probably already a seasoned bear hunter and need no explanation why they’re a worthy game animal. If you don’t have hounds, or if you don’t want to set up a bait station, bear hunting doesn’t require any equipment you don’t already have for deer or elk hunting. You just need to learn how to hunt a different animal.

Here are 10 tips to get you started

  1. Know what habitat bears occupy during spring. Bears are often mistakenly described as a carnivore, but they’re actually omnivores with plants making up most of their diet. This is especially true during spring when they’re coming out of hibernation and eating newly sprouted plants. Bears are actually similar to deer and elk in that they “surf the green wave” of vegetation as it begins sprouting up.
  2. Know the baiting rules. Baiting may seem simple: Put out something bears like and wait. And it is that simple, but you have to do it legally. Hunters need a permit to bait bears, and there are rules regarding when, how and where you set up a bait station, as well as what bait you can use. See the 2022 Big Game Seasons and Rules booklet for all the details about spring bear hunting.
  3. Know what units are open. Most of the state is open for spring bear hunting, emphasis on most, but some do not have general seasons. Some roads may be closed or inaccessible during spring, so check with your local land management agencies when those open.
  4. Spend some time searching with binoculars or spotting scopes. A black bear against a green hillside can be fairly easy to spot, even from a mile or so away. You’re likely to increase your odds of tagging a bear if you know there’s one in the area and see it before it knows you’re there. Spot-and-stalk hunting is always an exciting way to pursue game.
  5. Respect their senses. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and are intelligent animals. They also don’t live in herds, make much noise (in general) and tend to be pretty shy animals by nature. Hunting them is a challenge, but not impossible. Hunters killed about 3,600 black bears in Idaho in 2021, and it’s the state’s third most-popular big game animal behind deer and elk.
  6. Make sure the bear is not a female with cubs. It’s illegal to harvest a female black bear with cubs. Pay attention and make sure it’s a legal bear before you pull the trigger.
  7. Know the difference between a grizzly bear and a black bear. This is especially important if you’re hunting in eastern or northern Idaho, which have both, and they have also been spotted in the Clearwater area. There is no hunting season for grizzlies, so don’t assume any bear you spot is a black bear if you’re anywhere near grizzly country. Fish and Game has an online brochure with information about hunting in grizzly country. 
  8. Be prepared to process the hide. This means knowing how to skin a bear so it can be made into a rug, whole mount or partial body mount. It’s different than skinning a deer or elk — same basic concept, but different methods because you will want to leave the head and paws attached. Also remember you must leave evidence of sex naturally attached to the hide, and hunters must check in a harvested black bear to Fish and Game within 10 days of harvest.
  9. Have a game plan for the meat. Bear meat can be very tasty, so assume you’re going to eat it. Like all game, the key to getting the best tasting meat is to keep it clean and cool. Skin the bear as quickly as possible to cool it, and get the meat on ice if temperatures are warm.
  10. Build on what you learn. Many bears are taken each year by deer and elk hunters who stumble upon them, but in order to see and find bears on a regular basis, you have to learn their habitats, habits and tendencies. One of the best and easiest ways (relatively speaking) to do that is simply getting out in the woods during spring, learning the landscape, learning bear behavior and gaining experience.