With spring bear hunting becoming more popular over the last several years, Oregon has likewise become increasingly difficult to draw tags in. When February 20th came around and saw the "Not Selected" text next to my Oregon application, I knew I couldn't sit the season out. Luckily the state to my east has OTC spring bear tags, and even better than that, they will sell me two of them per year.
A few clicks and a credit card number later I had tags with my name on them in the mail for spring bear season. I've been to Idaho for a couple bear hunts before, but so far I haven't found a spot that I have really dialed in on to call home. I've seen some success here and there, but I hadn't found an area in the past that really excited me enough to return to. So, my first challenge was going to be deciding where I wanted to hunt. As a non-resident in Idaho, you have the option of buying either a reduced price bear tag for around $40 (which you can also buy two of) or buying a regular bear tag for closer to $180. I opted for the two $40 tags which left me with a dozen or so units to pick from for my hunt.
After a few days of deliberation, a healthy dose of google earth, and some randomization, I settled on a spot that I was going to give a try. Now I just had to wait another 6-8 weeks while the snow melted off.
April 28th found me leaving the house at 4am to make the nearly 600 mile drive to Idaho. It was a little last minute as I hadn't planned to hunt bears until a bit later in May, but I had a couple slow days at work coming up, and it was my birthday. It was a good excuse to talk my wife into the idea, and I took off solo that morning to cross the state. I pulled into the trailhead at about 3PM and started to put my pack together.
Day 1 (April 28)
I came up with the plan of taking it fairly easy and just going in a couple miles for the first evening. This country was all new to me and I didn't see the point in rushing through country in case it was worth hunting where I already was. I spent an hour making my way up the trail, and then I pulled out and set up my Hilleberg tent as some snow started to flurry. With the first evening I made a short hike about 1000' up the ridge above my tent and did some glassing. I found one bear across the canyon from me, but it appeared to be fairly young and small.
Idaho Bear Hunt 2019 with Reactor Stove
Day 2 (April 29)
The next morning I woke up with bigger plans and ambitions. I had hopes of covering some ground, and I did exactly that. In short, I spent a long day climbing 4,000' of elevation gain and making it another 6-7 miles into the wilderness. I moved my camp part of that way to a central location before dropping it and continuing on. The weather brought everything from snow to hail to sun as is typical on spring days, and I only saw one bear. He was a nice boar from what I could tell, but a snow-melt swollen river kept me from having any access to his spot. It is still a spot worth noting and that I may hunt in 2020, but there wasn't any direct access from the direction I had come.
I returned to camp well after dark and shoved some food into my mouth before falling asleep. There were only two more days to hunt for this short trip, so I needed to figure out what to do in order to maximize my opportunity. So I decided to get up early and roll up camp in hopes of heading to the truck. Once I was there I would drive to town while checking out my maps and pick a new spot for tomorrow evening. It wasn't that my current spot didn't have any bears, but it didn't seem like the numbers were very dense, and I decided to go with my gut on needing a better location.
Waiting out some snow and fog while bear hunting
Day 3 (April 30)
I made it town by noon the next day and frantically combed through google earth again for any country within an hour or so drive. I picked another drainage a little to my north, threw the spot in the GPS, and 50 minutes later I was pulling my binoculars and rifle out of the truck with a new place to hunt.
Things started off with a bang as I spotted a bear within the first 5 minutes of sitting down. After watching this bear for some time, I walked back up to the truck to make some dinner, and then went back down the next ridge over to glass from a different angle. I thought I would see the bear from earlier again and maybe get a shot from this new position. While waiting however, a bigger boar stepped out farther to my left. I got setup and settled into the gun. The rangefinder read 544 yards which was well inside of what I had been practicing.
I dry fired the gun a couple times, racked a round in and broke the trigger. To my surprise I shot right over the big bears back. I spent the last hour of daylight walking back to the truck and then checking my rifle. I set up a 550 yard shot off the side of the road and put the bullet on the 2" dot I had set up. Guess the miss was my fault after all.
2019 Idaho Black Bear
Day 4 (May 1)
Day 4 was my last day so I spent pretty much every hour of it hunting and glassing. I watched numerous bears throughout the day, but never could turn up the nice boar I had missed the night prior. Around 5 o'clock, an older looking sow I had watched off an on since 11am moved into a spot that provided a quick 20 minute stalk and a 330 yard shot. I took the opportunity and moved in. Right as I got in position she fed back into the timber. I held tight for another 35 minutes until she showed back up and then I settled back onto the gun.
A couple dry fires and another trigger break later put a 168 grain berger hybrid through both lungs and the bear was down in 40-50 yards. I spent the next hour navigating rock slides to get down to the creek bottom and across the canyon. After breaking the bear down I moved all of the meat and hide to a more convenient spot across the creek before splitting the work up into two loads up the 1500' ascent. I spent a couple hours after dark packing meat back to the truck, and I arrived back at the top at about 11PM. The next morning I got up early for the 2.5 hour round trip to retrieve the hide and skull before rolling out to make my way back home.
Bear meat getting loaded onto my Kifaru Duplex Lite Frame