The 10 Best States For Black Bear Hunting

A black bear in a forest

Black bears are one of the most commonly pursued big game species in North America. Bear hunting tends to be more controversial than other types of hunting, but most of the outrage regarding bear hunting is based on misconceptions.

Black bear hunting often gets falsely labeled as “trophy hunting” because most people don’t realize that not only is bear meat delicious and widely consumed by hunters, but in most states, there are wanton waste laws for hunters that legally require them to harvest and utilized the meat from any bear they hunt.

Beyond just the bear meat, there are several other ways to utilize the products of your hunt, and Safari Club International has a guide to getting the most out of your bear harvest, including cooking oil, soaps, jewelry, candles, and more.

Clay Newcomb from Bear Hunting Magazine made a great video explaining how to get the most out of the next you shoot, and the possibilities are endless.

The Bear Hunting Magazine also includes a variety of recipes for bear meat. Bear meat is one of the most versatile of all wild game meats, and you can find easy-to-make recipes for bear baconsummer sausagegrilled bear loin with red wine sauce, and so much more. Bear fat can also be rendered into cooking oil that can be used for baking pastries and chocolate chip cookies.

Black bears are one of the most widespread big game animals in North America, and hunting them was legal in 27-states up until this year.

That’s because New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy inexplicably outlawed bear hunting earlier this year, even though it’s one of the most densely populated states in the country when it comes to black bears. Not only does the state have a lot of bears, but they have some really damn big bears too. 

The world record black bear for archery hunting was taken in New Jersey in 2019. The bear weighed a whopping 700-pounds and broke the previous mark set in 1993. 

Despite the fantastic bear hunting opportunities in New Jersey being off-limits, there are still plenty of other great options for your first or your next black bear hunt. 

Please keep in mind that you are legally required to purchase a hunting license to hunt deer on both private and public land. Always look up the rules and regulations in the state you’re hunting.

The sale of hunting licenses and permits directly funds the conservation of wildlife habitat and public land as well as the development of gun ranges in all 50 states.

Buying a hunting license protects you from potentially being fined, having your gear confiscated, and/or losing your hunting privileges. It’s important to remember that just because you have a hunting license in one state, that does not mean it is valid in another state.

Whiskey mixes well with a lot of things but bow and arrows ain’t one of them. Please hunt responsibly and save the whiskey for the campfire at night.

Many well-recognized outdoor publications like Petersen’s Hunting, NRA American Hunter, and Game & Fish Mag have shared their thoughts on the best places to plan a bear hunt. That information was compiled to assemble this ultimate list for  best places to hunt black bears in America (in no particular order). 

Alaska

When most people think of bears in Alaska, they think about grizzlies. But, according to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, the state is home to more than 100,000 black bears making it one of the best places in the world to hunt for them. The bears are quite common across the forested regions of the state’s interior. Over-the-counter tags are available, and hunting with dogs and over bait is legal and while getting to Alaska might cost a little more than getting to some of the other states on the list, but the costs of bear tags and hunting permits are relatively low if you choose to do it yourself. Hunting with an outfitter will cost you a little more, but your chances of success will be much higher. Bear hunters in Alaska are also permitted to harvest three bears each, so you can really fill the freezer with enough meat to spare to share with friends and family.

North Carolina

Black bears inhabit roughly 60% of North Carolina, but the population is primarily split in half, with a large portion of the bears throughout the mountains of the western part of the state while another considerable chunk of bears are found in the coastal swamps and forests along the states east coast. The size and harvest numbers of bears in North Carolina rival that of western states year in and year out, making it arguably the best state in the lower 48 for bear hunting. Good genetics, relatively short and mild winters, lots of cover and ample, nutrient-rich food combine to make Carolina bears some of the biggest on the continent. The big bruins of Hyde County, North Carolina are a legendary part of bear hunting culture, and half of the biggest black bears in state history have been taken there. Bear hunting season in the state typically runs from mid-October to early January. Most of the best bear hunting opportunities in the state are on private land, though, so your best bet will be hiring a professional guide or outfitter.

Wisconsin

Black bears are considered an icon of Wisconsin’s north woods, and pursuing bears is a significant part of the state’s culture. Bear hunting in the Badger State has arguably never been better than right now too. In 2020, bear hunters shot more than 4,000 bears which was the 5th best season on record in state history. Many of the biggest bears in state history have also been harvested within the last decade. Hunting over bait and with hounds is legal, and most of it takes place on private land, so booking a hunt with an outfitter will be your best bet. Compared to some other states, booking a guided bear hunt in Wisconsin is relatively inexpensive. Depending on the hunting unit, you may have to wait a while to draw a tag, but given the quality bear hunting experiences, the state offers, you can be sure it will be worth the wait.

California

Bear hunting in California was in peril earlier this year. However, the hunting community was able to rally together and defeat misguided legislation that would have eliminated some of the best bear hunting opportunities on the continent. Archery season for bears opens in late August and runs into September, while gun season stretches into late December, giving hunters plenty of opportunities to get outside and pursue bears. Bears are common in rural regions from the north through the southern part of the state, and an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 bears are roaming California. The long season and a high number of bears make the Golden State arguably the most underrated bear hunting state in the country. Regulations are a little stricter here than in other states, as hunting with hounds and lead ammunition is prohibited. Still, ample public land is available for hunting and plenty of guides and outfitters capable of putting you on a bear. 

Idaho

Idaho might produce the most giant bears on this list. Still, the unprecedented access to millions of acres of public land that offer great bearing hunting opportunities makes Idaho an excellent destination for bear hunters. Bear tags are affordable and accessible to get a hold of in the state. While you can run hounds and set bait stations, the most common method for hunting bears is using high-quality optics to glass the open landscape and mountain ridges using spot and stalk methods. Idaho also offers bear hunting opportunities in the spring, so those committed to hunting deer and elk in the spring still have time to get after some bears, and the hunting opportunities are effectively doubled compared to places that only offer fall hunting seasons. Idaho also has an extremely high ratio of what are known as “color phase” bears, which means the black bears aren’t back. In some areas, as many as 50% of the black bears in Idaho have blonde or cinnamon-colored fur. With a two bear limit, there are planting of great hunting opportunities to be had in Idaho. 

Pennsylvania

Bear hunting is a historically rich part of the Keystone State’s hunting culture. Five of the 20 biggest bears ever taken in the United States were taken in Pennsylvania, which is tied with Wisconsin for the most entries in the Boone & Crockett Club’s record book. Those records include the #2 and #3 biggest black bear in the world. Many of the legendary bear camps of Pennsylvania have been hosting hunters for generations. There is plenty of state land available for hunting and plenty of guides willing to help you find the black bear of your dreams or fill the freezer with a bear big enough for any hunter to be proud of.

New Mexico

New Mexico tends to fly under the radar as a premier bear hunting destination. The state doesn’t have as big of a bear population as other states on the list, but the bears there are relatively lightly pressured by hunters which can lead to higher success rates. You can’t use bait or hounds, but the wide open landscape make it suitable for spot and stalk hunting. A lot of bear hunters in New Mexico also use predator calls to mimic injured prey species which can be a good way to lure in a bruin. The state uses a quota system, so non-resident hunters can purchase tags pretty easily. The bear season in the state runs through late summer and into the fall but there is no spring bear hunting season like in other states. Most bears in New Mexico get shot by hunters more actively pursuing deer or elk and just happen to encounter a bear, but the hunters to specifically target bears in the state typically have good success rates.

Montana

A whole lot of public land and wide-open mountain valleys and sprawling landscapes make Montana perhaps the best state for spot and stalk bear hunting in the country. The use of hounds and baits is prohibited, but you can still have a successful bear hunting season without employing those methods. Grizzly bears are common throughout the state, making things a little more dangerous in terms of safety and breaking the law. When black bear hunting in Montana is imperative that you’re entirely sure that the bear you’re shooting at is not a grizzly, as they are federally protected. Montana has become a hot spot for spring bear hunting action, and the spring season opens in mid-April and runs through the end of May. Beyond the public land, do-it-yourself hunting opportunities, there are also plenty of guides and outfitters in the state more than capable of making your bear hunting dreams come true.

Oregon

Oregon offers both fall and spring bear hunting seasons, and while the fall tags are easy to acquire, obtaining a spring bear tag is a more controlled process. The spring season runs from April 1st through May 31st, while fall hunting season opens August 1st and runs through December. The relatively long hunting seasons make Oregon an excellent option for planning a bear hunt that works with your schedule. It’s estimated that there are as many as 30,000 bears in the state, so hunters are likely to have an opportunity to take a bear and the over-the-counter fall tags make an Oregon adventure one of the most accessible bear hunting states in the country. Dogs and baiting are off-limits, and as an anti-poaching precaution, you can’t hunt bears during deer or elk season without also buying a deer or elk tag. Bear populations are dense in the coastal region, but it’s hard to hunt them in the thick forests without hounds or bait. The best way to hunt bears in the state is to get up into the mountains and glass open areas using spot and stalk methods. Similar to Idaho, the state is also home to a lot of cool-looking color phase bears.

Colorado

A limited bear hunting season opens in Colorado every September, and then over the county tags are available through October and into November. Hounds and baiting are illegal methods, but with so much public land and wide-open spaces, the preferred method for bear hunting in the state is spot and stalk anyways. Bears in Colorado can always be found wherever the food is, so do your homework and know what the bears are eating in whatever area you’re hunting. As they prepare for winter hibernation, bears in Colorado are active for as many as 20-hours a day, so hunting in the afternoon can provide excellent hunting opportunities in addition to the morning and evening. There is no spring bear hunting season in Colorado. While plenty of public land opportunities are available, there are also great guide and outfitter services capable of putting you on a bear.

As you being to plan and prepare for your next bear hunting adventure, be sure to check out some of the essential bear hunting gear and other tips and tactics from our friends at Mossy Oak.

 

 

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