The unknown black bears of Arizona
Hunting spring black bears in Arizona…Why would you even consider this? With the overwhelming notoriety and quality of the state’s elk, mule deer, Coues deer and antelope who has the time to discuss black bear hunting? Let me fill you in on a little Arizona secret that will change your mind on where and how you should be hunting in the spring.
Arizona’s black bear opportunities
Arizona’s spring black bear hunts are offered as over-the-counter (OTC) tags from the end of March through the beginning of May. You can read more about those black bear OTC opportunities here. Also available at the same time is the frustrating agony of the draw process, which gives you hunting privileges from the beginning of May through July if you are lucky enough to draw a tag. This means that Arizona’s OTC hunts can be the perfect distraction while you wait on draw results.
The majority of black bear hunts consist of spot and stalk techniques in a variety of terrain that ranges from desert to northern pines to juniper flats. If you’re looking to get your daily steps in on your Fitbit, then you could try another method: some outfitters chase black bears with hounds during certain times of the year. Regardless of your preferred hunting style, you definitely have plenty of options for hunting Arizona black bears. But, like all hunting, there is no guarantee that you’ll even see a bear.
Additional opportunities in Arizona
Well, actually there is a guarantee that you’ll see a bear. You’ll have the opportunity to not only see, but also harvest, a variety of color-phased black bears of all sizes. Some of these black bears are giants! This guaranteed opportunity isn’t available on public lands. Instead, it takes place on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. The reservation is where you’ve heard of some of the biggest bulls in the world being harvested. However, big bulls aren’t the only exciting big game animal on these tribal lands as each season several Boone & Crockett (B&C) black bears are harvested.
Hunting bears over bait in Arizona
So why is this hunt so great? It’s the only place in the state of Arizona where it is legal to use bait for hunting black bears. If you’ve never had the opportunity to hunt black bears over baited barrels, especially in Arizona’s beautiful weather, then you’re missing out. You can get a glimpse of what this experience is like in the short Territory film, “Blue Barrel,” a self-filmed hunting series that is available on YouTube. It is truly an experience that you have to be a part of for yourself.
This hunt is not only both relaxing and exciting, but it’s an excellent opportunity for taking a black bear of a lifetime. Whether you’re an Arizona resident or nonresident, the tag is the same price: $405 (2018) and a state hunting license is not required. Unlike hunting on state land (one bear per year limit), there is an opportunity to purchase a second tag. Because the hunts take place on tribal lands an approved outfitter is required for booking the hunt. After all, as someone has to manage the bait barrels.
The efforts of the hunt go into the daily ritual of baiting the barrels and checking trail cameras. For the trail camera junkies, it doesn’t get any better. Each day, different bears show up on camera and, from there, it becomes a strategic game of when to catch them in the act. With multiple bait sites all active at once, choosing the best barrel to hunt becomes a game based on gut feelings and chance. With the nomadic nature of black bears, they are unpredictable and not subject to being patterned. A big bear may visit the barrel every day for a week or may visit it once and never be seen again.
The biggest mystery of the baited barrel hunt is what’s in the barrels. There are numerous concoctions that can be used for bait, but it mostly depends on what the bears find most appetizing and keeps them coming back. One surefire bait recipe? Meat scraps, dog food, and a little pancake syrup.
For reasons unknown, the big bears like to move more the hotter it gets, making the prime season for this sort of hunt ranging from the end of May through the end of July. During this timeframe, it’s not uncommon to see three to five bears a day. The variety of big color phase bears truly makes this hunt one you won’t forget. You can get more information about this hunt by contacting Arizona High Country Outfitters here.