Two weeks ago in the article titled “Bear Hunting: Part I” we talked primarily about a bear’s spring appetite and about how to bait for bears. This week let’s cover spotting and stalking. There are a few hunting units in Idaho in which we can’t bait. In some of the units that makes sense and in some it doesn’t. I understand it not being smart to bait in grizzly country. It’d be dangerous for you and for someone else if they happened to stumble upon your bait after a grizzly had claimed it as their “kill.” But in a few of the units I’m not clear why we can’t bait. But regardless, spotting and stalking can be a fun and intense way to hunt.
If you’ve never heard of spotting and stalking, here’s how you do it. You need to climb up on top of a mountain or ridge and get set-up. To really be able to glass you’ll need a good spotting scope. Everyone is on a budget but on this purchase, don’t leave any pennies in your pocket and you’ll never regret it. I’m going to be using Burris optics this year. Most optic companies offer multiple options from lower price points on up to their elite line but again, buy the best that you can afford.
Spotting scopes come with straight or angled eyepieces. If you’re sitting in a blind in flat country or checking shot placement on the range, a straight eyepiece works fine — but for glassing the mountains, I’d recommend an angled eyepiece.
You determine what you prefer but I’d recommend a 15-30x for most glassing opportunities here in Idaho, but granted out in the Owyhees you may want a higher power. Spotting scopes come in variable powers such as 15-30x, 20-60x, etc. But remember, if you buy one that is too big and bulky it will be a pain to lug around.
Due to their high magnification you’ll need to use a tripod to stabilize them. You can spend as much as you want on tripods. Some of the carbon fiber ones are well over $1,000. I have a cheaper one!
You may be glassing for extended amounts of time so if you’re not comfortable, then you won’t be able to hold still. At the least, carry a foam pad to set on but a couple of years ago I started using an Alps Mountaineering Dash backpacking chair. It is lightweight and low profiled. A backpacking chair is better than a foam pad because it slightly elevates you off the ground so you can see over the grass and brush.
To really cover the actual art of glassing itself would take a whole article in and of itself. I’ll have an article on “Glassing For Big Game” within the month on the Burris website so you can read it to learn more but, in a nutshell, here are a few tips.
To glass for bears in the spring, most people run up after work and glass in the afternoons. You’ll want to climb up on top of a mountain or ridge where you can have some good viewing. Don’t set right on top of the ridge where you’re sky lined. Set right off of the top. Get behind a rock, log or small bush so you’re semi-concealed.
Bears will start moving about bear-thirty (near dusk). They’ll come off of their beds and move out into open areas to graze. It will almost remind you of a cow grazing except they’ll be by themselves and not in groups.
As the snow melts, green grass starts popping out. It is fresh and tender so they’ll follow the snow line up. By this, I don’t mean that they’ll be right at the snowline but somewhat so. I don’t know what they’re called, but they like to eat the yellow flower tops off at this time.
I’ve walked up on bears grazing like cows. One time I got within 17 paces of one. He was grabbing grass by the mouthfuls and ripping it loose like a wolf. When you spot one you need to study the situation right fast. Is it moving along quickly? If so, by the time you hike one-half to one mile over to it, the bear will likely be gone. Is it grazing in one spot? If so, great.
It may look like the bear is in the wide open but start to sneak up on it, suddenly when you get closer the terrain will look totally different than over on the ridge when you were glassing. So look around right fast for some landmarks. A patch of yellow flowers, burnt stump or a big tree. That way when you get over there you can more quickly locate your bear.
If possible, it’d be nice to have a buddy stay at the spotting scope and direct you to where the bear is. It’s against the law to use radios for this purpose but you can use predetermined hand signals. For instance, pointing to the right means the bear is to the right, straight up means it is up higher and so forth.
When you get close, be looking for a solid rest to shoot off of.
Well, as is the norm we still have a lot more info but no more room. Good luck!
Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.