Calling black bears is not for the faint of heart. They are powerful and have been known to kill an adult bull moose with one swipe of a paw. Indeed, a black bear can and on rare occasion will attack you simply because you are doing your job—making him “think” you are a small animal in distress!
BEST TIMES TO CALL
The best time to call bears is undoubtedly in the fall when they feed voraciously in a frantic effort to gain up to two pounds a day prior to denning. You can find bears feeding at almost any time of the day now, but early mornings and late afternoons are best times to begin your search. .
BEST PLACES TO CALL
The secret to finding bears now is to key in on food sources. Uncut corn fields, oat fields, grape vineyards and stands of wild cherries are always a sure early-autumn bet anywhere in bear country.
As these food sources fade, start stalking abandoned apple orchards and stands of mast producing oak, hickory and beech. Look for fresh scat, tracks, raw claw markings on tree trunks, “bear nests” in the upmost branches and other signs of feeding activity.
SEE HIM FIRST
Blind calling can be effective, but your chances of success will soar if you can spot the bear first, and then sneak in as close as you dare without spooking it. Keep in mind bears have short attention spans, and will quickly give up the chase if you stop calling too soon.
Any bow shot you get at an aggressive, hungry bruin will probably be close—very close. Three to five yard shots are not unheard of! That’s why full camouflage is paramount. Not just your equipment, and not just your head and torso either, but your face, ears, neck and hands, too!
WHAT CALL SHOULD I USE?
In addition to your standard dying rabbit renditions, other calls work, too. A fawn-in-distress is a proven bear call, as are moose cow-calf calls in moose country and the soft mews of an elk calf in elk country.
Even a whitetail grunt tube can be effective under the right conditions. Several years ago, while deer hunting in Saskatchewan, I called in what I initially thought was a rutting whitetail buck. To my surprise however a sleek 250-pound black bear answered my grunts. Too bad I didn’t have a bear tag or I could have had an easy bow shot at that hungry fall bruin.
Some bruins will act disinterested to your calling efforts, others will slowly wander away while still others will vamoose at top speed never to be seen again. About one in a dozen or so will actually respond with interest to your renditions however.
The old boars seem to be the most vulnerable to calling. He may turn and charge right at you, or circle to get the wind and then sneak in closer for a look-see, drooling all over himself. These big bears show no fear which has caused more than one bow hunter to wet his pants.
WHAT BROUGHT HIM TO YOU?
How do you know it was the call that brought the bear to you, and not the mere presence of food? By the bear’s body language. A bruin coming into a food source, be it natural or man-made, often shuffles his feet and acts disinterested. He may be very cautious, circling and testing the wind often knowing full well the site could be dangerous.
When a dominant bear comes in to a call, even if he circles, he does so in an aggressive manner. His ears will be pinned back, his hackles will be raised and he may very well be slobbering drool all over himself. Remember, all his senses will be riveted on discovering and then killing another animal for food – not to steal a donut from a bait pile or a mouth full of berries from an unprotected berry patch.
A FEW WORDS OF CAUTION
A predator call can lure more than a black bear into your lap. Coyotes, mountain lions and bobcats will all respond to the squeals of a predator call, and so will a grizzly bear. Keep in mind that a black bear coming to a call believes he is on the threshold of an easy meal. He’s nothing to fool around with. Indeed, all black bears are potentially dangerous, and one coming to a call even more so. One tactic to counter act this threat is where legal to carry 12-shotgun or a large can of pepper spray. Another is to hunt with a partner, sitting back to back to avoid being blindsided by a hungry bruin.