Calling All Bears

Few things in the hunting world are as exciting as calling an animal and having that animal come in for a close encounter. When that animal has teeth, feet, claws, and, often, a lousy demeanor, the situation’s intensity can’t be matched. 

by Scott Haugen

The subtle sound of a twig breaking made my heart leap. “It’s gotta be a squirrel,” I said to myself. Then, another dry stick popped. The heavy foot that caused it also muffled it. Arrow nocked, I wasn’t in a position for a bear to approach from behind.

Though I’d quit calling, the bear kept coming. Soon, I could see its back moving through the brush at the timber’s edge. It was coming right at me. A few more steps and it would be directly downwind. Then it would be over, I thought. I was wrong.

Rather than turn and run, the bear stood on its hind legs. Its wet, shiny black nose pumped the air. It dropped to all fours and slowly skirted to the side. When it hit the main trail, I planned on a bear approaching from in front; it turned and walked in my direction. At 15 yards, it again stood on its hind legs. That’s when we made eye contact. I was already at full draw, but it was a small bear, and I didn’t want to shoot. If it kept coming, I’d have no choice.

The bear kept moving, glancing as it passed by at 12 yards. Fortunately, it kept moving down the trail.

Nothing in the world of big game hunting matches the thrill of calling in predators that have the ability and intention of killing you. This bear came in from behind, winded me, and didn’t have a care in the world. I’ve had them wind me 800 yards away and take off running at full tilt. I’ve also had bears look inside my ground blind and been inches from their teeth. More than one has climbed up the same tree I sat in. If they want to, bears can be fearless.

I’ve been fortunate to call in many bears over the years, and I’ve learned that you never know how such a hunt will unfold. It’s the uncertainty that creates the excitement and makes this style of hunting so addicting.

When calling black bears, let the seasons and terrain dictate where and how you call. What predator sound you choose to make to lure in a bear should be indicative of the food sources available in the area at the time. 

While predator distress calls, wounded woodpecker cries, and screaming rabbit sounds can work year-round, more species-specific sounds can increase the odds of bringing a bear to the call in the spring.

Elk are present year-round in some black bear areas I hunt, so calf and cow sounds can be very productive. In some of these areas, calves start hitting the ground in mid-May, and those distress sounds can be compelling. If you’re a bowhunter, consider using elk decoys, like those made by Montana Decoy, to help capture the attention of an approaching bear and bring it within close shooting range.

Deer fawns are also born in late April, through May, and into June. Fawn and doe distress calls are a good combination at this time. Montana Decoy’s Fawnzy Fawn decoy can help bring a bear out of thick cover, should it be reluctant. 

Where bear densities are high, and competition for boars to breed is intense, bear cub distress sounds can also work very well during the late spring. The bear’s rut usually starts in late May and extends into July, with June being the peak. Boars are known to kill newborn cubs in an attempt to bring a sow into estrus. Boars can also cover 25 miles or more daily amid the most rugged country, searching for a show in heat.

How long to call depends on the situation. If cold-calling, that is, calling without first seeing a bear, call almost nonstop for a solid hour; longer if there is a lot of fresh sign around. Sometimes, bears take their time coming to the call. Other times, they’ll charge in seconds after hearing the first sounds you make. Since you never know how a bear will respond, the goal is to keep their interest, whether you can see the bear you’re calling or not. Constantly making sounds helps keep a bear coming your way when cold-calling.

When pulling bears from dense cover into the open, they move cautiously. This is where switching up calls can help. Maybe a fawn distress call brought the bruin from thick cover, but it may take an alluring bird distress sound to pull it into the open for a shot.

Because calling can last so long, an electronic call is the best option. Be sure to check state regulations on the use of electronic calls for bear hunting. Don’t be afraid to switch up calls, as often variety is the key to attracting bears. Electronic calls are also nice because they can be used hands-free with remote control, and blowing a mouth call for an hour without passing out is impossible.

If calling in big, open country, or thick timber, I like using a Foxpro X24. This electronic call is loud, meaning it can carry a long way and penetrate thick vegetation. Its clarity is impressive and won’t distort at the highest volume. The number of sounds it can store won’t leave you shorthanded.

It’s best to see a bear before calling. Watching how a bear reacts to your calls is the best way to learn what sounds they like and don’t like. I compare calling bears to dealing with teenagers in that you never know what kind of response you’ll get, and often, what you see happen makes zero sense.

Some sounds are met with eagerness, while others are totally ignored. Sometimes, a bear hears a call, starts coming aggressively, then loses interest and wanders off in another direction. Sometimes, a bear won’t even lift its head to acknowledge the sound, though you know it can hear you.

Seeing how a bear reacts to your calls will help you learn about their quirky behaviors. A bear’s inconsistent behavior is the most volatile factor hunters deal with when calling. Often, hunters must change their volume, sound, and even position to keep a bear’s interest level piqued.

When a bear is located, try setting up in a crosswind or downwind from the bear so that when it approaches, it reduces the chance of picking up your scent. If calling bears across an opening, set up in the shadows of trees or bushes. Bears don’t have the most extraordinary eyesight, but I think it’s better than what many people give them credit for. 

A bear’s poor eyesight is often misconstrued for their fearless demeanor. They’re atop the food chain, and seeing a human might not always concern them. When a bear approaches, keep the movement slow and minimal. This is where having a diaphragm call comes in handy, allowing you to make hands-free sounds to either bring 

the bear in those final few yards, or stop it for a shot.

When calling bears, you’re never sure how the hunt will unfold. It’s not for everyone, but once a bear comes in, you’ll discover why those who’ve experienced it are addicted to the thrills and challenges of this hunting style.

Note:To learn how to skin and breakdown a bear, check out Scott Haugen’s popular DVD, Field Dressing, Skinning and Caping Big Game at scotthaugen.com. Follow his adventures on Instagram and Facebook.

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