Hunt Bears While You Scout For Elk

Few things rival the feeling of being bowhunting close to a springtime bruin with your bow in hand. Plus, while chasing spring bears, you’ll likely find your next elk hotspot.

by Clint Casper

It’s springtime, and most people are thinking about mowing grass, fishing poles, cookouts, and the days becoming longer. However, if you’re a diehard bowhunter, this season is filled with thoughts of turkeys, spring bears, and fall hunts.

It’s a super busy time of year. Anytime I get outside with my bow, I’m trying to kill two birds (no pun intended) with one stone.

Spring bear hunting is one of my favorite bowhunts of the year. Who doesn’t love to chase hungry, rutting boars after they emerge from hibernation with the need to feed and breed on their minds? It’s a classic battle on the ground with an apex predator, and I’ve fallen in love with it!

Still, these are not the only reasons why I love spring bear hunting. Scouting for elk is also a part of this springtime adventure. During this time, bears and elk inhabit much of the same landscape. This provides ample ways to use my hard-earned time wisely and efficiently for both game animals. Let’s dive into how I use spring bear hunting to locate and find elk for my fall hunts. 

Spot and Stalk Bears

Typically, when most people think of spring bear hunting, they think of bait sites and treestands. While this is a very popular way to hunt bears, it’s not the only way. 

Years ago, I was introduced to hunting bears like I hunt mule deer, elk, and antelope — on the ground, spot and stalk. This style of bear hunting and all of the challenges and adrenaline-filled encounters that it can provide make it remarkable. The main focus of this style of hunting is to use your optics to find bears. Then you quickly make a game plan to get to the bear before it moves off.

Where this gets tricky is being on the ground face-to-face with a toothy omnivore. From the get-go, I want to add that carrying bear spray and/or a sidearm is always a must! You will be at ground level with an apex predator, so take extreme caution.

The Game Plan

To find bears, we need to key in on two distinct features: vantage points for glassing and good feeding features. We need to remember that these bears have just come out of hibernation and are ready to replace lost calories and weight as quickly as they can. The greenest slopes, most hidden meadows, and lightly timbered, south-facing pockets of timber (these areas receive the most sunlight) will be where the best feed is and where a bear will want to be. 

The key is to find vantage points that will allow you to glass all this country in search of bears out and about. Bears are most active at night. However, after a night of filling their bellies and a good morning nap, feeding activity tends to heat up mid-morning.  

I like to use the morning hours to slowly pick my way towards these good vantage points and be set up and ready to glass by mid-morning. The hunter that can cover the most ground with his eyes and legs will find and have chances at the most bears. Remember, the rut will soon follow as well, and in many states, the last few weeks of the season is the bear rut. This means that boars will search for estrous sows and cover the country in search of a mate.

Bears Are Where the Elk Are! 

I love to hunt elk every fall. That said, I typically only get to scout the areas I will be elk hunting in once I’m on the hunt. Living in Ohio makes elk scouting before the season difficult. 

Each year, I try to find OTC bear tags in areas where I have the potential to hunt elk. This allows me to scout for elk and elk sign, learn the unit, and visually see the landscape where I will be elk hunting, all while hunting for bears. Like bears during this time of the year, elk will be keying in on the same landscapes — green grass, new growth, hidden pockets, meadows, etc. I’ve always said that bears will be nearby if I find elk in May. 

For one, as we’ve stated, elk and bears will look for the same feed during this time of the year. Green slopes offer the best available feed, and locating elk and bruins is likely if water is nearby. It’s important to note that the south-facing slopes usually burn off snow the fastest and produce the greenest feed first. I key in on these slopes when scouting on onX or Google Maps. Make sure you give these areas a good look and find the best vantage point to glass from.

Another great reason you’ll find bears near the elk is that bears will hunt and eat the baby elk calves as they drop. For a bear, a newborn calf is a quick and easy meal, and during this time of the year, bruins know elk calves will be dropping. Mature bears will follow herds of elk waiting for the calves to be born. As a bear hunter, I want to keep excellent tabs on where I see elk sign and live elk because bears will be nearby. We also want to keep these elk details in our notes for the fall so we can remember what areas had a lot of elk sign, where we saw elk, and how the elk used these areas. These are all precious pieces of information. 

Scout While You Hunt! 

I love to spot and stalk bears in the spring. It’s a beautiful time to be in the high country. I love locating feeding bears with my optics and getting after them on the ground.

I also love that I can scout for elk while I’m bear hunting. One thing that I’ve grown very fond of doing is keeping notes and then transferring those to my onX Hunt app. While hunting, I’m taking notes of game trails, scat, sign, and, of course, where I see elk. I’ll mark all of these waypoints. I also make notes to help me remember exactly where I was and what I saw.

By scouting while I hunt, combined with taking notes and adding waypoints, etc., I can digest and figure out an excellent elk strategy for my fall hunts while bear hunting. I can also use this information for next year’s bear hunts.  All in all, take the time to add notes, waypoints, and markers. You’ll be glad you did, especially after the hunt when it’s time to look over the area you were in and start preparation for your next hunting adventure.

Field Review: Maven B.6 Binos, S.1A Spotter, and RF.1 Rangefinder
British Columbia Black Bear Adventures
Elk Woods Tested: Kryptek & Kuiu
Tested: Benelli BE.S.T. Lupo Camo Bolt-Action Rifle .300 Win. Mag.

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