By Mike Deming
I can hardly wait for the first big game hunts of the year. Being cooped up all winter long with most of the seasons closed really starts to wear on a guy. Sure those first turkey hunts start in the middle of March, but I’ve never really gotten too excited about the bird and if I hear one more person tell me how much it is like elk hunting, I’m gonna smack ‘em upside the head! I’ve got nothing against turkey hunters or even the sport. I’ve taken my share of them all over the country and have taken my kids after them as well, but there is nothing even remotely similar to chasing a rut crazed, 800 pound brute through several thousand feet of elevation, while he herds a band of cows to the promise land. That moment of truth, when you convince him that he left his hottest cow behind and he circles back into bow range, is a feeling only those who have experienced it truly understand. So, I’m sorry if I don’t jump on the bandwagon about how great turkey hunting is. Look at it this way - there is one less guy out in the woods to compete with.
Fortunately for me, spring bear season is just starting to get into full swing about now. So, I have a good alternative to turkey hunting. Blacks, browns, or grizzlies are all animals that truly get my blood boiling. This is probably why I have harvested 34 of them so far in my life. When you are looking to harvest big mature boars (males), chances are that you are hunting an animal that is likely over ten years old. That means he has a lot of hunting seasons under his belt and has gained a ton of experience making it a chess match and you had better bring your “A” game to have a chance. Whether you opt to pursue your bears with spot and stalk tactics or the use of bait, you will have to do everything right to be successful at harvesting one of these big boys.
First, make sure you check your states regulations on the acceptable methods of hunting them prior to getting a tag. A great majority of the States offer spring bear hunting and there are numerous books on the different tactics. One of the best ways to get your feet wet in the sport is to hire an outfitter. You can glean years of experience in a week’s period of time to help put you way ahead in the bear hunting game.
Since I wasn’t successful in drawing a premium spring bear tag, I decided to look at some options outside of my home state of Utah that offered over the counter opportunities. Idaho is very nearby and offers some very liberal season dates. They also allow baiting with a permit, but due to the distance I would have to travel, I wanted to hire an outfitter. Michael (Sparky) Sparks, who owns M2D Camo Properties, has a huge operation in central Idaho. He is already one of our endorsed outfitters, which always means you will have a quality trip, so I figured I would go with what I knew on this one. One phone call to Sparky and he informed me that he was all ramped up for spring bears and had been running a bunch of baits on his private land. He was seeing good numbers of bears on the trail cameras, so we should be in good shape for the season to get me a crack at a trophy-class bear.
This was the bear we finally harvested after he had given us the slip for numerous days.
Mid-May we arrived at his operation in central Idaho. Sparky had already pulled all the trail camera cards and had them loaded onto his computer to show us what was hitting the baits and was in the area consistently. Since I’m pretty picky on what I want to shoot, we were flying through the hundreds of photos he had. All of a sudden, we came to a screeching halt when I saw this monster color phase bear. He had that huge blocky boar head and his back was nearly as high as the 55 gallon bait barrel he was attacking. As with most mature bears, he was not having any part of hitting the baits during the daylight hours. He would occasionally make it to the bait with a minute or two of legal shooting light, but would usually come in well after dark. There was also a bigger bear that was totally black with a white patch on his chest that I would consider, but he didn’t have any sort of pattern to his visits at all. The number of younger bears and sows in the area told me that there was a very healthy bear population and that we just might have a shot at tagging a true bruiser.
The thing I truly love about bear hunting is that it really isn’t a morning sport. In the 34 bears that I have harvested, only one of them was taken before noon. It is to the point in my hunting of bears that I don’t even spend any time either in the stand or pursuing them until late afternoon, which makes for a lot of down time around camp. Where Sparky’s ranch is, the primary crop is alfalfa and the ranchers absolutely hate the damage ground squirrels do. These ground squirrels provide some great practice for your rimfire rifles and a good way to spend a good portion of the day. The fishing on the small streams is another great way to spend the day as well.
By three O’clock, it’s time to switch your focus to bruins. I was interested in harvesting the big color phase bear with my bow. So, although I had the rifle along, I would spend the first few days trying to get it done with archery equipment. We had several smaller bears come into the bait, but they were very cautious. I figured the big boar had left his mark in the area and was definitely somebody to be worried about for these lesser bears and sows until the mating season kicked in. We waited until the very last seconds of legal shooting light, but no sign of the big bear.
Days two and three were a lot more of the same. The bait was in a good area, but since we had been hunting it, the big bear had totally disappeared during daylight hours. He had made one visit late at night, but that was all. I figured that he was coming in very cautious and somehow winding our setup.
Sparky was showing us numerous high quality bears suitable to put a tag on. We chose to wait for a chance at the color phase bear.
On Day 4, we decided to sit back at nearly a half mile away and watch through the spotting scope. If we got lucky enough and he came out early, we would be able to close the gap and get in for a shot before the daylight ran out. Just as the sun was setting, I caught a glimpse of a color phased bear. He got on his hind legs several times and sniffed the air. When he was sure nobody was near the site, he moved into the area. We did our best to get to the bait site prior to running out of legal shooting light, but when we got there, the big boy was long gone. We pulled the trail camera card and it revealed that he had probably heard us and vacated the area. He was a smart bear and had played this game plenty. Sparky kept pulling other trail camera pics and telling us of the other great bears we could go after, but I was now taking this kind of personal and wanted this guy or nothing. I’ve only taken a couple of color phased bears and this one would by far be my biggest if I could connect.
Not only does the Idaho property have great bears, but it also has a good number of elk as well. They run nearly one hundred percent success rate on archery and rifle hunters.
I swallowed my pride and put down my archery tackle. My custom .26 Nosler was going to tip the odds in my favor because I could now sit across the canyon, at just under 450 yards and wait for the big boy to make a mistake. We got in position early in the afternoon and settled into a good shooting position. Soon we spotted a nice color phased bear in the sagebrush above us. He was ambling along and headed in the direction of the bait, but not providing any good shot opportunities or any way to truly evaluate his size. It wasn’t until he walked up to the fence that we realized he was a giant and he was also our target bear. His back was above the top wire on the fence and was all I needed to see to get me serious about harvesting this bear.
We scrambled to get into position and get the camera rolling, but by the time we put it all together, he had dropped out of site. We had a long time before dark, so we hoped he would come out by the bait site. We waited for what seemed like forever and we were starting to think we blew our chances. With about fifteen minutes to spare, he came out way below the bait site in the sage brush. He had totally circled the area to make sure it was safe to approach. I’m sure that he had probably done this same thing when we were in position with my bow and he winded us and took off. He wasn’t aware that he was the one being watched this time. He was going to have no part of getting anywhere near that bait site while it was daylight and the huge sagebrush was providing him some good cover. With a few minutes to spare, he stepped into a small window in the sagebrush and I sent the 127 grain Barnes bullet through both shoulders. He crumbled in his tracks. We high-fived and celebrated our victory. We had accomplished what we set out to do in harvesting a huge color phase bear.
You don’t have to travel to the midwest to kill good whitetails. This 160-class buck was one of many seen during the season.
It took us until well after dark to walk to the kill site and there was no ground shrinkage when we got there. This bear was well over six and half feet long and had a skull in excess of 19.5”. I would consider this an excellent trophy anywhere, but over the top for an over the counter tag and a trip we planned at the last minute. Sparky was absolutely right when he told us that he had good bears and lots of ‘em.
Sparky Sparks owns M2D Camo Properties and his Idaho operation is one of the most game rich places I’ve had the pleasure of hunting. The September archery elk hunting is over the counter as well and since his land is primarily alfalfa fields, they hold the majority of the elk in the area. Having multiple shot opportunities at good six-point bulls is the rule of thumb, regardless of your skill level. Also, whitetail deer are abundant as well as antelope. Rifle elk are limited draw, but if you are one of the fortunate few who get a chance to hunt this ranch with these limited tags, you are likely to get a crack at a 330-350 bull. The spring bear hunting is pretty darn good as well and a great way to experience what this outfitter has to offer first hand. This ranch is managed for a great experience and availability is limited, so book early to secure your spot. Visit them at M2Dcamoproperties.com
or call at 509-499-4861.