8 Over-the-Counter Western Black Bear Hunts

Black bear hunts are an overlooked opportunity to experience hunting in the western United States. The popular elk and deer tags of the West are often difficult to obtain, limiting opportunities for hunters. By contrast, black bear permits in most western states can be obtained over-the-counter (OTC), and large portions of states are open to generous hunting seasons.

What’s more, black bears are excellent table fare. Black bear meat has a higher fat content than most game species (like elk and deer). I find the fat levels in bear meat similar to grass-fed beef. This gives it a more mild flavor.

Hunting seasons for black bears often fall outside of other big game hunts, providing additional opportunities to have hunting adventures in the mountains. If you’re interested in giving black bear hunting a try, here are some of the best opportunities the western United States has to offer.

The author with a black bear (a small one) taken during an over-the-counter hunt.

1. Arizona

Arizona may not be the first state that comes to mind when you think about hunting bears. But Arizona does offer generous spring and fall bear hunting seasons.

About half of the units with black bears are open for over-the-counter hunters. The other half of the units are only available through a limited draw.

Arizona, like many other states, carefully manages its black bear populations. To accomplish this, Arizona sets female harvest limits for each unit. Hunters are required to report any black bear harvest within 24 hours. Once the female harvest limit is reached for a unit, the over-the-counter hunt closes the following Wednesday.

Over-the-counter seasons in Arizona vary by unit. Generally, the spring hunts are open from around the end of March and close around the end of April. Most Fall seasons are open from around the beginning of October through the end of November, with many units also having an earlier season during the middle of August.

More information (and official regulations) is available from the Arizona Game and Fish website.

2. Idaho

Most of Idaho is open for over-the-counter black bear hunts in the spring and the fall. In fact, there are more units in Idaho where you can harvest two black bears (extra tag required) than units requiring a draw. Because of this Idaho is one of the premier black bear hunting destinations in the US.

The general spring season begins April 15 and runs through May 31. However, many units are open through June.

The general fall season runs from August 30 through October 31, with some exceptions.

As previously mentioned, there are several units where a second black bear can be taken with the purchase of a second tag.

Idaho is a great value for black bear hunters, with much of the state open to hunting, generous season dates, and a healthy black bear population.

Bear-baiting is generally allowed in Idaho (requires a bait permit).

Be sure to check out Idaho’s bear hunting regulations for specific information on open units, rules, season dates, and bag limits.

3. Montana

Like Idaho, Montana offers healthy black bear populations and lots of opportunities for resident and non-resident hunters. Montana offers generous spring and fall black bear seasons. Spring season generally runs from April 15 through May 31 with some units running through June 15. The fall season runs from September 15 through November 26, with an archery-only season from September 2-14.

Baiting black bears (or other game animals) is not legal in Montana. There are opportunities for hound hunting, but they are limited, and many of the units in prime black bear habitat do not allow any hound hunting. Black bear hunting in Montana is mostly limited to spot-and-stalk hunting.

Grizzly bears are found throughout much of Montana and hunters are required to pass a bear identification course before hunting black bears.

Find more information and be sure to read all of Montana’s bear hunting regulations here.

4. New Mexico (Fall Only)

Similarly to Arizona, New Mexico is not often considered a black bear hunting state. However, they do have a general, over-the-counter season.

In New Mexico, over-the-counter black bear permits are limited to the fall season. There are various fall hunts (archery only, any weapons, dogs, etc.) that run from around the beginning of September into November or December.

There is limited spring hunting for black bears in New Mexico, and all spring hunts require obtaining a permit through the draw.

Find out more about New Mexico’s over-the-counter bear hunts here.

5. Oregon (Fall Only)

Oregon offers both Spring and Fall bear seasons. However, only permits for the fall season are available over the counter. All spring season bear hunting permits are allocated via a controlled draw.

Oregon has a very healthy population of black bears, and hunters may purchase an additional bear tag to harvest two bears during the general season. Even hunters that successfully draw for the spring bear season may also obtain two tags for the fall, general season.

There are some important things to be aware of as you hunt bears in Oregon. As with other states, Oregon has a mandatory check of all harvested bears. Hunters are required to check in the skull of any harvested bear at at ODFW field office or check-in station within 10 days of harvest. There are also certain dates during big game seasons when it is illegal to hunt with a centerfire rifle unless the hunter possesses a valid deer or elk tag.

As always, be sure to review the regulations before hunting black bears in Oregon.

6. Utah

While not a bear hunting Mecca, Utah has more opportunities than most bear hunters realize. Over-the-counter bear hunts in Utah are harvest-objective hunts, that only allow a certain number of bears to be taken. This is similar to Arizona’s female bear quota, but it applies to both males and females. Hunters need to check in online or over the phone each day to know which units are open for bear hunting.

Only a handful of units are open for Utah’s OTC spring bear hunt, but the units do include many of the areas with higher bear densities.

Utah’s OTC fall hunt includes most of the units in the state.

Most bear hunting opportunities in Utah are for spot-and-stalk or pursuit (hounds) hunting. There are very few opportunities for baiting bears.

For more information be sure to read Utah’s hunting regulations and check out their Hunt Planner application.

7. Washington (Fall Only)

The fall bear season in Washington is very liberal and runs from August 1 to November 15. Hunters are allowed two bears each season (requires the purchase of two tags). However, Washington does not offer a spring bear hunting season.

In my opinion, Washington is an overlooked state for black bear hunting. The lack of a spring season is frustrating, but Washington has a very healthy black bear population and plenty of opportunity to hunt bears in the fall.

If you find the right place you can even take two bears!

Baiting and pursuit (hunting with dogs) are not legal methods to take bears in Washington.

Be aware that hunting in units where grizzly bears may be found requires hunters to pass a grizzly bear identification course before hunting.

Be sure to review Washington’s hunting regulations before your hunt.

8. Wyoming

Wyoming offers over-the-counter spring and fall black bear hunts. The spring season generally runs from May 15 through June 15 and the fall season from September 1 through October 30. However, exact season dates vary by unit with some units opening earlier or later.

In addition, there are special archery season dates. In some units the special archery seasons occur in the spring, and in other units these seasons occur in the fall.

Note that there are special regulations for baiting bears in Wyoming and that bait sites must be registered. Be sure to review all of Wyoming’s baiting regulations.

After harvest, hunters must present the hide and skull of the black bear to an appropriate WGFD official within 72 hours.

Wyoming has harvest mortality limits for female black bears. Once the mortality limit is met for a unit, that unit is closed to hunting for the rest of the season. Hunters are required to confirm the area they are hunting is open by calling the phone number listed in the regulations.

Before participating in a pursuit, bait, or spot-and-stalk hunt be sure to review all of Wyoming’s hunting regulations.

Give it a try!

As you can see, there are many opportunities to hunt black bears in the Western US. Almost every state has an over-the-counter season. Between all the different seasons, there is bound to be one that fits your schedule. All you have to do now is get the tag and plan the travel!

Konrad Hafen

Konrad is a natural resource scientist who spends much of his free time hunting, fishing, hiking and backpacking on America's public lands.

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