How to Find Black Bears in the Spring

In most of the western and northwestern states (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Montana) spring black bear hunts begin shortly after bears emerge from their dens following hibernation. Springtime can be a great time to find bears because they are trying hard to fill their bellies after a long winter. In the cooler springtime temperatures, black bears may also be more active during daylight hours than they would be at other times of the year.

There are two primary ways to find black bears: spotting bears with optics and attracting bears to a bait site. To spot bears, find a good vantage point that overlooks good bear habitat and use your binoculars and spotting scope to locate bears as they move through openings while feeding or traveling. To bait bears, you’ll need to transport bait into an area where bears will be able to find it, then wait for the bears to show up. Baiting is not allowed in some areas, so be sure to follow all local laws when setting up a bait site. When spotting or bating, make sure you’re in habitat the bears are likely to use.

Spring black bears are going to be looking for food to get their digestive systems going after hibernation, and plants are often their preferred springtime forage. Bears also need water and shady bedding cover. In the springtime, black bears will seek out open meadows and slopes that contain plenty of new, green vegetation and that are also close to shady timbered areas and water. Areas that have food and water and are near den sites will have the best likelihood of attracting bears.

Whether spotting and stalking or baiting black bears, understanding their hibernation and springtime needs will get you into the best locations to see bears. That means you need to find the best bear habitat.

Find Black Bear Habitat

Before you start looking for bears or tying to bring some into your bait, you’ll want to make sure you’re in an area that bears are living. To do this find areas that have all the resources bears need to survive (habitat). Black bear habitat can change between spring and fall. As long as you consider what bears need for food, water, shelter, and hibernation dens you should be able to get a good idea of where you might find some black bears.


The diet of most inland black bears consists of more than 90% plants (source). In these areas bears usually emerge from their dens sometime in March or April. At this time of year grasses and forbs (things like wildflowers and clovers) are just beginning to sprout and grow. Bears will seek out the greenest, most nutrient-rich plants they can find at this time of year. You can often find bears by finding the greenest, richest looking vegetation.

Vegetation on south-facing slopes usually greens up first, but don’t discount the small pockets of vegetation on north-facing slopes. Bears may spend more time feeding on north-facing slopes where more shade is present on warm days.

Closed roads are often used by bears in the springtime because they make travel easy, and often have lots of grass because the sunlight easily reaches the ground. Many logging roads are actually seeded with native grasses after logging operations are complete, making them a perfect place for bears to eat. Often, roads occur next to stands of timber, which makes for a short trip between bedding and feeding locations.

Early in the season, especially if spring is a little late coming, there will be little green vegetation as bears come out of hibernation. In this situation you may find bears flipping over rocks, looking for insects, larvae, and small plants underneath. They may also tear open logs and stumps to get at food. Always be on the lookout for flipped rocks and logs and stumps that are torn up. Finding these features will give you indications of the areas bears may be and what they may be eating.

Even though the majority of a bear’s diet consists of plants, don’t discount fresh animal carcasses. It’s not uncommon to come across winter-killed big-game animals in the spring, and these carcasses can be hot spots for bear activity. A deer or elk is a huge source of protein for a bear that has just come out of hibernation. It’s not uncommon for several bears to hang around carcasses in the springtime, so if you find one it’s worth spending some time in the area.


Obviously, black bears need water, just like all other animals. Because water has a high specific heat (it holds its heat well and takes a big temperature change to warm up or cool down a lot) vegetation next to streams can be the first to green-up in spring. In some places, there may be green vegetation next to streams year-round, even with snow on the ground. Naturally, this would be a good place to find bears early in the season. As days warm up in the springtime, water sources become even more important. Bears will frequently visit water to drink and cool off with a good wallow during the heat of the day.

In coastal areas, aquatic species can be a huge part of bears’ diets. For example, in areas with large salmon runs bears will travel from one river to another to find the most salmon. In coastal areas, bears may feed heavily on shellfish and other seafood.


Black bears are a predator, but they still need shelter and security. On hot spring days their thick, black coats are going to soak up a lot of sunlight and heat. To keep from overheating bears will seek out shady timber on the cooler north slopes. If you’re hunting on warm days make sure you’re hunting near areas that provide some sort of shade for bears to hole up in.

Throughout much of their range, bears still face danger from other predators. Adult black bears are usually quite safe from other predators, but black bear cubs are quite susceptible to grizzly bears, wolves, and male black bears (source). When black bears are threatened, they often escape danger by climbing a tree. Even when they’re not threatened you will often find black bears relaxing in trees.

Denning Locations

One last consideration for identifying black bear habitat is denning locations. Bears need places they can hole up and hibernate for the winter. If there isn’t anywhere for bears to hibernate, there probably won’t be very many bears in the area. Bears are often given the stereotype of hibernating in caves, but they often dig their own dens, crawl under big piles of windfall, or use hollow trees (source). Bear dens occur at various elevations. Black bears may prefer to den on north-facing slopes and in areas of thick vegetation cover when denning at lower elevations (source).

Black bears spend more time hibernating in colder climates (like Alaska) than in warmer climate. In warmer areas, hibernation may only last a few weeks, while hibernation can last several months in the colder climates (source).

Methods To Find Black Bears

As you move higher up the food chain the densities of animals become more scarce. For example, there are innumerable amounts of plants, smaller numbers of animals that eat the plants, and even smaller numbers of predators that eat the animals. Thus, you should expect to see fewer bears than you would animals like deer or elk. That said, it’s not uncommon to have days where you see multiple bears, and a sighting is always exciting.


Glassing refers to using optics (looking through glass) to find animals or objects. Obviously, you’ll need a set of binoculars and/or a spotting scope. You’ll also need to find some good vantage points and be willing to hike to get to areas away from pressure and hike some more to get close to a bear once you spot it.

Glassing is my favorite way to locate and hunt bears. I have a hard time sitting in a stand or blind over bait. I like to be moving. Glassing also requires minimal gear. I’ve glassed plenty of bears with measly eight power binoculars. Some as far as two miles away. Black bears (especially the ones that are black in color) are really easy to spot when they’re in the open, especially when they’re patches of green grass.

There are many ways to glass for bears. You can drive roads with good views of canyons and ridges and glass from your vehicle, you can find a good vantage point that overlooks miles of country and post up for the day, or you can move from vantage point to vantage point throughout the day to find the best areas.

I’ll usually mark a few potential vantage points a mile or more from roads and rank them based on which ones I think will be best. I start at spot number one. If it looks really good, and there’s a lot of country to look at and keep me entertained, I might stay there all day. If a spot doesn’t have as good of a view as I expected, or the habitat isn’t what I thought, I might only give it a few minutes before I move to the next spot.

Early morning and late afternoon and evening are when bears are most likely to be out and feeding. In a new area, I’ll often spend the middle of the day scouting out glassing locations so that I can find the best location and be there during prime time.

Following a similar method, you will eventually find a bear. Mentally, your first bear will be the hardest to find. Until you find a bear you’ll find yourself questioning your selection of location, your ability to see bears if they are there, or if there are even any bears in the area. Once you spot that first bear you get a big confidence boost and it will help you start to recognize what to look for.

When you get discouraged, and there’s a good chance you will, keep glassing. Try new places. Try old places at different times of the day. Talk to other hunters to find out if they are seeing anything. If there are bears in the area you will see one if you put in the effort.


Baiting is probably the most common way to find and black bears. Before you start baiting, check regulations for your hunting area. Baiting is not allowed in some locations. There are also restrictions on what can be used for bait and materials that can or cannot be present at bait sites.

The idea behind baiting is simple. Put something out that attracts bears and wait for them to come to it. Black bears are attracted to many different baits, including grain, donuts, meat, cooking oil, sugar, and popcorn. Most often you’ll use a combination of ingredients. Every hunter seems to have a different bear bait recipe that works best for them.

Baiting bears is most effective in thicker vegetation where spotting bears would be extremely difficult. While it may seem easy to put out some bait and wait for bears to show up, baiting is usually a lot of work. Once a bait site is set up, it can take a few weeks for bears to find the bait. You’ll also have to restock the bait once the bears eat it to keep them coming back.

Bait sites are most often located within a mile of roads to make transporting bait, barrels, tree stands, and blinds more manageable. You’ll probably want a trail camera at your bait site to know if bears are coming in, how many there are, and what times of day they’re visiting your site.

Pay special attention to location when setting up your bait site. Bears are more likely to be active in shady, sheltered areas during daylight hours, so setting up your site on forested north-facing slopes may give you the best chance to find bears. Also, be conscious of wind patterns. Bears have great noses, so you want the scent of your bait to carry to as many bears as possible, but you don’t want bears to catch your scent while you’re waiting to ambush them.

Bear-baiting is a lot of work, but it results in lots of in-close encounters. You’ll also get lots of opportunities to observe bear behavior.

Look for Bear Sign

Next to actually seeing a bear, seeing bear sign is the best way to know bears are in an area. As you’re moving through areas, always be on the lookout for scat and tracks. If you’re in an area that you’re not sure holds bears and you’ve spent a lot of time sitting over bait or glassing and haven’t seen any bears you may want to spend some time searching for bear sign.

Bear scat is often much easier to find than bear tracks because tracks are hard to identify in grass, rocks, and brush. Bear scat looks a lot like human scat, and you can often get an idea of what a bear has been eating by examining a good scat pile. As I mentioned before, bears will often frequent old logging roads, especially those with lots of grass. Walking the logging roads is often a good way to find some sign and get an idea of where bears may be.

Always look for bear sign. You never know when you might find that perfect honey hole.


If you live near an area that has black bears and want to find them you can give glassing or baiting a try. Because their population densities are low, it may take some work to get your first sighting, but it’s also not uncommon to see multiple bears in a day. Bears are extremely fun to watch. They have many different mannerisms and behaviors that will keep you entertained for hours.

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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