SALEM, Ore.—The controlled spring bear season opens April 1 in parts of western Oregon and the west Blue Mountains, but wait until later in the season for the best hunting say wildlife biologists.
This year’s heavier snow pack means bears are likely to get active later in the season. “We usually see bears out foraging in mid-March, but not this year,” remarked Bill Kinyoun, assistant district wildlife biologist in Charleston. Snow will also make access to higher elevations difficult.
Once it does warm up, expect good hunting because Oregon’s black bear population continues to thrive. Remember the deadline to purchase your tag is the day before your hunt begins, or March 31 for western Oregon hunts and the W. Blue Mountains hunt and April 14 for all other spring bear hunts.
Hunting tips for spring bear hunters:
- Look for open areas where bears will be moving through or foraging, including clear-cuts, meadows and open slopes that have cleared of snow.
- Earlier in the season, focus on south-facing slopes with rapid spring growth and open canyon slopes, where bears can be seen feeding on grass and digging roots.
- Predator calls are recommended later in the season when elk begin calving. Use calls near open meadows in forested areas.
- Find good vantage points and utilize optics to locate bears; early morning and late afternoon to evening are the best time to glass.
- Know your target—remember it is unlawful to take cubs less than one year old or sows with cubs less than one year old.
- See below for more information on conditions and locations to hunt. Information on the remaining eastside hunts will be made available closer to their April 15 opener.
Mandatory check-in of bears
New for this year, successful hunters will be required to check in their bears at ODFW offices within 10 days of harvest. See the link below to find out how the check in process works
The change is due to consistent low participation in the voluntary check-in program. The teeth are a critical part of the method used to determine bear populations. That method works like this: Tetracycline-laced baits are placed in the wild for bears to eat (tetracycline is an antibiotic that leaves a permanent stain on teeth that is visible under UV light). Population estimates are calculated from the ratio of marked to unmarked teeth obtained from harvested bears.
ODFW also asks any hunter that takes a female bear to collect and turn in its reproductive tract for use in bear research.
Northwest Region Hunts
Wilson-Trask units (Hunt 712A, April 1 – May 31, weapon restrictions in the Cascade Head area of Trask)
Green-up is occurring later than usual, the higher elevations of the coast range still have snow, and the district has not received reports of bears out and about yet. Hunting could be good, but later in the season says Tillamook District Wildlife Biologist Herman Biederbeck. “Don’t be in a hurry to get out there April 1, especially in the higher elevations,” advises Biederbeck. Last year’s success rate for this hunt was 6 percent, with 270 hunters taking 16 bears.
Locations: Hunters can utilize state and federal lands in the units, including the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests and Siuslaw National Forest. Private forest and agriculture lands dominate the eastern side of the Trask unit; access is by permission only. Due to the heavy snow this winter, there are road systems that have not been maintained since the fall of 2007. Bear hunters will find most mainline roads open for travel but secondary roads may still have downed trees, washouts or debris slides that could restrict travel.
N. Cascades (Hunt 716A, April 1 – May 31, Santiam and McKenzie units excluding portions of Marion and Linn counties outside the Willamette National Forest)
Expect better hunting later in the season (late April/early May) due to the snow pack, which will make early season access to mid and upper elevations difficult. Watch weather forecasts to help predict snowmelt; warmer weather will be key for vegetation growth and increased bear activity. If you want to get out early, start along riparian corridors at lower elevations. Last year, success rate for this hunt was 4 percent, with 235 hunters taking 10 bears.
Locations: Hunters should find plenty of opportunity on the Mt. Hood and Willamette National Forests. Remember that the Marion and Linn County portions of the Santiam and McKenzie Units are open only on the Willamette National Forest; private and BLM lands within these two counties are not included in the hunt boundary.
Alsea-Stott Mt.(Hunt 717A, April 1 – May 31, weapon restrictions in part of Stott Mt)
ODFW’s Newport office has already received reports of bear sightings; some bears in this area are out and about early. There is snow in the higher elevations and these areas will be slow to green up. Bears preferred food sources in the early spring are skunk cabbage and other riparian plants. Riparian corridors are often productive for hunters.
Location: Access is fair on mainline forest roads. In particular, Siuslaw National Forest lands on the central coast south of Waldport have well-maintained roads, making them good places to hunt. Last year, success rate was 14 percent, with 148 hunters taking 20 bears.
Southwest Region Hunts
SW Oregon (Hunt 722A, April 1 – May 31, 11 WMUs that comprise the entire Southwest Region. Remember lands within one mile of the Rogue River between Grave and Lobster creeks are closed.)
The bear hunting season always tends to get underway slowly, and this year even more so due to heavy snow pack. “We did our elk surveys in mid-March and we typically see bears out foraging, but not this year, and no damage complaints yet either,” said Assistant District Wildlife Biologist Bill Kinyoun based in Charleston. “Often times when we have snow pack in the mountains like we have now, there is little if any activity at the beginning of the season,” added District Wildlife Biologist Clayton Barber from Gold Beach. Hunting should be good when weather improves and snow melts. Bear numbers in the entire region have been stable for many years. In general, bear density is greatest closer to the coast. Good spots to check are skid roads and side roads that are un-traveled with lots of grassy margins and bear sign. The Biscuit fire area around the Kalmiopisis Wilderness Area in the Chetco unit continues to offer better visibility than other areas. Last year’s success rate in SW Oregon was 14 percent, with 1,891 hunters harvesting 256 bears.
Locations: There is lots of public land in the SW Oregon hunt, including national forest land (Siuslaw, Rogue-Siskiyou, Umpqua), BLM land and state land like Elliot State Forest. Hunters can also try calling private timberland companies as some offer access. Hunters can access public land and some private timberland through the Jackson Cooperative Travel Management Area (JACTMA). JACTMA restricts use of certain roads through April 30; for a map contact an ODFW office.
Northeast Region Hunts
W. Blue Mountains (Hunt 749A, April 1 – May 31, includes 4 WMUs Fossil, Heppner, Ukiah, Mt. Emily)
This area’s bears tend to get active later in April. Bear density is highest in the northern portion (north of Interstate 84) and lower as one goes south and west in the hunt area. Bear activity early in the season is concentrated along the lower elevation fringes of national forest land. Bears follow the green-up elevation band; concentrate on timbered slopes with small openings with lush green moss, sedge, or grassy areas. Last year, the success rate was 20 percent, the highest of all spring bear hunts, with 138 hunters taking 28 bears.
Locations: The hunt boundary contains a large amount of public land including the Umatilla National Forest.
Hunts opening April 15
High Desert Region
South Central (Hunt 731A, April 15 – May 31, WMUs Keno, Klamath Falls, Sprague, Warner, Interstate, Silver Lake, and Fort Rock)
KLAMATH WATERSHED DISTRICT: Bear populations are stable to slightly increasing but low compared to other areas of the state. The highest bear densities are in the Cascade Mountains with lower densities in the dryer semi-desert portions of the hunt area. Areas for hunters to check include the Keno Unit, western portion of the Sprague Unit, and the Gearhart Mountain area in the Interstate Unit. Focus on the unburned fringes around 2002 fires (Grizzly Fire in Interstate, Toolbox/Winter Fire in Silver Lake) and in riparian areas. Public access is good within the Fremont-Winema National Forest and on open private timberland. Please respect private property, avoid driving on soft or muddy roads. Access for the opener will be limited by snow at all but the lowest elevations.
DESCHUTES WATERSHED DISTRICT: For the northern portion of Fort Rock unit that lies in the hunt, bear populations are low and hunters should expect low success. Bear activity is most common west of Highway 97 in the vicinity of riparian vegetation. Deschutes National Forest comprises the majority of the hunt area and is open to hunting. Snow conditions willlimit access in higher elevations.
Hood Unit (Hunt 742, April 15-May 31)
Few bears were harvested in the Hood unit last year. Snowpack in higher elevations of the Hood unit will keep many bears in hibernation longer this year and reduce early season access. Hunters wanting to hunt the early part of the season should focus their efforts on clearcuts at lower elevations. Later in the season, when beehives are out in orchards for pollination, hunt forestland near the beehives or seek permission to hunt on private orchard ground that borders the timber. Hunters can utilize both public land (Mt. Hood National Forest and Hood River County land) and private industrial forestland which is open to hunting. Keep in mind that Forest Service Road 16 on the east end is closed due to a bridge washout, so the road is closed to the Red Hill area.
South Blue Mtns (Hunt 746A, April 15-May 31, WMUs Murderers Creek, Northside, Desolation, Sumpter, Beulah, Malheur River, Silvies)
Bear populations are stable but this hunt is still challenging, due to the heavy forested terrain which makes it difficult to spot bears. Observations from an ongoing statewide bear study suggest that the northwest section of the Beulah Unit and the Northside Unit have higher bear densities. Hunters often use the tag as an opportunity to scout new hunting areas for next fall’s deer and elk seasons, turkey hunt, or collect shed antlers. The hunt area experienced a heavy winter and snow levels are above average in the higher elevations, where hunters should focus their efforts. Most bear habitat for this hunt is in national forests (Malheur, Ochoco, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman) with some BLM land in the western Northside unit, though access to this area will be difficult. Consult federal land managers for any road closures or restrictions. Private lands are by permission hunting only. Remember it is legal to take naturally shed antlers, but not skulls with antlers attached.
Starkey (Hunt 752A, April 15 – May 31, no hunting in Starkey Experimental Forest and Range fenced enclosure and a ¼ mile buffer outside exterior 8-ft. fence)
Bear numbers are good. Access will be a major consideration this spring as the residual snow in many areas is substantial. Bring tire chains, shovels and possibly snow shoes and winches. Also bring survival gear in case you get stuck overnight. Some lower elevation private timberlands are open to the public and well-marked. Those hunters willing to hike into areas to view open south slopes should have minimal interaction with motorized traffic.
Wallowa District Hunts (April 15- May 31)
General overview: Hunter success is expected to be similar to past years with bear numbers stable in all units except Snake River, where numbers seem to be down slightly. Deep snow will prevent hunters from accessing traditional hunting areas in all units. If weather patterns continue to be cold, hunters can expect bear activity to be slow until warmer weather patterns prevail. Bear activity generally improves by the first week of May.
Hunt 756 and 756T (youth hunt), Wenaha Unit: Deep snow at higher elevations. Hunters can utilize the Umatilla National Forest but the forest does maintain a road closure in portions of the unit; call for more information (tel. 541-278-3716).
Hunt 757A and 757T (youth hunt), Sled Springs and Chesnimnus units: Deep snow at higher elevations. Wallowa-Whitman national forestlands provide good hunting opportunities. Remember the Noregaard, Whiskey Creek and Shamrock Travel Management Areas will be in effect in the Sled Spring unit through May 31; maps are available at entrance points or at ODFW’s Enterprise office.
Hunt 759A, Snake River Unit: Bear numbers appear to be down slightly. Wallowa-Whitman national forestlands provide good hunting opportunities. Most of the Snake River unit still has a considerable amount of snow, so access will be difficult until May.
Hunt 760A and 760T (youth hunt), Minam and Imnaha units: Hunters can utilize the Eagle Cap Wilderness; bears are generally located at lower elevations. Much of the wilderness is heavily timbered making visibility a challenge. The lower reaches of Bear Creek and the Minam River are good places to hunt. Portions of the Minam and Imnaha units still have a considerable amount of snow so access will be difficult until May.
Pine Creek-Keating-Catherine Creek (Hunt 762A)
Heavy snow pack and a later-than-average spring means bears are going to be out of the den later than usual. Boars should be up and moving earlier in the season than sows with cubs, but be sure and identify your target correctly. Look for open slopes with the most green-up of spring vegetation. Stick to public land in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and the Elkhorn Mountains in the Pine Creek unit.
Lookout Mt. Unit (764)
A late spring combined with heavy snow pack means bears will be out later than usual. Heavy high and mid elevations snow will reduce motorized access to this unit. Private lands limit access for this hunt; only hunters that already had permission from private landowners should have applied for this hunt.