Black Bear in the Breaks of the Snake
By Gary Lewis
One of the best times of year to hunt bear is in the late summer. And one of the best places to find them is in Northeast Oregon's Snake River, Imnaha and Chesnimnus Units.
When berries ripen in Northeast Oregon, hunters have a chance to see high concentrations of black bear as they move down out of the mountains to put on their winter fat.
This corner of the state is characterized by open country with abundant edge habitat and transitions from tall timber to grassy slopes. It is home to mule deer, whitetail deer and elk – the black bear's natural prey. These Snake River country units are made to order for the spot-and-stalk hunter and for the hunter who prefers a predator call to bring a bruin on the run.
According to Barry Cox, owner of Del Sol Wilderness Adventures (541-398-2088) in Lostine, Oregon, early summer is the best time to hunt bears in mid-level habitat. The spring season finds the bears feeding on biscuitroot on the high, alpine meadows. When the hawthorn berry comes into season in August, bears migrate lower, out of the timber, onto the mountain benches and into the draws to feed.
"They put their winter fat on with those hawthorn berries," Cox said. "Early in the morning is the best time to spot them moving around, going and coming from water. But I have taken bears in the middle of the day."
To find bears in late summer, Cox watches the draws, whether he is riding in the breaks of the Snake or above the Imnaha River. He focuses on the berry bushes, particularly hawthorn berries. "The hawthorn is a shrubby tree that runs up and down the draws, usually pretty close to water. Sometimes you see them out on a bench and that's because there's a spring there or the water is close to the surface," Cox said.
Dan Morse, owner of Canyon Adventures (541-426-9097) watches the orchards for bears in September. "Orchards are the most productive. Old homestead areas almost always have a fruit tree nearby. With the warm weather, bears need relief from the heat so north and east timbered fingers are good places to look. We will see more bear activity in September than in August, most likely due to milder temps and shorter days," Morse said.
Eastern Oregon's General Bear season runs from August 1 to November 30. Summertime bears have shorter hair than spring-season and late fall season bears. If you want a bearskin rug, wait till mid-September for the hair to grow a little longer, but if you just want to hunt bear, consider hunting in August.