Black Bear on the Pacific Coast - Oregon

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

With mild temperatures and abundant food sources, bear habitat is ideal along the Pacific Coast. There are many places to pursue Ursus americanus, but Washington, Oregon and California offer some of the best opportunities in North America. From the beach to the Great Basin and beyond, we help you find some of the best places to hunt in each state.


Oregon's bear population numbers between 25,000 and 35,000 animals, spread over approximately 40,000 square miles of habitat. In 1994, voters banned the use of hounds or hunting with bait. Hunter success plummeted in the years after the ban, but as bear numbers increased and more hunters adapted to spot-and-stalk and calling tactics, hunter success has improved. 

Bear population densities are highest in the Coast and Cascade ranges and in the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon. There are fewer bears in the high desert and in the arid Great Basin region. 

Color phases are more common in northeast Oregon. One study made in Wallowa County showed that 46 percent were brown, 26 percent were black, 24 percent were blonde and 4 percent were cinnamon in color. 

In 2010, Oregon hunters accounted for a total of 1,235 bears up from 698 bears in the 2009 season. 

Spring Hunts

Sometime in March or April, when the sun pushes back the clouds, when the grass turns green and the buttercups bloom, Oregon's black bears emerge from their long winter sleep. 

Hungry bruins head straight for the river valleys early in the spring, taking advantage of succulent forage they find below the snowline. Grasses, grubs, flowers, and the tender shoots of smaller trees and shrubs are the target as the bears get their digestive juices flowing again.

Want to know which areas of the state harbor the most bruins? Take a look at the Oregon Big Game Regulations. Spring hunts, beginning in April, are used to control bear numbers in areas where predation on elk calves and deer fawns is high and where bear numbers need to be kept in check to minimize conflicts. Oregon's spring hunts are controlled by a lottery system that limits hunters in each of the open units. 

Tag numbers and success rates run highest in the Snake River, Sled Springs-Chesnimnus and Pine Creek-Keating-Catherine Creek hunts.

If you want to draw a tag the first year you apply, the best odds are in the Wilson-Trask, Saddle Mountain-Scappoose, Hood Unit, South Central, South Blue Mountains and Starkey hunts. The application deadline for the spring hunt is February 10. 

While northeast Oregon holds the highest success rates, the best opportunity lies in the southwest corner of the state. In the spring hunt there are 4,000 tags available on a first-come, first-served basis.

West of the Cascades, the season opens April 1. April 15 is the opener in most of the northeast hunts. Hunt the middle of the season for the best chances of seeing bear; use the early season for scouting trips. Invest the time in places where you find fresh sign and be patient – the bears are there.

Fall Hunts

The general statewide season runs August 1 – December 31 on the west side of the state. East of the Cascades, the bear season runs August through November. Residents and non-residents may buy an additional tag in southwest Oregon and the Cascades.

For more details, see

Successful hunters must present the bear's skull (unfrozen) to an ODFW office during normal business hours within ten days of the kill to be checked and marked.

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