High Altitude August Bears in the Berry Patch
By Gary Lewis
General season black bear hunting opens August 1 and runs through November 30 in eastern Oregon and December 31 in western Oregon. To find a bear early in the season, hunt the food sources that are available. In August and September, that means hiking the high mountain meadows and the old burns where huckleberries grow. In the alpine, small berry bushes such as crowberry, blueberry and bearberry often are a food source for a bruin.
Bears have poor eyesight but make up for it with good hearing and a superb sense of smell. To be successful on a bear hunt, you must pay attention to the wind, testing it frequently to make sure any bears ahead are not being forewarned of your approach.
When circumstances permit, take a high vantage point and glass berry patches. If there is fruit on the vine, you can bet the bears know about it. Be patient and they will show.
When you go after a black bear, you often can’t take the first one you find. It is illegal to hunt cubs or sows with cubs. If a trophy is desired, the game becomes even more difficult. You look for a bear with small ears relative to the size of the head. A bear with ears that appear large, and legs that appear long is a younger animal.
Hunters looking for a bearskin rug should be more selective. In warm weather, many bears rub bare spots in their hides, scratching against boulders and trees. It might mean that you pass up the only bear you will see and never spot another. That’s part of the challenge and the reason that you want to bring the best optics you can afford.
The best binocular for the bear hunter is a 7x to 8x model with a 35 to 50mm objective lens. Large objective lenses provide superior light-gathering capability. Bear country is not the place for compact binoculars. You may spend hours behind the glasses, watching for animals on the opposite hillside.
In western Oregon, the Wilson unit is a good bet for black bear as are the Stott Mountain and Alsea units and all the southwest Oregon units. The Santiam and McKenzie units also have good populations of bears. There are bears all along the coast, with the areas of succulent vegetation and berry patches the better picks.
In eastern Oregon there are good bear populations from the Heppner unit east to the Idaho border. Again, look for areas with succulent vegetation and old burns where you can find huckleberry bushes.