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Shelby's Trophy Guide Service.  Specializing in trophy Blacktail deer in the western Washington area, Shelby's Trophy Guide Service has over 29 years of experience, and is owned and operated by Boyd "Edward" Shelby Jr. Book your hunt today (360) 373-5720

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Washington State Black Bear Tips

distribution map                                 Bear ID link from WDFW

If you can contribute information click here Submit information (tips, area suggestions, etc)

This hunting information is provided as advice only.  It is the duty of the hunter to ensure that he or she is complying with all current laws and regulations.


For this species there are a few basics you need to understand in order to hunt them legally with the proper licenses and tags.  The WDFW regulations have a number of exceptions to the information provided below, these are general statements meant to help point the beginning hunter in hunting this particular species.  It is also the duty of the hunter to ensure that he or she is complying with all rules and regulations put in place for that season, species, and area they are hunting.

Black Bear reside all over Washington State.  To hunt in the fall, a hunter must purchase a Black Bear license (transport tag) and the tag can be used in any open black bear management unit  as determined by the WDFW.  Spring hunting of black bear is currently only open to special permit draws.   There  are no general seasons for Spring hunting.  The general season limit is two animals per year with only one bear harvested from Eastern Washington allowed per year.  There is no "select a weapon" choice requirement as is for deer and elk (Muzzleloader, Modern Firearm, or Bow).

Hunting success requires significant planning and preparation.  Very few hunters can be successful without properly scouting an area or preparing well before the season starts.  The most serious (and successful) hunters "hunt" year-round.  That is to say, they are continually improving their woodmanship, marksmanship, and knowledge of their quarry.  The most successful hunters are in the field every month of the year.  They know their quarry and their hunting areas very well.  Hunting is an activity that is directly affected by the amount of front-end work a person puts into it.

There is no single "right" way to hunt bears... being flexible and paying attention to your surroundings will increase your success.

  • First rule!  Know what you are shooting at !!!  There is no excuse for accidentally shooting something you did not intend to. HWS staff
  • To find out where to hunt.  Go to the Big Game Units page and select an area of the state to see the historical bear harvest records.HWS staff
  • Rough population estimates based on population reconstruction and computer modeling suggest the statewide black bear population is around 25,000-30,000 animals. 2010 WDFW trend report

  • "Black bear are where you find them" is the rule for hunting Washington State bears. HWS staff
  • Glassing and Stalking are a common way to hunt bears in Washington.  Look for bears feeding in the open or rooting around rotting trees. HWS staff
  • There is little way to determine the sex of a bear.  However, if the bear has cubs with it, you can put a safe bet that it is a female.
  • It is illegal to bait bears in Washington State. HWS staff
  • Look for Bear scat to determine where bears are.  Bear scat will usually be substantial in volume and will contain a variety of seeds, hair, and just about anything else. HWS staff
  • Bear have an excellent sense of smell.  Be especially aware of your smell when in bear country. Scent tips HWS staff
  • Look for Bear sign.  It is very easy to tell when a bear has found a log filled with termites or other bugs.  It is a good bet that your bear is somewhere close by if you happen upon a recently torn up log. HWS staff

  • Bear scat (poop)

  • If you are going for a trophy rug... remember that spring bear's coats will not be as vibrant as a fall bear's coat.  Bears who have been dening all winter will have rubbed and scratched most of their hide making for a poor quality rug. (tip courtesy Bob H.)
  • You can tell in snowy areas where a foraging bear is.  The ground will be all torn up and the snow will all be raked away where bears look for squirrel nut cache's, insects, anything.  Bears will get up and forage all throughout the fall and winter. These spots will usually be close to bears dens. (tip courtesy Bob H.)
  • Be ready for a second shot on a presumed dead bear.  It is very common for a mortally hit bear to get back up after being solidly shot.  (tip courtesy Bob H.)
  • Bears naturally run into the wind when they are spooked.  You can use this to your advantage when hunting with another person in your party.  (tip courtesy Bob H.)
  • When hunting black bear in heavy cover where you have located bear signs look for small openings in the forest which has fresh  (green) forbs, leaves and grasses.  Take a stand downwind and watch in the morning and evening.  It will be rare to see a bear in the middle of the day unless it has been spooked.  (tip courtesy Bob H.)
  • Know your weapon's ballistics!   Bear hides are tough and bears are much thicker than deer.  You will need sufficient penetration and expansion (for bullets) to successfully kill a bear.  It is easy to paunch shot a bear, so make sure you hit the shoulder area when you shoot.  (tip courtesy Bob H.)

When hunting in the Northern parts of Washington for Bears, be aware that transient Grizzlies have been spotted.  Know the difference between the Grizzly and the Black Bear.  There are no hunting seasons for the Grizzly bear in Washington State. HWS staff

This is a picture of a Grizzly/Brown Bear - note the hump on its back and its general shape.  Know what you are shooting before you do!

  • Black bears are easily found in areas with significant fields of huckleberries.  You can easily spot them feeding in the open during all times of the day. HWS staff
  • Stands can be used for Black bears.  Position the stand in travel corridors between tall timber and berry fields.  Benches between two prominent hills are good places to ambush bears moving. HWS staff
  • Use your hearing to locate bears.  Bears who are comfortable will make a substantial amount of noise.
  • Be aware of your quarry, if you have the time, wait to see if the bear you are about to shoot has cubs.
  • When hunting bears, pay attention to where you are shooting, the kill zone on a bear is much different than a deer or elk.  Shoot a bit lower on the shoulder than you would with a deer or elk. HWS staff
  • A person would be best suited to stay away from the berry pickers and the roads, and do a lot of glassing. HWS staff
  • Look in some open areas where the berries are early, like during the first part of the fall season of early August. if you can find those early patches of ripening berries, you'll find bear. HWS staff
  • Hire a guide for one season.  Chances are that guide will teach you more during your hunt than you would learn from years of "trying to figure it out on your own."  Guides are willing to teach and are getting paid to give you all their attention.  Most guides will be flattered if you continually pick their brains for information.
  • Great Bear Information site North American Bear Center

  • Calling of bears has been known to be effective.  They are naturally very curious.  A predator call (wounded rabbit, fawn bleat, etc) or the bleat of a cub bear have been known to bring in bears. HWS staff
  • Bears seem to have poor eyesight.  If you stand still, bears may walk right by you. HWS staff
  • When hunting Eastern Washington do not be surprised to see blonde, red, or brown “black” bears.  What you may mistake for a golden retriever, could be a trophy blonde bear.  This is known as color phase. (verify your target before making a shot, shooting anything but what you intend is inexcusable.) HWS staff
  • Look for remote apple trees to wait out a black bear.  Eastern Washington is littered with apple trees in remote areas.  These trees are bear magnets.  HWS staff
  • Very good places to look for bears in a unit is  to watch avalanche chutes and rocky faces where the most tender food sources are.  (courtesy Jim F, Everett)
  • A lot of bears are killed just simply because they happened to be browsing and utilizing logging roads.  It is not uncommon to see bears on logging roads at all times of the day. (courtesy Jim F, Everett)
  • I've had a bunch of success by contacting the major and minor timber companies in this state.  Bears do a whole lot of damage.  The foresters usually have no problem pointing out where the bears are.  (courtesy Jim F, Everett)
  • A big boar will have a noticeably blocky head and the ears will seem small compared to the rest of the head.  A juvenile or female will typically have a narrower head.  If you see a bear with a distinctly blocky head, it is probably a trophy bear.  Any color phase, striped, or pie-bald bear makes for a trophy hide. (Jack R, Shelton)
  • Bear Vital organ location

  • Know your gun and your abilities!  Know that most any wound from a firearm will eventually prove fatal to a bear when winter sets in. Be familiar with your firearm, and be sure to sight in your rifle every year to assure it is shooting accurately. Know your rifles and your own shooting limitations and do not take high risk shots. Be a responsible hunter. (anon)



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