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Sun. Dec. 17, 10:00 AM ET

The American Black Bear

The American black bear, Ursus americanus, is by far the most widespread bear in the Western Hemisphere and probably the most numerous bear species in the world. Although most typically a forest animal, the black bear is actually quite adaptable, found today in southern swamps, mountain ranges in the arid Southwest, and north of treeline in both Canada and Alaska.

During our pioneering era, black bear numbers were greatly reduced, but in the last century they have made an amazing comeback. The black bear was generally never resident in the treeless Great Plains and is not today, but in recent years, black bears have been sighted in all of the “Lower 48” states, including such seemingly unlikely places as Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

As of 2011, the Black Bear Society reckons that only Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota lack resident, breeding black bear populations…but sightings are increasingly common in all of these states. The black bear is now hunted in 28 states. New Jersey was the most recent state to reopen black bear hunting, and at this writing, the Florida legislature is considering a bear season for the first time in 20 years.

Increases in both range and population have greatly expanded bear hunting opportunities in the last few decades, with black bear hunting now available in every region of the continental United States, across Canada, and, of course, in Alaska (which has a population in excess of 200,000 black bears). Black bear hunting techniques vary perhaps more than with any other game animal. These techniques developed based largely on terrain and vegetation. Both baiting and use of hounds are under attack by the anti-hunters and, very unfortunately, are often not understood by many hunters as well as non-hunters.

In the West, “spot-and-stalk” techniques are by far the most common. I am primarily a Western hunter, and this is my favorite technique. But seeing black bears presupposes enough open country to spot bears moving and vantage points to see them from.

Baiting developed in forested country—primary bear habitat where the generally shy and often nocturnal black bear may be extremely plentiful but is rarely seen. An alternative is hunting with hounds, now under widespread attack from the anti-hunters (often joined by misinformed hunters).

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