Gearing Up for Black Bear Hunters

Got bear hunters? They have specific needs you’ll want to consider stocking for.

Gearing Up for Black Bear Hunters

Black bears are the most commonly hunted of North America’s bears, and outfitting the bear hunter is about the same as outfitting the deer hunter — with a few exceptions. 

While the .243 and .270 may work fine on deer, they can definitely get you in trouble with a big black bear. The high velocity shock that works on deer falls short on bear, which simply need a bigger diameter and heavier bullet. Nothing smaller than .30 caliber is advisable. This can be as small as a .30-30 or it can be a .30-06 with 180-grain bullets, the latter being what many Alaskan brown bear guides want to see their clients use on the giant brown bears of Kodiak Island. A lung shot with this load will bring down the biggest brown bear, and the guide doesn’t have to worry about the client flinching with a gun that has more recoil than the shooter can handle. The .44 Magnum is another proven black bear killer, as was its predecessor, the .44-40, and it comes in light, handy rifles.

The 12-gauge shotgun with the German Brenneke slugs available from Brenneke USA offers stopping power and 100-yard accuracy. 12-gauge slug guns are very popular for deer and bear, and the Brenneke slugs are proven performers.

A lot of bears are taken with pistols. Make sure they have hard cast or FMJ bullets, as you need penetration on bear. If using a .44 or .45 caliber, you already have a big enough hole. I don’t recommend a smaller handgun bore size on bear.

Black bears are often shot in thick cover and rarely at long range. The Burris 2.75X Gunsite Scout Scope with its long eye relief, enabling both eyes to be kept open and the scope brought up and superimposed on the hunter’s view of the bear without his taking his eyes off the bear, is a fast scope and a solid choice for the bear hunter.

Guns have to be cleaned, and Shooter’s Choice has a complete line of oil, bore cleaner, copper remover, lead remover, and cleaning rods and bore brushes. I have used them all, and they all work as claimed.

It rains out there in the woods, but the Germans solved that problem when they invented Ballistol Oil. Developed for the German Army to be the one oil needed for all a soldier’s equipment, whether it be metal, wood or leather, it was the standard oil of the German Army in both World Wars. When it meets water, it forms an emulsion, and as long as the emulsion is 5% Ballistol, the water will evaporate without causing rust. Soaking new boots with it is a quick way to soften them up and waterproof them. It will not rot old leather like neetsfoot oil can sometimes do. Ballistol will not oil-soak wood, but it will protect it from water damage and rot.

Cleaning and Care 

Once a customer has shot the bear, they have to skin and butcher it. Believe me, this is a big job. I don’t recommend folding knives for this, as they can close on your fingers despite having a lock-blade design. A better choice for a small blade is the Swedish Mora Basic 511 Carbon Steel or the Companion MG from MoraKniv USA. The carbon-steel version is made of 1% carbon 01 tool steel and is incredibly cheap. The stainless steel version is a medium carbon steel comparable to the steel in Buck Knives and Henkels knives.

I prefer a larger blade myself. You don’t see 6-inch and 12-inch blades at the slaughter houses and butcher shops for nothing. These are the ones that do all the real work. Ontario Knife Company makes the knives for the U.S. military, and they have the 5-inch blade Air Force Survival knife, the 7-inch blade Marine Combat knife, and the 7-inch blade M3 Trench knife. These are all made of 1095 tool steel, and prices are very reasonable. Ontario also makes the 18-inch blade machete for the U.S. military, and these are very useful for making blinds and clearing shooting lanes in front of your blind. They will cut all the firewood a customer needs for their camp and take up less room and weigh less than an axe. Just don’t lay wood on the ground and then chop it with the machete, and don’t twist the machete to bust a chip out like you would with an axe.

Seeing, Stalking and Sitting

Bear hunters will want binoculars for field-judging. My personal favorites are the rubber armored Bushnell 7x50 and the Steiner Predator 8x32. Encourage shoppers to never scrimp on binoculars. Cheap binoculars will quickly strain the eyes and may fog in bad weather. If they are trying to spot and then stalk a bear, they’ll need the best binoculars they can get.

Briar-proof brush pants and coats are needed in most good bear country, and everyone buys the blaze orange vests, hats, and gloves to be seen by other hunters in the woods.

Men who hunt bears with dogs have special needs. Garmin makes the indispensable GPS collars with tracking devices. GPS is the modern answer to the dogs getting lost in the woods and getting those trying to keep up with them lost as well. If you want to attract bear hunters that hunt with dogs, have a good price on high-protein dog food in large quantities. One hunter near me spends $800 a month on food for his bear dogs. Dog leashes and dog collars are always in demand, as are dog boxes for pickup trucks. Among the men with the bear dogs, several boot brands are popular. Danner, Irish Setter, Rocky, Carolina, and Georgia brand boots are great options to have in stock. Some of these men are as uncomfortable without these brands as a Texas oil man without his cowboy boots.

Tree stands and blinds are as important to customers hunting bear over bait as they are to the deer and turkey hunter, and the same stands and blinds work for all three game species.

It is important to note the differences in black bears in different parts of the country. In Alaska and British Columbia we have some that are maneaters. When my wife and I were living in a log trappers cabin deep in the Alaskan interior, there was no way that a black bear was going to get near me and live. In the Lower 48 East of the Mississippi, they are entirely different animals. Even when they lose their fear of men, they do no harm to them. On my farm deep in the North Georgia mountains, I have been within 10 feet of a mother and her cubs with no problem. I have also had a young black bear come down the mountain and get on the logging road 25 yards in front of me and proceed to walk down the road ahead of me for quite a ways before moving off to the side to get grubs out of a rotten log. Of course, I had my .45 at the ready if I needed it, but I never did.

All this is not to suggest that Eastern black bears are harmless. They still have incredible strength to go with those long teeth and claws, and if push comes to shove, their ferocity cannot be overrated. That’s why it’s important to use an adequate caliber and make a clean kill. A bear shot on a slope will often roll like a ball to the bottom of the hill and then escape or charge. Hitting a vital spot on that rolling ball of fur is almost impossible, so hunters have to wait until he stops rolling. Stocking game sleds or other tools that make dragging or packing out easier is a good idea.

A black bear is many things all rolled into one ball of black fur — shy and elusive, quiet and stealthy, yet capable of immense rage and destruction. Bear hunting is the greatest thrill for many hunters as well as often being the greatest hunting challenge they will ever face.


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