Calling All Bears

We climbed hard for an hour up the talus Montana slope, scrambled over lodgepole deadfalls, and ducked into some thick spruce just as the rainsquall hit.

“Just another 15-minute hike and we’ll be there,” said Billy Stockton. “It’s a park I’ve scouted and there’s a lot of bear sign in there. Found where they’ve been feeding on an old elk carcass. Took a big chocolate there last fall.”

Stockton, former bronco rider and now renowned Montana hunting guide, resumed the trail with me on his heels. As the brushy canyon began to open into a large meadow, he slowed down and looked hard.

“OK,” he said. “Here’s the plan. You get set up next to that pine and watch the park; I’ll ease back here a ways and start calling.”

I got comfortable and studied the landscape for logical approach routes for bears looking for what they expected would be an easy, tasty meal. I had something else in store for them; I levered a round into the chamber of the Browning BLR .308.

Then it came: the pathetic, frantic wailing, starting low, then rising to a fevered pitch. If they gave Oscars for acting like a calf elk caught by a coyote, I think Billy would have won one that day.

A Bear On A Mission

The bear certainly agreed. He came on a mission, the burly cinnamon-colored black bear, barreling down the eastern slope and into the meadow. A chill ran up my spine at the thought he was headed right for me, planning to rip into flesh.

Intent on circling downwind, he passed 150 yards in front of me. He hesitated, trying to get a final reading on the location. The hammer dropped, and he rolled. He was back up, heading the way he’d came. I touched off another round, and he was down for good.

We approached him carefully, of course, took some photos, did the skinning and packed him out. Coming off that mountain is one of my fondest memories; the flush of success, the remembrance of an exhilarating hunt in the most beautiful of settings.

Calling bears is a unique hunting technique, in that it is so little known, yet so effective; so much easier than baiting or spot & stalk, yet so much more exciting.

Stockton has called in dozens of bears for his clients in southwestern Montana. Here are some of his expert tips.

* Use a calf elk call. If you’re using a diaphragm, put more pressure on it to make it sound higher than a cow call would. The sounds to make are similar to regular mewing elk sounds, only faster and more frantic. Little skill is necessary, really, to make the right sounds — proper technique depends most on putting your heart into it. Primos, Carlton, Lohman and Quaker Boy all make calls suitable for this purpose.

* Bear calling seems to work best in elk country, probably because bears there have learned that vocal elk in distress can result in a fine meal. Other big game is much less vocal so bears aren’t as programmed to calling in deer country.

* Hunt scouted areas. Calling is a great way to hunt an area you’re not familiar with, but you’ll get better results hunting pockets of bear concentrations you’ve found through scouting.

* Put effort into good setups. The best setups are fairly, but not totally open areas where a bear is most likely to approach from downwind. If a bear gets downwind of you, he’s gone. However, their eyesight is comparatively weak; sitting in shadows and keeping movement to a minimum is all that’s usually required. Setting up in areas of thick cover can hurt your chances because of difficulty seeing and getting clear shots.

* Cover your backside! Stockton has had bears sneak in from behind several times, a couple of which became very close calls. Protect your backside and keep your eyes peeled; better yet, have a buddy watching out behind.

For a first-hand lesson on bear calling from Stockton, call 406[832-3138 to book a hunt.


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