Montana hunter Dan Mock has been a hunter education instructor for three years. He shares these stories of how to be prepared when hunting or hiking in bear country.


I love bears, especially when they are in their comfort zone—either paralleling me or heading the other way.

But having one sniffing at my head through a backpacking tent does not engender the most secure feelings!

To my way of thinking, the best places to canoe, backpack or hunt must have bears and no roads. Bears symbolize the wild with a touch of risk. To enjoy these areas, you must always control or at the least minimize the risk factors for the bear’s safety and your own. Killing a bear is seldom the answer. For one thing, it may not be open season or you may not have a bear tag. Besides, I don’t want to eat another bear.

But I’m not afraid of doing what needs to be done when the situation calls for it. For example, while hunting moose in British Columbia, Canada, the guide asked if I minded cropping an aggressive black bear that had twice chased his mother into her log house. (That is a big no-no.) The bear brought the following action upon itself: shot with a 180 gr. 300 WIN Mag, death was almost instant at 75 yards.

Bear Crossing

One time I took my brother-in-law hunting in an area halfway between easy hunting and the farms below, assuring him his first buck. Leaving him well-situated 300 yards away, I thought I’d take a nap when some instinct said, WAKE UP NOW.

A fast-moving black boar was making tracks down the trail that I had my legs across. Not wanting to share the trail or pet him, I shot him twice, very fast. The Remington .308, 150 gr. did in the 450-pound black bear at 35 yards.

Thinking back over the years, I am sure that big brute had no idea my legs were blocking his trail. However, he was inside my comfort zone, and I’m not that comfortable with danger.mock-bear-group

A Surefire Wake Up Call

Another black bear decided to investigate a new smell—my cowboy coffee. Four of us were on a nine-day canoe trip down the John River out of the Alaska’s Brooks Range when one evening we decided to camp on an island. The river had 3 channels on the left and one on the right. What a magnificent spot.

At 5 a.m. my buddy was 150 yards from our tents, sipping coffee and admiring the hilltop caribou and hill-side sheep, when a black bear stepped out of the forest 250 yards away. Nose in the air, it crossed the first river channel. My pal’s admiration suddenly stopped when the coffee hit my friend’s sleepy brain and he realized what was coming: that bear was on the way for breakfast.

Being awakened with “bear in camp!” definitely brings you out of the sleeping bag eyes wide.

Two of the defenders, armed with bear spray, ran to the kitchen to save the coffee. Shotgun in hand, I found the bear in the nearest channel, 6 feet down the bank and five yards out from shore, nonchalantly swimming the fast current. I turned him three times by shouting nicely to please remove himself from the camp area. He’d started to leave but kept swimming back. Not GOOD!

Just as I was about to pull the shotgun trigger for a warning shot in the water, the bear decided there was no sugar in the coffee and left down river.

My friend and hunting buddy said “boy, that was a big bear!”

I said, “they all look big.”

He replied, “But that one was soaking wet!” He was dead on.

The One I Let Get Away

With 63 years of hunting and playing explorer in the woods, there are many times I’ve needed fast, clear thinking. Being able to make the correct decisions fast comes either through experience or good training, and it can and will save lives, human or otherwise. Plan ahead, prepare mentally and physically. Do not run! Walking backwards is fun unless you trip.

While archery hunting the other day I had to walk–with the wind–to pick up a long shelf leading to a great hunting area.  As a hunter I know walking with the wind is the best way to guarantee yourself you will not have to clean or pack game animals—they’ll smell you coming way too far in advance!

I knew that, but through habit I stayed off the gravel game trails and walked quietly on the leaves and bark on the side. As I topped a small rise, God gave me a gift. There, 12 yards away, was a 300-pound black bear eating stunted blueberry leaves. We were thrust into each others’ discomfort zone. I froze, eyeing every movement. Defense-driven, I reached for an arrow, then realized, No, I do not want to kill another bear.  I had no tag and right now I’m a little chicken. Although the thought occurred to me to take a cell phone picture, the noise and risk was too high. Instead I got out my bear spray, clicked off the safety and aimed it forward.

All this thinking and action was noodled over a very long time—2 to 3 seconds that felt like forever!

Blackie took one step forward and stopped eating. He had caught my smell and out of the corner of his eye could see me standing stock still. The bear never looked at me, but kept his head low in a submissive way, slowly turning around broadside, trying to show nonaggression.

He knew he made a mistake, but all he wanted was to get out of the dangerous situation. He should have smelled me long before I saw him. This concerned me until he showed the submissive stance. Still, why didn’t he run long before our encounter? The only possible answer is that he was intent on putting on fat just before hibernation come snow or me.

Once again I experienced the predator zone. Everything was matter of fact and under control.

Why?

Before the encounter I was prepared mentally and physically (I had my bear spray handy). Because of that awareness, both me and the bear made it out safely that day.

MT-hunter-Dan-Mock


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4-turkey-tips

Scouting land to hunt turkey this time of year is an important part of the hunting experience for hunters both seasoned and amateur. Diligent and thorough pre-season scouting can lead to better bird location, more game plan options and increased odds of scoring. Here’s a scouting overview for hunters new to the sport or those who need a quick refresher.

Pre-Planning: Where to Hunt

As you plan your turkey hunt, it’s all about location, location, location. Choosing between public and private property is usually the first step in deciding where you hunt. If a particular piece of private land catches your eye, many landowners and farmers are open to hunters who want to chase turkeys. However, always be sure to get a landowner’s permission before you begin hunting on their property.

You can also contact a government organization, like your state wildlife agency, for public recommendations. From there, review the location by using an app or aerial map from Google Maps. Big Game Logic explains how this wide view not only familiarizes you with a target spot but allows you to determine how turkeys may enter and exit the location.

The Trek: Road Scouting

For novice hunters, your four-wheel drive truck can be a valuable asset while hunting.

You can scout entirely from your truck from behind a pair of binoculars, especially in the morning. Before the sun rises on a calm, clear morning is the best time of day to know where turkeys go after coming out of a roost, as well as hearing their whereabouts.

During this pre-dawn scout, stop often to hoot and listen, according to Outdoor Life. Make sure to observe the sand, mud, and dirt beneath you to identify any signs of birds—keep an eye out for toe trackings, droppings and feathers that can lead you to a win.

ATVs, SUVs and pickup trucks are top vehicles for your hunting adventure. As a hunter’s No. 1 choice, trucks offer the horsepower, bed space and ability to traverse rugged land, so make sure to equip your truck with all-terrain tires that have reliable traction and tread surface to handle all types of on- and off-road hunting adventures.

Be aware that you can only scout on approved roads and that hunting from your vehicle is illegal in most cases; exceptions are sometimes made for hunters with disabilities, but be sure to check your state’s hunting regulations for specifics.

Find the Hens: Refining Gobbler Hunting Skills

Three national turkey-calling champions have shared their expert tips with Outdoor Life for hunting successes. Shane Hendershot, a two-time national grand champion, explains that one of his most deadly tactics is to disguise himself as a flock of turkeys, rather than just a single bird. Multiple different calls can include gobbler yelps, a box or pot call, diaphragm in mouth and kee-kees.

Mitchell Johnson, 2009 world friction calling champion, adds that it’s also important to read a bird’s mood. Try out different calls, with a clear or raspy voice, to see which one attracts the turkey’s response. Stick with that call, then resort to silence to bring in the tom if it stops moving and stays in one place.

For Ben Yargus, 2008 grand national champion, once he knows where specific birds regularly roost throughout the season, he’ll use a small saw to cut tree limbs and build a natural blind to conceal himself during calls. Make sure the blind is tall enough to hide behind, yet small enough for you to swing your gun into action. The closer you can get to the turkey, the better you can observe their behavior to your advantage.

Hunting Partner: Two is Better than One

One great benefit of hunting as a team, rather than solo, is that each hunter brings a different skill set to the hunt. A pair can also utilize better strategies that couldn’t be deployed alone. Rex Reynolds, a passionate turkey hunting sportsman and Wild Turkey Report contributor, shares that each hunter can scout and roost birds in two different areas as options for the best hunt.

Then, by morning, your team can meet up to exchange ideas, decide on the best one and execute different calling styles. A two-person setup is also advantageous: As one hunter serves as a caller, the shooter can run a good distance ahead, even throwing out a few yelps and preparing to shoot once the turkey enters the shooting range.

For more information about wild turkeys and hunting, check out the National Wild Turkey Foundation, the ultimate online hub for the hunting lifestyle. From hunting tips and wildlife conservation information to event listings and additional resources, this website has you covered.

camo-hunter

Regardless of the game you intend to hunt, stealth and invisibility are the key ingredients for a successful harvest. It’s hard enough blending into the surrounding habitat, never mind getting close enough for a clean shot without being detected. If you are looking to up your stealth game or simply learn some tips and tricks for your first time in the field, these tactics will give you a leg up and improve your chances of tagging out this season.

Using Game Cameras To Your Advantage

Using a game camera is a great way to prepare for a hunt by getting up close and personal with the animals without them even knowing it. If you are hunting a game animal that has restrictions on your harvest, for example a 3-point minimum, then you could really benefit from using a game camera pre-season; if you close in on a buck or a bull but can’t tell exactly how many points you see, then you could lose precious time behind your optics that should’ve been spent behind your scope.

A game camera comes in handy because you can learn about wildlife in the area without having to scout it on a daily basis. You always want to be sure you’re shooting a legal animal, but it cuts down on time if you’re already familiar with the game and have a decent idea of which animal you’re looking at through the crosshairs.

When you go out and install your game camera, make sure you put it somewhere with a great view of the trail but also a great view of the sky. Good reception is key, and if you want up-to-date footage from your trail cam, then make sure you place it in a spot with a reliable cell signal. Don’t underestimate the power of an HD display, either; the crisp shots will help you determine if that eyeguard is long enough to hang a ring on it. For example, the LG V10 offers Quad HD display and superior durability, making it invaluable for capturing footage of your quarry.

Make Them Do All The Work

Another way to get animals near you without scaring them off is to bring them to you. It’s not easy walking around in the woods without making a sound, so, depending on the game, you can find a place to position yourself that’s downwind from the wildlife you’re hunting and call them toward you. This way you’re not making a lot of noise and scaring them off before you get a chance to see them.

Keep in mind though that not all animals can be called in and not all animals can be stalked. You should always take the time to learn the animal you’re hunting so you know the best way to increase your odds of putting meat in the freezer. Consider using electric calls or watch YouTube videos on how to properly use a wide range of mouth calls. The more you practice, the more natural it feels, and the better you’ll get.

Use Distractions To Get A Better Shot

Another way to increase your stealth is through distraction. If an animal moves in on you because you’re calling it or you know its pattern and you’ve parked yourself in its path, sooner or later it’s going to know that something is up. A great way to avoid being noticed is to set up a distraction. Decoys are a great way to do this; they tend to hold the animal’s attention and give you an opportunity to better position yourself and take a clean shot.

If the wind isn’t in your favor, or is swirling and inconsistent, using scents is another way to confuse an animal or prevent it from running off. The animal may feel as though something is wrong, but if they can’t identify what, a whiff of a cow in estrus might put their mind at ease and lure them in for an even better shot.

Always Exercise Safety, Especially When Being Stealthy

When it comes to putting the stalk on, you want to be as invisible as possible, but not so invisible as to go unnoticed by other hunters. Obviously wearing hunter orange is a great way to avoid a messy situation with another hunter. The blaze orange is seen easily by people while most wildlife can’t see that part of the color spectrum and won’t take notice.

Obviously, some seasons don’t require blaze orange, so it isn’t always necessary. However, it is important to always follow the laws and regulations concerning safety. Every state, season and game management unit is different, so do your research before heading out into the field. Consider taking extra precautions when hunting in heavily-trafficked areas so you don’t run the risk of injuring yourself or others. A great tactic for treestand hunters is to label your tree with a long piece of flagging tape wrapped around the base.

Hunting laws and regulations are in place for a reason; hunters want to remain invisible, but sometimes it’s not safe when there are other hunters in the area. What other ways would you choose to increase your stealth without decreasing your safety?

ar-15 for hunting

The AR-15 has become one of the most popular firearms in America, mostly due to its versatility, ease of use, and military look. It has even been adopted by hunters, who have embraced the AR as their rifle of choice in the field.

There are subtle differences as to how to best optimize your AR-15 for game of all sizes. Here’s what you need to know.

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Small Game

Rabbits, squirrels, and prairie dogs are some of the most common small game targets for hunters. The caveat with hunting smaller animals with an AR-15 is that you must have superior aim, and if you plan on eating your small game, the AR is not ideal for the takedown.

Many AR-15s come with 1:9 twist barrels, meaning the bullet spins one full rotation per nine inches traveled in the barrel. Most Remington .223 cartridges are 55-grain, and the 1:9 twist rate is ideal for maximum efficiency and stabilization with said cartridges versus 1:12 (slower) and 1:7 (faster). AR-15 barrels, like all parts of the rifle, are easy to replace and switching takes only minutes.

Your optics should also be made specifically for small game, paying close attention to clarity and resolution at less than 100 yards. A 4-12X40 variable scope is recommended for small game.

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Varmints

Whether it’s coyotes, javelina, or wild hogs, many jurisdictions not only allow but encourage hunters to take down varmints in the area. Hunting varmints require different hunting techniques than small game, so a few items must be considered to properly set up your rifle for these endeavors.

Most AR-15s specifically built for hunting nuisance animals have longer barrels and slower rifling—a typical stationary shooting setup. The longer barrel provides better velocity and range, perfect for animals 200 yards away or further. ARs for these animals are typically heavier than those built for small game, so you may need to experiment with different stocks for comfort. Some hunters prefer collapsible stocks and add cheek rests to them, while others like fixed stock styles.

Suppressors (silencers) are also a popular addition to AR-15s for varmint hunting, since you can potentially hit the target with a second shot if you miss on the first. Keep in mind, a “silenced” AR-15 is a relative term—it’s not like the silencers in the movies.

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Large Game

The upper receiver ultimately determines whether your AR-15 is built for small or large game. The standard .223/5.56 rounds are not ideal for large animals, but a simple switch to a larger caliber will work.

Though more expensive and heavier, the AR-10 setup is ideal for deer hunting. You can also simply buy an AR-15 already built for large game hunting, like the Ruger SR-762 and YHM HRC-200 6.8 SPC.

The best part about owning an AR-15 is that it’s never a finished product. You can always modify it with different parts and accessories for any hunting and target shooting activities.

Legalities

There is no federal law controlling the use of the rifle, though many states have regulations on citizens’ rights to purchase, own, and use it. According to TIME Magazine, AR-15s are used for hunting in several states, including hunting feral goats in Hawaii, feral pigs in Texas, jackrabbits in Arizona, and elk in Montana. Some states don’t allow deer hunting with .223 diameter bullets or an AR-15 rifle, according to Stag Arms. These states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa and Massachusetts, require larger bullets. Many states have laws for hunting specific game with specific types of guns and ammunition, so it’s best to check your state’s current laws before heading out on a hunt.