Image of a black bear
Statewide

2019 spring bear hunting forecast

March 25, 2019

Many hunters regard spring bear as the kickoff of the hunting year. Here's how things are shaping up in areas throughout the state.

Spring bear hunting starts April 1 in western Oregon, Hood/White River units and the W Blue Mtns. All remaining seasons open April 15.

The best bear hunting is usually later in the season. This may be especially true this year as most areas report late season snow that continues to linger. Hunters should expect limited access to higher elevations locations until late April or May. Even mid-elevation areas may be later to green-up.

See the district reports below for more information about local conditions and check the Recreation Report for weekly updates.

Hunters should always be prepared for snow and limited access, especially early in the season. Also, keep vehicles off wet and muddy roads to avoid damaging roads and fish and wildlife habitat.

Wildlife biologists offer the following tips for new spring bear hunters:

  • Look for open areas where bears will be moving through or foraging, including clear-cuts, meadows and open slopes that have cleared of snow.
  • Earlier in the season, focus on south-facing slopes with rapid spring growth and on open canyon slopes, where bears can be seen feeding on grass and digging roots.
  • Coastal bear hunters should check riparian areas located in between slopes early in the season.
  • Use predator calls later in the season when elk begin calving. Use calls in forested areas near open meadows.
  • One of the best strategies for finding bears this time of year is to sit somewhere with a good view of open canyon sides and use binoculars or a spotting scope to find them. The animals will feed off and on during all daylight hours, so good optics and patience are important.
  • Know your target—remember it is unlawful to take cubs less than one year old or sows with cubs less than one year old.

Regulations: Check-in and reporting required
Remember successful bear hunters must check-in their bear’s skull at an ODFW office within 10 days of the harvest so biologists can collect a tooth and other biological information. Bear skulls must be unfrozen when presented for check-in; it is very difficult to collect data from a frozen skull. ODFW also recommends that hunters prop the bear’s mouth open with a stick after it is harvested, again to make data collection a quick and easy process. When hunters present their bear skull for check-in, they must provide date of harvest, wildlife management unit where harvested, and their complete hunter information found on the tag (including tag number). Please call your local ODFW office in advance to make sure a field biologist is available or to make an appointment.

It is also helpful to submit the reproductive tract of any female bear taken. The reproductive tract provides valuable information on the number and frequency of cubs born annually in Oregon and is a critical part of ODFW’s black bear population monitoring.

For hunters who have chosen electronic tagging under the new electronic licensing system, here are some tips for tagging your spring bear in the field.

Separate from the check-in requirement, all hunters who purchased a 2019 spring bear tag are required to report their hunt results online or by phone (1-866-947-6339) no later than Jan. 31, 2020. Reporting is required even for those that did not hunt or were unsuccessful. ODFW uses this information to determine harvest and effort and set future hunting regulations.

NORTHWEST AREA HUNTS

NORTH AND MID-COAST

Saddle Mtn – Scappoose units (Hunt 710A, season April 1-May 31)
Damage information indicates that bears are distributed throughout Saddle Mt Unit, but in higher densities in the western half of the unit. Bear densities remain low in the Scappoose Unit, when compared to other wildlife management units in the Coast Range. To find bears, hunters need to concentrate their scouting and hunting efforts early in the season near food sources like skunk cabbage (typically found along riparian zones and wet bottomlands) and grass patches found on south and southwest facing slopes. Bear activity should improve towards the middle or the end of the season, depending on the weather patterns.

Bears are very wary of vehicle noise, and tend to move away from well-traveled roads, so quietly-moving hunters on foot or bike may have an advantage. As always, predator calling can be very productive if you’re in an area where bear are known to be active.

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map. In the Saddle Mtn. Unit, road access is available in the Clatsop State Forest. Non-motorized access to many private industrial forestlands is available, but check with the landowner before you enter their lands. For example, Weyerhaeuser now charges a fee for hunters on most of its lands. Expect Hampton Affiliates land in Clatsop County to be closed to entry. The Scappoose Unit has very little public land available to hunt and bears will be found primarily on private industrial forestlands. Contact private industrial forestland managers or go on-line to determine access policies. Hunters are reminded to read and follow all rules posted near entry gates to private industrial forestland.

Wilson-Trask units (Hunt 712A, season April 1-May 31) 
Plant green-up looks to be late this year due to a colder and wetter winter than normal, but lower and mid elevations of the Coast Range will likely be snow-free. Plant life springs back more quickly closer to the coast, but expect bear activity further west to be quiet until the mid to late parts of the season, especially if cold wet weather persists.

Also, black bear concentrations tend to be highest in the western portion of the units, especially in the southwestern corner of the Trask Unit. With current weather conditions, hunters should concentrate in river and creek bottoms and south-facing grassy slopes with new plant growth. Again, predator calling can be very productive, especially if you know bears are in the area.

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map. State and federal lands in these units include the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests, Siuslaw National Forest and scattered BLM parcels. Some private industrial forestland owners allow spring bear hunting as well, usually on a walk-in or mountain bike-in basis. Hunters are reminded to contact private industrial forestland managers or go on-line to determine access policies before hunting. Small private forest and agriculture lands dominate the eastern side of the Trask Unit; access is typically by permission only. A reminder that most Weyerhaeuser lands are likely to be managed under a fee access policy.

Alsea-Stott Mt. (Hunt 717A, season April 1 – May 31)
Black bear hunting this spring may be slow to start if lingering winter conditions continue to persist. If the weather pattern changes then green up could start soon. Typically May is the better month to hunt as bears will be on the move and vegetation growth becomes more prevalent with warmer temperatures. Because of abundant high elevation snowfall and temperatures remaining cold, green-up has not started. Timberland clear cuts are still in winter dormancy and could be until mid-April.

Hunters should look for bears at lower elevations along streams or open areas with a south or southeast aspect early in April. These are typically areas with more vegetative growth and the grass that bears are looking for in spring. As the season progresses and warmer weather arrives, bear activity will increase in managed timberlands (clear-cuts) and openings.

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map. Access is fair on mainline forest roads but expect some roads to be impassible in April due to winter landslides, lingering snow at high elevations, and storm fallen trees. Always check with private timber landowners (e.g., Weyerhaeuser, Hancock, Starker Forests) for recreational access questions and permits. Siuslaw National Forest lands have many spur roads that have recently been bermed, which provide good walk-in hunting opportunity. There is a fair amount timber of harvest this spring, so hunters should expect some access roads to be closed and log truck traffic on open forest roads.

WILLAMETTE UNIT

N. Cascades (Hunt 716A, season April 1 – May 31)
Bear densities remain good in the north Cascades and hunters typically experience the highest success in the last three weeks of the season. With snow pack in the northern Cascades at approximately 93 percent of normal as of Feb. 15, hunters should expect to have access to mid-elevation habitats later than normal and have some difficulty accessing higher elevation habitats even though we have been experiencing warmer than usual weather lately. Take into consideration that many of the higher elevation and north facing road systems are expected to remain snow covered and may limit access until late May. Hunters should check road conditions and access before heading out, especially early in the season.

If you want to get out early, start along riparian corridors at lower elevations and focus on south and southwest facing slopes. The key to early success is to target days with some sun and mild weather. Hunters will want to look for areas with abundant green grass or skunk cabbage. Freshly torn up stumps also indicate a bear is in the area.

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map. Remember the parts of Marion and Linn counties outside of the Mt. Hood and Willamette National Forests are not included within the hunt boundary and are closed. The Clackamas and Collawash River drainages in the Mt. Hood National Forest have a high concentration of open south-facing slopes and some good areas for glassing. Hillsides burned during the 2014 36 Pit Fire should still have abundant new plant growth once any snow melts. Hunters can also find good concentrations of bears in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness Area. In the McKenzie, hunting is best late in the season in some of the old, brushy clear cuts in the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette River and South Fork McKenzie drainages.

SOUTHWEST AREA HUNTS

This hunt includes all the SW Oregon wildlife management units (20-30), except within one mile of the Rogue River between Grave and Lobster creeks as these areas are closed. This hunt was previously first-come, first-serve with all 4,400 tags selling out in late January. However, this was the first year that these tags were issued through the controlled hunt process.  

Bear numbers on the south coast appear to be stable and relatively high. Generally the bear population density is highest closer to the coast in the Coast Range. 

Black bear hunting this spring may be slow to start if lingering winter conditions continue to persist. If the weather pattern changes then green-up could start soon. Typically May is the better month to hunt as bears will be moving around more and vegetation growth accelerates with warmer temperatures. Because of abundant high elevation snowfall and temperatures remaining cold, green-up has not started. Timberland clear cuts are still in winter dormancy and could be into mid-April.

Typically boars emerge from their dens earlier than sows and cubs. Remember that it is illegal to harvest a sow with cubs. In general, it’s good to start off the season glassing open hillsides during sunny mornings and evenings. Bears will most likely be out at this time feeding on grasses and anything else they can fill their bellies.

In the Cascade Range, average precipitation and snow water equivalent varies across the range. Hunters should check the NRCS/USDA Snowtel website for specific information. The central Cascade range is slightly below average for precipitation, but recent snow has the snow water equivalent above average for this time of year. Depending on this year’s spring weather, those conditions may change rapidly.

Hunters are encouraged to keep checking the website for updates as the hunting season approaches and throughout the duration of the season. In general, lower elevations tend to green up first so hunters should focus their efforts there during the early part of the season, and then move up in elevation as the snow melts. Early in the season, focus on bear foraging evidence and tracks. After a couple weeks, bear digestive tracts will become more active and scat will serve as another indicator of bear activity.

Increased bear activity will most likely occur on decommissioned untraveled skid roads with high grass production. When bears are active, they will be looking to feed in these grassy openings or similar meadow-type ranges. Coastal wetlands, mountain prairies and riparian area are other good areas to look for bears. Hunters with access to private timberlands, will find bears in clear cuts either feeding on green grass or tearing apart stumps looking for insects. Focus on south facing hillsides in the early mornings and evenings, typically bears will be more active during these times.

The Klamath-Siskiyou mountain range in southern Oregon can be a productive area for bear hunting in the spring. However, hunters should always be aware of road access conditions. Even mild snowfall during the previous winter has the potential to create impassable snowdrifts, especially on northern facing slopes. Hunters may want to drive roads they intend to hunt ahead of time to make sure that the roads are passable.

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map. Hunters have access to plenty of public land including national forestland (Siuslaw, Rogue-Siskiyou, and Umpqua), BLM land and state-managed property like Elliott State Forest. Hunters should do their homework and call private timberland companies as some offer access. Local landowners include Weyerhaeuser, Rayonier, Financial Investment Associates (FIA), Roseburg Forest Products, and Lone Rock Timber Co. Hunters can access public land and some private timberland through the Jackson Cooperative Travel Management Area (JACTMA). JACTMA restricts use of certain roads through April 30; for a map contact an ODFW office. Remember lands within one mile of the Rogue River between Grave and Lobster creeks are closed. East side of Applegate unit has open timber draws that provide glassing opportunities to locate feeding bears.

COLUMBIA AREA HUNTS

White River (Hunt 741, season April 1- May 31)
Bear densities are good, especially in forested areas of the unit. Despite healthy bear numbers, success rates have been fairly low in the spring season. Lower elevation areas of the unit are great for spot and stalk hunting. As you move higher into more densely forested areas, look for scat, turned over logs and rocks to key in on bears using the area. The edges of the major drainages, such as the White River, Badger and Tygh Creeks, should be good places to find bears in the eastern edge of the unit. Forested areas south of Mosier provide plenty of open areas in the western portion of the unit. Good optics and patience while glassing these areas should increase the opportunity to spot a bear.

Glass the open areas that you can find, but also plan to cover a lot of ground to increase your chances of running into a bear. Access in the early portion of the season will be very limited with many low elevation forest roads still snowed in. As the snow melts, focus on higher elevations in the western portion of the unit for higher concentration of bears

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map. The majority of bear habitat is found on public lands so access is good. The western edge of the unit has a significant amount of county forest and private timberlands that harbor good numbers of bears. Weyerhauser requires a permit to access that can be acquired through their website.

Hood Unit (Hunt 742, season April 1-May 31)                                                                       
Bear numbers are high in the Hood Unit. Look for open south-facing slopes or decommissioned forest roads with new grasses and forb growth. Also look for evidence of bear use such as scat and turned over logs or rocks. Bear activity and harvest has historically increased later in the season. Expect high elevation areas to be inaccessible due to snow early in the season.

The densely forested unit can be difficult for typical spot and stalk methods for bear. Typically, success is much better in the fall while hunters are pursuing other species. Change up your typical spot and stalk hunting strategy -- cover a lot of ground and your chances of finding a bear will drastically increase. Concentrating on clear cuts can also be a good method for finding bears in the Hood unit but these are mostly limited to Hood River county forest and private timberlands in the unit.

Make sure you have a permit from Weyerhauser to hunt on any of their lands in the unit.

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map. Both public lands (Mt. Hood National Forest and Hood River County land) and some private industrial forestland are open to hunting. Weyerhaeuser Co. is a major private landowner in the Hood wildlife management unit but a permit is required to access.

SOUTH CENTRAL AREA HUNTS

South Central (Hunt 731A, season April 15 – May 31)
Snowpack is well above normal which will present access challenges to early season hunters in much of the higher elevations. Bear populations are increasing but low compared to other areas of the state. Historically the highest bear densities are in the Cascade Mountains with lower densities in the drier, ponderosa pine forest portions of the hunt area. However, over the past several years there have been population increases in the Interstate and Silver Lake WMU’s as well as increased hunter success in both units.

Areas for hunters to check include the Keno Unit, western portion of the Sprague Unit, the Yamsey Mountain and Winter Rim areas of the Silver Lake Unit and the Gearhart Mountain area in the Interstate Unit. Focus on the unburned fringes around 2002 and 2012 fires (Grizzly and Barry Point Fires in the Interstate Unit and the Toolbox/Winter Fire in the Silver Lake Unit) and in riparian areas. Throughout the hunt area, bear populations are low relative to other areas in the state and hunters should manage their expectations.

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map. Public access is good within the Fremont-Winema and Deschutes National Forests and on open private timberland. Hunting access is fair in the southern portions of the Keno Unit, though precipitation over the winter has many two-track roads and trails still buried in snow or too muddy to be driven without causing damage to the road. Access should improve by later in the season. Please respect private property. Also, avoid driving on soft or muddy roads. Travel management rules are in effect on Fremont-Winema and Deschutes National Forests. Maps showing open roads are available at Forest Service offices.

NORTHEAST AREA HUNTS

BAKER COUNTRY

Pine Creek-Keating-Catherine Creek (Hunt 762A) 
The district experienced higher than average snowfall in the mid to upper elevations. Hunters should expect access to be relatively limited early in the season with access to high elevations by mid to late season. Look for bears in areas of early green-up. Usually south-facing slopes are the first to become snow-free and can be good places to glass for bears. In the Keating Unit, hunters will find better access in some of the mid to low portions of the national forest. Higher elevations near Pine Creek and McGraw Overlook will have deep snow early in the season but should become accessible by mid to late season. Hunters planning on traveling the 39 Road to access the McGraw area should be aware that the road is still snow covered. For up to date road conditions please contact the Wallowa Whitman National Forest, Baker Ranger District at 541-523-6391.

The Catherine Creek Unit will produce good bear numbers this year. Much of the unit’s lower elevations are on privately-owned land. The higher elevations of the Catherine Creek Unit are mostly within the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and contain excellent bear habitat. Snow may limit access to the highest elevations in April but should open up by mid-season. Walking in on roads that are inaccessible by vehicle can be a productive way to find early season bears.

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map. The Little Catherine Creek Travel Management area just east of Union provides walk-in access to Hancock Forest Management lands; maps are available at entrance points or at ODFW’s La Grande Office.

Lookout Mt. Unit (764)
Moderate snow at mid to high elevations will limit access in the early season. Try south-facing slopes near the timberline above Brownlee Reservoir. Private lands limit access; make sure you obtain landowner permission before hunting private land.

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map.  

GRANT, HARNEY, MALHEUR Cos.

South Blue Mtns (Hunt 746A, season April 15-May 31)
The late snow storms that hit this part of the state will impact some hunters ability to access even the lower elevation portions of this hunt area. Spring green-up is late but will start soon in the lowest elevations and south-facing slopes. Bear populations are stable or increasing but this hunt is still challenging due to the heavily forested terrain which makes it difficult to spot bears. Hunters can find bears widely distributed through all units but harvest in the spring has been highest in the Desolation unit.

Hunters often use this tag as an opportunity to scout new hunting areas for next fall’s deer and elk seasons, turkey hunt, or collect shed antlers. Remember it is legal to take naturally shed antlers, but not skulls with antlers attached. More information on shed hunting.

Locations: Hunters in the Heppner and Desolation units should focus on the area along the breaks of the North Fork John Day River. See the Oregon Hunting Access Map for more hunting locations.

UMATILLA COUNTY

Mt Emily-Walla Walla  (Hunt 754A, season April 1 – May 31)
Winter came on late in the western Blue Mountains producing significant snow pack at both low and high elevations. The Mt. Emily and Walla Walla units still have deep snow levels, which will limit hunter access until later in the season. Access will be more readily available around the southern and lower to mid elevation portions of the unit when snow pack begins to melt. Bear densities continue to be strong across the entire hunt area.   

Early season bear activity is concentrated along the lower elevation fringes of national forestland. Bears follow the green-up elevation band; concentrate on timbered slopes with small openings with lush green moss, sedge, or grassy areas. If the spring is wet, bears will be out on open slopes foraging on wild onions and sedges. If the day is cool, bears will be out in the open for longer periods. However, if the day is warm, bear activity will be concentrated early in the morning and late in the day near sundown.  

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map.

UNION COUNTY

Starkey-Ukiah (Hunt 752A, season April 15 – May 31)
Bear numbers are strong in both the Starkey and Ukiah Units. Late snowfall created deep snowpack in both units, which will limit hunter access early in the season. Vehicle access will be a challenge throughout the month of April. When the snowpack begins to melt look to lower elevation access points in Union and Umatilla counties for hunting locations.  

Hunters should focus efforts on south aspects for best results. Finding bears in this unit may prove challenging due to the lack of open canyon habitat common in other east side units. Walking in on closed roads is a good way to access bear habitat within this hunt area. The Elkhorn Wildlife Area in the south end of the unit is open to bear hunting and allows walk-in access.

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map. The Dry Beaver Ladd Canyon road closure area offers diverse habitat and provides limited motorized travel. Other areas that have good bear densities are Spring Creek, open slopes along Fly Creek and public lands surrounding Vey Meadows. It is also quite possible to encounter a cougar in these areas, so having a cougar tag could provide a bonus opportunity.

WALLOWA COUNTY

Wallowa District Hunts (Season April 15- May 31)
Access is expected to be difficult, due to snow drifts, until early May in most units. While it is still early for bear activity, south-facing slopes are already beginning to green up at low and mid-elevations. Bear activity will depend on weather patterns in April and warm weather will result in more bear activity. Bear numbers should be high again this year with most found in canyon areas early in the season.

Locations: See the Oregon Hunting Access Map. Remember the Noregaard, Whiskey Creek and Shamrock travel management areas will be in effect in the Sled Springs Unit through May 31; maps are available at entrance points or at ODFW’s Enterprise office.

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