2014 Montana Spring Bear

My first spot and stalk black bear hunt in the beautiful mountains of Montana.

May 25 2014 - Jun 1 2014

by
Bryan Koontz

First posted Feb 8 2015 Last updated Apr 17 2015

Flying into Bozeman, MT provides amazing views of the Bridger Mountains, Tobacco Root Mountains, the Big Belts and the Gallatin Range. The Rockies are an incredible sight from the air.

I rented a Jeep to tour around Bozeman, Yellowstone and Jackson Hole for a day or 2 before the hunt begins. The rental car facility at the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) is easy to access. No shuttle required - this is a small, easy-to-navigate airport.

This was the first nice weekend in Bozeman after a long, tough winter. Top off in the Jeep, enjoying the sun and crisp Montana air. For me, a hunting trip is also a mini vacation. A time to turn off the computer and get some me-time.

The first night in Bozeman, I crashed at the Best Western Grantree. I've stayed here several times and like it. It's conveniently located off I-90, and is only 10 min from the airport and 5 min or less to downtown Bozeman. It has a nice restaurant, bar, indoor pool and free parking. A decent place to stay immediately before and after your hunt with Rawhide Guide Service, especially if you can manage to get a few days to tour the local area on either side of your hunt.

I woke up at 5am, grabbed some strong truck-stop coffee from the gas station beside the hotel, and headed out for a drive to Yellowstone and then down to Jackson Hole, WY.

The drive on RT 191 (Gallatin Gateway), south of Bozeman on the way to Yellowstone is beautiful. Directly through the mountains.

Made it to the West Entrance of the park.

Saw a cool little bachelor group of bulls running along the road. Gets me pumped for the September archery season. See you boys in a few months.

The Gardner River in Yellowstone

Bison grazing along the road in Yellowstone.

Last week, this road was closed due to deep snowfalls.

My first glimpse of the Teton range in many years, across Jackson Lake after exiting the south entrance of Yellowstone. They don't look real.

The Grant Teton and Mount Moran, heading south toward Jackson Hole, WY.

The entrance to the park in the middle of downtown Jackson Hole, WY. It's a beautiful spring day, the town is buzzing with people, street vendors are selling food, and there are entertainers in the park.


I spent a few hours here relaxing, grabbed an elk steak while sitting outside, and then jumped back in the Jeep to head back north to Bozeman.


What an amazing way to start a hunt, seeing these incredible mountains and all the wildlife in Yellowstone.

Tyler Hock, Guidefitter's producer for Guidefitter TV, arrives in Bozeman, gets out the gear, and starts rolling. Hey - I think your lens cap is on there buddy.

Tyler setting up a shot in front of the Bridgers, just north of Bozeman. The spring colors are starting to pop in Montana, with lush grass, blue skies and those amazing snow-capped Rockies ever-present in the background.

Day before the hunt - time to get the gun shot-in to make sure the scope didn't get bumped during the flight from Austin.

2 shots @ 200 yards, .300WSM

The ammo I'm using for my Sako 85 Hunter .300 WSM.

Don Degroft, owner of Rawhide Guide Service (which has since been sold to Roy Reiff), fills out the paperwork and verifies my license and tag info at camp.

Day 01 of the hunt, at a local, 7,000-acre ranch west of White Sulphur Springs, MT. Tyler sets up the camera gear, as we move into position over a field where the rancher has been seeing several mature bears.

Ahhh, Montana open country. This doesn't exist at all back east.

Roy points out a large black bear down in the valley, sunning itself under a tree. We tried to call it in closer with a predator call, but no go. It came about 1/2 the distance, but then turned around and went the other direction, disappearing in to the timber on a neighboring property.

Tyler sporting Kryptek camo, adjusts the Canon Mark III and slider to get ready for the next hunt of the day.

Evening hunt in public land, overlooking a drainage that definitely looks like solid bear country.

Everywhere you look in Montana, it's a postcard.

Back to the Bear's Den area, looking for that big black bear we saw on Monday.

Eberlestock X2 pack, with my Sako 85 Hunter (.300WSM) and Zeiss scope. Highly recommended gear for Montana spot-and-stalk bear hunting. The .300 WSM will also serve you well for the elk rifle season out here.

Be prepared to spend hours behind the glass on a Montana spot-and-stalk bear hunt. I had Nikon's with me on this hunt, but have since upgraded to Swarovski EL 10x42 Range's. No comparison - top-of-the-line binos out here are a must. "If you can see 'em, you can't stalk 'em."

Back at Rawhide's camp, my crew plans out the next hunt, checking the topo maps after grabbing some grub. The photo over the TV in the background is my brother and his 6x6 from the 2009 archery season. That's quite a story itself.

Roy glasses a timber cut area below Mount Edith. We could see Mountain Goats on the rim at the top of Mt. Edith. Very cool.


You can see tens of thousands of acres from this vantage point - a great place to spot a bear.

It's go time! Or so we thought. We spotted a nice blackie a few miles away while glassing the timber, put on a 45-min stalk, and almost dropped the hammer before we saw a cub drop out of the tree. A sow with a cub - a no-go. Illegal to shoot. I was literally a 0.00001 oz of trigger pull away from dropping this bear. So glad I didn't.

We sat there and watched this bear, and her cub, for about 30 min at around 100 yards away. Better than any TV show.

Another amazing morning in Montana hunting bear. Beautiful ranch land with plenty of drainages and cover for black bear, mule deer and elk.

Back in the truck. Wearing Sitka Gear. And for stealthy stalks, I highly recommend pants with knee-guards. Especially when crawling across the shale or rocky fields, which is typical here in Montana. On my feet, Schnee's Pack Boots. The most comfortable boot I've worn yet.

The Guidefitter TV crew setting me up for a brief interview before heading out to a new location.

Roy takes a well-deserved break before walking up to our next vantage point - the top of a 2-3 mile long drainage on a local ranch. A ranch full of elk, mule deer, coyotes, cats and of course, black bears.

A new ranch today, and some residents on the ranch take some time to check us out.

I think she likes me.

The rancher who owns this beautiful ranch actually grew up in this log home as a kid. Often, they'd go months without leaving due to the heavy snows.


We hunted this ranch hard this afternoon, and saw plenty of elk, whitetails and pronghorn, but no bear, despite seeing lots of bear sign.

Our last morning hunt, and once again we get stuck in a cattle drive. Only in Montana.


In the spring, the Montana ranchers drive cattle to other ranches for grazing and for calf season. Branding parties are a big deal in this area in the spring. Don't be surprised to find the local bar hosting a branding party for a local ranch. They can get crazy!

We're back in the area called the "Bear's Den," but this time about a mile away from our cliff-top perch from earlier in the week.


You can see it's the last day of May, and I'm standing in snow. A week ago, this path was completely covered in snow and not passable.


Be prepared for a variety of conditions when hunting Montana black bear in the spring. Some days you sweat to death and risk sun burn. Other days, you're freezing with blowing snow, sleet and rain. Definitely invest in lightweight, packable rain gear and keep it with you at all times.


We hunted this area hard, saw more elk and muleys, but weren't successful spotting a bear in the timber.

Afternoon of the last day, and more glassing. Here, I'm using a friend's Swarovski spotting scope to glass a hillside about a mile away. We saw several bears in this area previously, but no such luck today.

Clint Schneider and I take time to pose for a photo on a rocky cliff in some serious mountain lion territory. Clint is a great guide with Seven 7 Ranch out of Wyoming.

While we weren't successful on this hunt, I had an amazing time and now understand what it takes to be successful for a Montana spot-and-stalk spring black bear hunt. It takes patience, great optics, and endurance. We averaged about 3-4 hours sleep per night, and spent plenty of time hiking around to see as much country as possible.

We got close to pulling the trigger after a great stalk on that large sow, and saw several other bears, but couldn't get a successful stalk setup on them.

Rawhide definitely leases plenty of great bear country. Highly recommend trying them out, and taking some time for sight-seeing in the area if you can spend an extra day or so.

I'll be back in Montana this year for another spring hunt for sure.

4 COMMENTS

  • Bryan Koontz

    Bryan Koontz

    Look forward to seeing you in a few weeks, Roy!

  • Doug Fahnestock

    Doug Fahnestock

    Great story, Looks like you had a great time!

  • Roy Reiff

    Roy Reiff

    Bryan had a great time guiding u on that hunt seen 3 bear and came so close to seal the deal. Looking forward to seeing you the first week bear season .and we going to try to get r doneπŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

  • Clint Schneider

    Clint Schneider

    I had a great time with you guys on that hunt. Great story!!!