The black bear is the most challenging of New York State's big game mammals. Bear hunting is an arduous task requiring patience, persistence and hard work. It is a physically demanding activity, especially removing a harvested bear from the woods. Hunters should begin a fitness program well before bear hunting season. Fall weather conditions in New York are unpredictable. A word to the wise—be prepared for just about any kind of weather.
A couple of weekends during the summer or early fall would be an excellent time to locate a hunting area and familiarize yourself with the terrain. Topographical maps are highly recommended for this purpose. If you don't have time to scout an area, you may wish to hire a professional big game guide. A list of guides is available from the New York State Outdoor Guides Association: www.nysoga.org or call 866-469-7642.
Black bears are omnivores that eat various and even unusual plant and animal materials. Bears are also opportunists, choosing foods that are easiest to obtain in quantity. A successful bear hunter recognizes that food availability changes from one year to the next and also during the bear hunting season. Planning is important and should include reviewing information on food habits and natural sign.
Hunting methods for bear in New York include still hunting, tracking, organized drives and stand hunting. When using any of these methods, your chances of success will be much greater if you find a favorable feeding area or travel corridor and concentrate your hunting in that area. A bear's eyesight is only average; however, its senses of smell and hearing are acutely developed, so you must pay attention to wind direction at all times. Pick a stand location or still hunt downwind of the place you expect a bear to move through. Bears are most active at dawn and dusk, which are the best times for stand and still hunting. During the middle of the day, you might want to try tracking a bear if there is snow on the ground and you find a fresh track. Drives that are set up to chase bears out of heavy cover or wetlands may also be effective during the day when bears are likely to be bedded down. Large groups of hunters sometimes are successful driving an entire mountainside or large swamp.
Proper Care of a Bear Carcass
After harvesting a bear, it is important to field dress it as quickly as possible. Like most game meat, the taste will depend on the care given just after the bear is killed. Also remember to complete your carcass tag immediately after taking a bear, and attach it to the bear as soon as you reach camp, home or your vehicle.
Where to Go
The Adirondack Mountain region offers the best traditional bear hunting areas in the state. Other areas are experiencing larger and faster expansion of bear populations and offer excellent hunting opportunities. In central-western New York, hunters should look to Steuben and Allegany counties. Growing population and range expansion mean that bears can be found throughout the southern tier, but odds increase closer to the Pennsylvania state border. In southeastern New York, the Catskill Mountain region offers the best opportunity to harvest a bear. New this year, black bear hunting will be open in a number of wildlife management units (WMU) in eastern New York, which previously were closed to bear hunting. They include WMUs 3F, 3G, 3N, 3R, 3S, 4C, 4K, 4L, 4T, 4U, 4Y, 4Z, 5S and 5T. Bear populations in this area have been expanding during the past decade and are likely influenced by healthy bear numbers in surrounding states.