It’s In the Bag – Five Steps to Simplify Your Deer Hunting Preparation

By Mike Marsh

The easiest way to handle your hunting checklist is to have the right pack!

In my business as a full-time hunting and fishing communicator, I occasionally need to grab a firearm and head out for a hunt within hours, even minutes, of a telephone call or hot tip. The backseat of my pickup truck has several hunting packs, each full of all the items I might need to participate in a certain type of hunt.

Ambidextrous hunting pack with a single shoulder strap for deer hunting preparation

Having one shoulder strap that can be adjusted for either shoulder makes this MPI Outdoors backpack ambidextrous. With all the packs out there, it’s surprising that a good pack is hard to find. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

All too frequently, when riding in someone else’s vehicle, I used to arrive at a hunting spot and discover that I had forgotten something important like insect repellent. This would happen again after switching back to my own vehicle and arriving home to find I’d left a map or GPS unit in the other hunter’s truck.

It makes sense to have a “go-bag” with commonly used gear, and that’s why every dedicated shooter I know has a bag like this, full of cleaning tools, hearing protection, shooting glasses, targets and other gear. I carried the concept a step further, applying it to specific hunts. With all the different kinds of equipment out there, practicing good hunting preparation is crucial for those times when opportunity suddenly strikes.

1. Pack Selection – “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag”

If “the hardest workin’ man in show business” needed a brand new bag, I need a good one too. My big game hunting pack is a backpack designed specifically for gun hunters. It’s an MPI Outdoor Products backpack with a single shoulder strap. I’m a right-handed shooter, so I adjust the strap to go over my left shoulder, leaving my right shoulder free to mount a firearm. The best example I can give of perfect pack selection happened while I was hunting black bears in extremely thick cover in eastern North Carolina. I had been sitting on a stool when, with just five minutes of legal shooting time left, I slung my pack and headed out of the swamp along a bear trail. A bear materialized 20 feet away. I simply shouldered my rifle and took the shot. When you select your pack, not only should you think about what you’ll put in it, but also what you’ll do when a shooting opportunity arises.

Single-shoulder hunting pack is essential in deer hunting preparation

A pack with a single-shoulder strap lets you shoulder your rifle quickly and the strap won’t get in the way. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

2. Many Convenient Compartments

Make sure your pack has plenty of variously-sized compartments, inside and out. I hunt deer, bear and hogs with my big game pack, and its side pockets are perfect for calls, flashlights and other long, slender objects. The mesh rear pocket holds a ThermaCELL® insect repellent device to keep the vapors out of enclosed pockets when it’s cooling down after a hunt. The mesh exterior pocket also carries bottles of scents. I use a plastic peanut butter jar to hold scent bottles, swabs, scent bombs or anything else that would stink up my pack and the items inside. That idea will pay off, I guarantee.

3. Safety First, Always

My backpack has a camouflaged exterior, so I carry a hunter orange poncho, vest or MPI Outdoors “See Me” backpack cover that fits over the pack because the pack can obscure hunter orange clothing. Other safety items to keep in a dedicated hunting pack include a Space Blanket, fire-making materials, water container, flashlight, spare batteries and a whistle or other signaling device.

4. You’re Gonna Need Spares

Useful items in a well-stocked deer hunting preparation pack

A backpack dedicated to deer hunting preparation carries everything a hunter needs so nothing is forgotten. You’d be surprised how much Mike Marsh’s one-shouldered pack holds: a folding stool, two pairs of gloves, plastic gloves, scent, ThermaCELL®, matches, safety vest, watch cap, poncho, compass, cleaning tools, hand and foot warmers, ammo, calls and other items. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

If you’re anything like me, you lose gloves. A lot. Therefore, I always carry an extra pair. If one glove is lost, one from the spare set replaces it. An orange sock cap provides cushioning for other objects, takes little space and is a quick replacement for a lost cap. If you’ve never run out of ammunition or forgotten it completely, you are a rare hunter indeed! Carrying spare ammo in a rattle-proof carrier prevents the problem – but remember to swap it out if you change caliber.

5. Necessities and Nice-To-Haves

In my big game backpack, I also carry toilet tissue, a compass and/or GPS unit, maps, a roll-up jacket, face net or warming mask, dehydrated snacks such as homemade jerky, Sterno canned heat for warming a blind and heating food,  and plastic zipper bags and gloves for using hunting scents and cleaning game. A ball Bungee on the pack handle carries a folding stool or seat cushion.

If you hunt a variety of game, invest in enough packs to keep your essentials organized and ready to go. If you properly prepare for your hunt, it will pay off not only in the time you’ll save, but also in having everything you need right at hand.

mike marsh headshotAbout Mike Marsh:

Mike Marsh’s articles, columns and photos have appeared in more than 100 magazines and newspapers. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina and has written four books about the state’s hunting, fresh-water and salt-water fishing. His latest is Fishing North Carolina. To contact Mike, view his award-winning articles and photos, or order his books, visit

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Hang ‘em High! Five Ways to be Safer in Your Treestand

By Mike Marsh

Make sure you live to hunt another day!

Hunting safety includes wearing a safety harness or vest

The best time to strap on a harness or vest is before you enter the woods. Walk to your stand wearing the harness, secure it to the line, tie your weapon to a separate line and start climbing. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

Hunters love to hang ‘em high. I’m talking about treestands, not the movie. Don’t be one of the hunters left dangling after a misstep when transitioning in or out of a stand. You may not know it, but that’s the most dangerous part of treestand hunting. And did you know 10 percent of hunters fall while hunting from a treestand every 10 years? That means even if you’ve fallen before, it could happen again.

I’m guilty – and lucky to be alive. I fell while setting up a lock-on stand because I wasn’t wearing a restraint. Back then, restraints tailored to treestands were not available. I broke my left wrist and four ribs, and made it out of a swamp where no one knew I was hunting. Back then, a hunter who tied himself into his stand with a rope was ahead of his time. Today’s safety advances eliminate virtually every reason to fall.

If you aren’t using adequate safety measures, you’re at risk.*

1. Prusik Hitch Tethers

Staying tethered to the tree from ground to stand is your goal. One way to accomplish that is with a harness and climbing system that uses a Prusik hitch. The hunter slides the knot up or down while he climbs. It works best with ladder-type stands, but also works with self-climbing stands.

Prusik hitch for treestand hunting

A harness paired with a Prusik hitch is one of the best ways for a hunter to stay tethered all the way from the ground to his stand. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

The Prusik hitch and its safety line are mated to a vest or harness, such as the systems made by Hunters Safety Systems. The company offers safety lines in packs of three, that way hunters with one harness or vest can use it for entry to multiple stands. It’s inexpensive insurance.

2. Retractable Safety Lines

Retractable safety lines, similar to retractable dog leashes, have made inroads into the hunting safety market. One of the best is the Rescue One Controlled Descent System. The problem with other systems that stop falls completely is that they can leave a hunter in a position where he cannot re-enter his treestand. “Positional asphyxiation” can be the result, an outcome that’s just as bad as if the hunter had suffered a lethal fall to the ground. The Rescue One system has a loop over the hunter’s shoulder that he pulls to control his descent.

3. Knotty Subject

With any system, tying the safety line to the tree is the tricky part. When climbing with a self-climber, slide the strap holding the safety line up with each movement of the stand. Therefore, using a self-climber is great way to attach the safety line to the tree before erecting a ladder stand. Another method is to use a lineman’s belt and climbing spikes.

Climbing treestands safely is one of the biggest concerns

Climbing with a Prusik hitch and harness can be tricky because the hunters must let go with at least one hand to slide the hitch up the line between steps. With practice, the technique of wrapping an arm around the ladder rung as the hitch is moved can be mastered. Another trick is adding a weight to the lower end of the line. This allows the hitch to be moved with one hand. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

4. Erecting Ladder Stands

One of the easiest ways to fall hard is by climbing a ladder stand to secure it to a tree. Reaching around the trunk to secure the seat with a ratchet strap is quite unnerving if the ladder leans backward. This re-emphasizes the need for putting a fall restraint in place before doing anything else.

Modern ladder stands use crossing straps in their erection. The process works best with three hunters. One hunter tugs each strap, which attaches to the bottom of the stand and goes around the tree, until the ladder is firmly against the tree. They hold it while the third guy walks the ladder up against the tree. A low ratchet strap and brace secure the ladder against the tree while the third hunter climbs the ladder to add the final ratchet strap at the top. If your ladder stand does not have a crossed strap system, do not use it until you acquire appropriate straps.

5. Put It to the Test

Testing your restraint for hunting safety is crucial

Look Ma, no hands! The best way to test your fall restraint system is at ground level. Simply strap yourself in and raise your feet to test for comfort and ability to breathe and move in order to regain the stand or the steps. A method for climbing down after a fall is as important as the fall restraint system. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

Every hunter should check his safety systems before beginning a hunt. Keep your original instructions with your climbing gear and stands, and read them every season – that’s the best way to stay familiar with their use.

I once received a new safety harness for testing. Smart enough to have someone along to help with photos or if something went haywire, I tested the harness from the ground. The harness was quite constrictive, especially in the groin area, when I raised my feet to simulate a fall. If I had actually fallen, I wouldn’t have lasted long. I was happy to have someone assist with removing the straps. If you are not comfortable with your harness and confident in its use, chose another system.



*Note this isn’t a complete guide to treestand safety. Make it your business to research the topic before climbing a tree to hunt.

mike marsh headshotAbout Mike Marsh:

Mike Marsh’s articles, columns and photos have appeared in more than 100 magazines and newspapers. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina and has written four books about the state’s hunting, fresh-water and salt-water fishing. His latest is Fishing North Carolina. To contact Mike, view his award-winning articles and photos, or order his books, visit




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The A-B-Cs of Trusting Your Bullet

By Ron Spomer

 A bullet is not just a bullet. 

Expert advice on 8 different bullet types, 

plus how to pick the right one!

We hunters place way too much value on our rifles and scopes and way too little on our actual bullets. We’ll spend $1,000 on a hunting rifle, $500 on a scope (should be the other way around) and then look for the cheapest box of ammo we can find. Well, big mistake.

Brown bear shot with select type of bullet with proper hunting rifle

You don’t want your bullet to fail when facing an animal of this size – especially one that can fight back. This brown bear dropped in its tracks to a high shoulder shot from a .375 H&H Dakota M97 rifle firing Remington’s 300-grain Swift A-Frame Premium bullet. (Photo: Ron Spomer)

No offense, folks, but it’s the bullet that’s doing all the work. Everything else is just a launch pad. Give me a $100 used single-shot with open sights and I’ll collect the world’s record elk, moose, whitetail, pronghorn … unless you also give me some lousy ammunition.

Yes, bullets can fail. A bullet that’s too soft can flatten out like a pancake and never reach the vitals, while a bullet that’s too hard can fail to expand and zip right through the vitals like a target arrow, doing minimal damage. Get one that’s too fragile and it can break into tiny pieces and create nothing more than a flesh wound. A bullet that’s poorly balanced can wobble so badly that it arrives at a destination other than the one you were aiming at.

This is why the marketplace is flooded with, oh, about 397 different types of bullets. Sorting through them all can be tricky, but don’t worry. Here’s how to pick the right one for the job you’re looking to accomplish:

  1. Select your quarry. Obviously, you don’t need an elephant solid for a woodchuck. Neither do you want a frangible varmint bullet for an elk. The bigger the animal, the “tougher” or “harder” the bullet should be.
  2. Select your velocity. There’s a big difference between impact velocities of a 150-grain bullet launched from a 30-30 Winchester versus a 300 Winchester Magnum. The higher the impact velocity, the tougher a bullet must be in order to stay in one piece and not flatten like a hammered gumdrop.
  3. Select your impact distance. This one catches some shooters by surprise. Don’t assume your bullet is going to land with magnum velocities just because you launch it at magnum velocities. Somewhere downrange every bullet slows to 30-30 Winchester speeds – and then even slower. This doesn’t mean they’re likely to bounce off a mule deer’s shoulder, but at long range (and we’re talking beyond 500 yards in most cases) expansion may be minimal.

Bullet Types – How to Tell Them Apart and Judge What They’ll Do

  1. Frangible varmint bullets. These usually have thin, gilding metal jackets (copper alloyed with 5% to 10% zinc) and are filled with pure lead. The jacket prevents the lead from melting at high velocities in the bore, but on impact the somewhat brittle gilding metal usually breaks into two or more pieces. The lead may flatten or also break up, none of which matters on a varmint the size of a coyote or smaller. Varmint bullets are not recommended for big game hunting, but can be used effectively if they are slipped behind the shoulder to “explode” in the heart/lungs. I’ve seen whitetails terminated almost immediately with such shots. But if you hit a bone or major muscle … it’s a nasty flesh wound. (Examples: Sierra and Speer varmint hollow points, Nosler Ballistic Tip Varmint, etc.)
  2. Traditional cup-and-core bullets. Much like varmint bullets except the gilding metal is usually thicker and the lead is sometimes hardened with a bit of antimony. Jackets can part from cores under impact. (Examples: Remington Core-Lokt, Winchester Power Point, Hornady SST.)
  3. Bonded. The lead core (usually pure lead) is molecularly bonded with the jacket so the two cannot mechanically separate. Usually results in increased penetration because weight retention remains fairly high. Lead, however, is still lost to erosion against meat and muscle. (Examples: Accubond, Scirocco, Power Max Bonded, Fusion.)
  4. Monolithic. All one material, usually copper or a copper alloy. Expansion is initiated via a hollow punched into the nose. The depth and width of this hollow determines the degree of expansion. (The classic example – Barnes X.)
  5. Partition style. The lead shank is usually isolated from the tapered lead nose by a wall of jacket material between the two. (Examples: Nosler Partition is the original, Swift A-Frame is a beefier version.)
  6. Hybrids. Any combination of the above. (Examples: Solid copper shank and bonded lead nose – Federal Bear Claw and Bonded Tip; Lead core shank and hollow copper – Winchester XP3.)
  7. Non-leaded varmint. Thin gilding metal jacket and sintered (compressed) metal core instead of lead.
  8. Solids. Non-expanding. These can be solid copper or gilding metal or a lead core completely surrounded by jacket material. Designed to NOT expand, but penetrate deeply in a straight line, thus flat-nosed, sometimes round-nosed.

Any of these bullets can have flat or boat-tailed bases, exposed lead tips, tapered jackets, thick or thin jacket bases, polycarbonate tips or other features that change performance minimally.

Bullet types and the materials of each

Materials, design and construction all influence bullet performance. From left: Nosler Partition, Swift A-Frame, Remington Core-Lokt, Speer Grand Slam, Swift Scirocco, Barnes X. (Photo: Ron Spomer)

Terminal Performance: Two Schools of Thought

As the hunter, you must determine which type of bullet is best suited for your rifle, game and style of hunting. For this, there are two basic schools of thought. One camp holds that bullets should stay inside the animal to dump all their energy into vital tissue. The other prefers that bullets expand to damage tissue, but pass out like a good broadhead arrow to leave a better blood trail. After observing literally hundreds of big game animals, from 40-pound African antelopes to brown bears and moose shot with everything from .223 Remington to .458 Lott, I’m firmly in the shoot-through camp. Kinetic energy carried by bullets doesn’t reliably behave like a knockout punch, so I like to have a good blood trail.

Here follows a basic summary of which bullet types to use and where, but numerous variables can always change things. Consider them all, but also consider accuracy. It’s better to use a slightly less preferred bullet that is accurate in your rifle than an inaccurate one that might have a slight edge in terminal performance.

The Velocity Factor

For cartridges that launch bullets at about 2,800 fps or less at game the size of whitetails taken broadside at 100 to 250 yards, traditional cup-and-core bullets are quite effective. They generally ball up and stop against the far side hide.

At fast “magnum-class” launch velocities of 3,000 fps and higher, cup-and-core bullets tend to pancake or break up, especially inside of 200 yards. You may be better served by a bonded, partition, monolithic or hybrid bullet. Such bullets will more likely stay in one piece and reach vitals if you have to shoot through the shoulders or quartering from any angle. A deep penetrating bullet can often reach the vitals from north to south to finish fleeing, wounded game. The bigger/bulkier/tougher the game, the deeper penetrating bullet you want.

At extreme ranges, say 500 yards and beyond, the velocity of a bullet drops so much that cup-and-core bullets begin performing well again. “Hard” bullets may not open as widely as they would on game inside of 400 yards, even when shot at over 3,000 fps.

Different types of bullets showing different kinds of wear and tear from use

Depending on construction, impact velocity and game struck, bullets perform in different ways. Lead can erode away, jackets can separate from lead cores, bones can mangle and tear. Monolithic bullets like the Barnes TSX (at right) usually stay in one piece, although sometimes a petal or two can shear off. The greater the retained weight of any bullet, the deeper the penetration. (Photo: Ron Spomer)

Regardless of the bullets you use, magic is not a factor. No bullet reliably drops game in its tracks every time at any impact velocity unless you hit the central nervous system. Destroy vital tissues (heart, lungs, liver) and game usually lives for several seconds to a minute until a decrease in blood pressures deprives the brain of oxygen.

The last step in shooting game is observation. Watch carefully after every shot for signs of a hit. Check thoroughly for blood and especially hair. Often bullets enter, cut hair and stay inside while the animal runs 20 to 200 yards without losing a drop of blood. Always remember to be persistent in your search.

About Ron Spomer

Ron is rifles/optics columnist for Sporting Classics and North American Hunter magazines and host of Winchester World of Whitetail on NBC Sports. Learn more at (


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The Best Place for Moose Hunting…

…and 4 Killer Tips for Moose Hunting Preparation

By Ron Spomer

Moose hunting and moose hunting preparation and tips

Come face-to-face with a big Alaskan moose-or get one on the ground-and you’ll know how big a moose is. (Ron Spomer photo)

Unless you live in the far north, a moose probably isn’t something you hunt every year. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with, one hopes, one heck of a supply of meat and one painful taxidermy bill.

So do it right. Don’t make the all-too-common mistake of hunting moose in the wrong place.

West is the Best!

Everyone wants to hunt in the best place, but that’s more easily said than done. So how do you find the right place for moose? Short answer: hunt in the mountains.


Okay, let’s slow down and explain some of this. I’ve hunted moose more than 10 times and taken six bulls, all in the mountains. In the flatlands – those swampy, forested lakes and rivers – I’ve struck out, just like a lot of my friends.

Why such high success in the mountains? The answer is simple: you can easily spot more moose from up there.

Lots of hunters, raised on those classic images of moose in eastern swamps and hunters in canoes, don’t even know these huge deer live in mountainous terrain, but they do. And not just in the bottomlands and river valleys. Moose negotiate steep slopes every bit as easily as do elk. They also climb quite high, often above treeline. Bulls, especially, like to live above treeline in the summer so they don’t damage their velvet antlers. They’ll stay in that open country until mid-September when rut hormones urge them to go prospecting for cows at lower levels.

Moose hunting in the mountains

Here’s a big reason why mountain moose hunting is the best: they live in the open and you can look down on them. With their big white dish-antenna antlers, they’re fairly easy to spot. (Ron Spomer photo)

But even when mountain moose are frequenting the forests, they’re easier to see in mountain terrain because hunters can get high and look low, peering right into pockets of meadow, beaver ponds and small lakes. We’ve glassed moose more than eight miles away in Alaska. Once in British Columbia we counted 14 moose spread across five miles of river bottom while we sat atop a peak.

On a hunt in the Alaska Range, we spotted a bull from our perch high up on a mountain. He was feeding in a small, wet meadow three miles away. Thick forest lay between us. My guide stayed put with the horses to watch. I took a compass reading and dived off the tundra into the fir forest. When I reached the meadow, there was the bull, just about to walk into the trees on the far side. A 200-grain Nosler Partition from my Model 70 30-06 brought that stalk to a satisfying conclusion.

When you see lots of moose during a hunt, your spirit soars. Just as important, you get more chances to land one.

Mountain moose hunting and moose hunting preparation

A big bull in the open is a surer bet than a bull holding back in the swamps. (Ron Spomer photo)

Why Not the Eastern Swamps?

I’ll grant flatland moose country may hold as many moose, but that doesn’t do you much good if you can’t see them. That’s why hunting guides in lowland habitat rely heavily on cruising lake shores, running rivers and calling like lovesick cows. They’re trying to get a bull in the headlights, but if he doesn’t come, you’re left with a sob story about a grunting bull that wouldn’t show himself.

I understand some hunters can’t head to the mountains to stalk their moose. Maine moose are a lot closer to East Coast hunters than Yukon moose, and hunts are undoubtedly a lot less expensive. Ditto Manitoba and western Ontario for Midwest hunters.

Hunting moose and moose hunting tips

This bull may have been shot in a wet meadow, but it was spotted from the peaks in the background. M70 Winchester in custom 6.5-06. 120-grain J-36 Lost River bullet, one shot. (Ron Spomer photo)

If you hunt those famous “moosing” grounds, research the heck out of them—and your outfitter. Check fish and game department websites for population trends, hunter success rates, moose die-offs and the like. The recent rash of wolf predation is disrupting moose nearly everywhere. Disease outbreaks are hitting some populations hard. An area that’s been a hotspot for years might suddenly be empty after a summer forest fire, but after a few years the young browse in burnt areas and could pull in moose from afar, fueling fantastic antler growth. Ask questions of local game wardens and biologists, too. Don’t waste your precious moose hunt on old intelligence in an area that used to be a hotspot.


4 Killer Tips for Moose Hunting Preparation

Wherever you go, while you plot, plan and save for the perfect moose hunt, train yourself to be the perfect moose hunter. Use these tips when preparing your next moose hunt:

  1. Know your quarry. Read up on moose behavior. Study them. Listen to their calls. Calling in a bull is fairly easy when he’s willing to play.
  2. Set your goals. Study taxidermy mounts and train yourself to judge antler size. Set realistic goals for what you’ll happily shoot.
  3. Conditioning. Get in shape to walk, endure and live in the wilderness. Don’t wait until a month before you leave home. It will take you all summer. Maybe longer.
  4. Practice shooting. Don’t wait until the last minute and show up in camp afraid to shoot that new uber Magnums can be fun, but moose don’t know whether you hit them with a .375 H&H or a .270 Winchester. I’ve taken most of mine with bullets as light as 120-grain 6.5mms. Locals regularly use the .243 Winchester. Just use a bullet designed to penetrate deep and aim for the chest, which provides a generous target diameter of more than 2 feet! Don’t expect a hard-hit bull to drop in its tracks unless you strike the spine. Lung shot moose sometimes need a minute or more to realize they’re dead.
Hunting moose in the mountains and moose hunting tips

Get in shape for your hunt because even skinning a moose is a big, tough job. (Ron Spomer photo)

Finally, east or west, be prepared to get tired and dirty. Just skinning an 800- to 1,100-pound moose is a big job, but it’s no problem for the Havalon knife. Hauling the meat out is exhausting, but worth every drop of sweat. About the only wild venison better than moose is sheep, but one moose equals about 10 sheep. That’s reason enough to hunt them.

About Ron Spomer

Ron is rifles/optics columnist for Sporting Classics and North American Hunter magazines and host of Winchester World of Whitetail on NBC Sports. Learn more at (


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Key On Three Natural Foods For Fall Bear Hunting

Find the Foods and You’ll Find Good Bear Hunting in the Fall

By Bernie Barringer


Bernie Barringer with a bear taken in the fall on a ridge with lots of food from the mast trees in the area.

I was walking to my tree stand for a November deer hunt. A shortcut through a field of dry standing corn helped me get there undetected. As I eased down a row I was startled when I spotted something big, black and furry out ahead of me.

I stopped and eyed the black blob until I was certain it was a black bear. Bear scat littered the area, and much of the corn was broken down with ears pulled off and cleaned of their golden grain. I learned a lesson that day about the fall food choices of bears.

Black bears eat a variety of foods, but they’ll concentrate on what’s easy and available. In some cases, the foods are planted and in others the food sources occur naturally. Either way, if you find the food you’ll find the bears in the fall.

Grains: Corn, Oats, Winter Wheat


Oats are relished by bears and provide a food source while they are ripe. Bears will even visit oat fields after the harvest, gleaning fallen grains off the ground.

Corn is not the only high-carb food that attracts bears in the fall. An oat field can also be a bear magnet. Bears will feed on the fallen oats left over from harvesting, too. Winter wheat offers fresh, green shoots at a time when little of that is available, and the bears go bonkers for it.

Scout the edges of these fields to find the entry points. Bears are creatures of habit and often use the same trail to enter the field every day. They may also scratch trees before entering a field. Keep an eye out for their scratch trees; they can help you determine the size of a bear.

Put up trail cameras to find out when the bears enter the fields and to learn the size of the bear you are dealing with. Tracks will often show in the edges of the field, especially right after a rain. Follow the tracks back to their entry point and set up a treestand. Or set up an ambush downwind of the entry spot if the field is a low crop like wheat or oats. In corn, you will need to shoot the bear before he gets into the tall stuff. In low crops a rifle hunter can overlook a field; a bowhunter can set up a blind or treestand on the entry points.


Finding bear scat with oats in it is a sure sign where the bears are feeding. Find the food source and the trails in that area are prime locations for an ambush.

Bears love to roll around in the oats and sometimes you can spot these flattened areas from the road. The crop damage bears do is very negative for the farmer, but one of the best things for helping a hunter get permission to hunt. Make sure you take advantage of the situation.

Soft Mast: Apples, Plums and Other Fruits

Abandoned apple orchards are gold mines for bears. The bears start using them as soon as the apples are ripe, which usually takes place in September, depending on the variety of apple. However, late fall frosts and winds knock down a whole new round of apples for the bears, and trees that had lost their attractiveness can once again become feeding destinations for bears when the nights start getting cold. Plus I think the bears appreciate the fermentation that takes place in the fruit later in the year.


Apples, whether in orchards or abandoned in the woods, are favorite foods of bears in the fall. Bears are hard on apple trees and orchardists welcome bear hunters.

Bears will range around the area looking for variety, but they seem to hit the orchards every day for a few bites. When new apples are falling daily bears will figure that out. Bruins have no problem climbing trees to get everything within reach, but apple trees tend to have smaller limbs they cannot reach.

Since the apples tend to be in open areas such as abandoned farmsteads, ground blinds are a great tool for taking advantage of this situation. Treestands work if the conditions warrant, but being on eye-level in a ground blind is exhilarating and helps you to see farther under the overhanging branches of the apple trees. Bears can be taken by spot and stalk hunters in orchards, too. The bears may be busy with their head in the grass, poking around for fruit, which gives a hunter opportunity to move in close for a shot.

Bears relish wild plums and other wild fruits and berries. Once the leaves fall off the plants, the remaining fruit is exposed and the bears move in. It doesn’t take them long to clean the fruit up, so if you find this situation capitalize on it quickly.

Hard Mast: Acorns and Hazelnuts


Acorns have all the ingredients to make a bear fat and healthy for the winter. Find the acorns and there will be bearns nearby.

Bears are nuts for nuts. Instinct drives them to put on weight, and high carbohydrate nuts can be quickly converted to fat. When nuts are falling, bears move in and gobble them with abandon. Most mast crops tend to fall during early autumn, and squirrels, deer and an abundance of other critters don’t take long to clean up the life-preserving morsels. However, when late fall arrives and you find a place where the nuts haven’t all been cleaned up, the bears will know about it too.

Scouting early and during hunting is an important part of finding the fall food sources. The bear hunter who is willing to burn the boot leather to find and understand fall food sources will find opportunities to bag bears in the fall when other hunters have given up.


Bear Hunting Secrets of the Pros

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About Bernie Barringer

Bernie hunts and fishes for a variety of species in several states and Canadian provinces. He has published more than 500 articles in two dozen outdoor magazines and authored 12 books on hunting, fishing and trapping. The latest is The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY Strategies for the Travelling Hunter. He is a recognized authority on DIY hunting, and blogs his hunts on his website


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