If you’ve been reading my articles thus far, it should be no secret that black bear is one of my favorite animals to hunt. The size of the animal, the wild places they inhabit, and the small element of danger in hunting a large predator make every bear hunt thrilling. So far, I have done my bear hunting in the midwest using bait to try and draw them out into range. While hunting in Michigan is always fun, I have been waiting for the right chance to go out west and do a spot and stalk hunt for bears on public land. After a long winter of state lockdowns in Michigan and cold weather, I am eagerly prepping for an out-of-state hunt in early April. I purchased a non-resident over the counter license for spring black bear and a plane ticket into Phoenix. In about two weeks, I will load up my gear and board a flight bound for the Grand Canyon State.
My destination is an area near Payson, Arizona. Payson is referred to as the “heart of Arizona” for its proximity to the center of the state. A Michigan native, I have done all my hunting here so far. Going out west is going to take me way outside my comfort zone as I try to find my way through the Tonto National Forest and navigate the Mogollon rim. This area is known for having one of the highest concentrations of bears in Arizona. The terrain is filled with moderate elevation ranging from four to eight thousand feet and the landscape is covered with rocks, ponderosa pines, and thick brush. The good news is that spring weather in this part of Arizona is generally dry and temperatures range between lows of 30 and highs of 70.
I will be backpacking into the backcountry and solo hunting. Going on a western backpack-style hunt brings its own host of challenges. Physical fitness is going to play a key role in my success on this hunt. With this in mind, I have spent a lot of time this year training. Rotating between basic cardio workouts and weighted pack hikes, I have tried to simulate the conditions I will face in the field as best as possible. I am planning to be in the field for 10 days which presents additional challenges as I will need to bring extra food and gear. My pack weight including my rifle is at sixty-three pounds which is enough to humble you quickly when hiking uphill. Over the past two months, I have gone from struggling to carry a forty-pound pack, to doing five-mile hikes with 60 pounds and still feeling pretty good the next day. My conditioning has improved, my confidence has increased, and I’m feeling ready to go out west.
I am under no misconceptions that this will be an easy hunt or that coming home with a bear is a sure thing. It will be a grueling trek into an unfamiliar area and finding a decent black bear in early April will be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Days will be spent hiking to new locations and then glassing through binoculars for hours on end. If I am able to locate a bear, I will then have to hike within range and prepare to shoot. If I get a bear, I will then have to butcher it in the field and pack out the meat, skull, and hide back through the rough terrain to the trailhead. Sure I could have planned a relaxing trip to the beach for two weeks, but my goal for the past several years has been to get out west and hunt big game. To have the opportunity to go on the trip solo and have to figure out everything by myself is exactly what I’ve been working towards the past several years. In short, it’s going to be one hell of a trip. If I come home empty-handed I will have still learned a ton and done a lot of scouting for the next time out there.