Online scouting for black bear
Learn how to use online scouting tools like MassMapper and Google Earth to identify areas to hunt black bear in Massachusetts. If you aren't familiar with these tools, watch our Basics of Online Scouting in Massachusetts video first before watching the Online Scouting Tools for Black Bear video below.
Use Google Earth or Google Maps to locate the areas where you might hunt. Use the satellite view to look for agricultural fields. Use the timeline tool in Google Earth to view past 5-10 years and look for satellite images taken in August, September, or October. Bears love to eat corn and often leave significant damage in the fields which may be visible from satellite pictures. Zoom in and look for bear damage in the form of large bald spots in fields. Once you have an idea of where bears have been active, you can decide where to do on-the-ground scouting.
Bears are also often found browsing on nuts and berries, so look on maps for ridges which will have oak and beech trees or wetland edges which may provide berry patches or cherry trees.
Starting in mid-August, put boots on the ground in areas you might hunt. Look for obvious bear trails, food sources, as well as old or new scat.
Ask the landowner for permission to hunt bears on their land. You can use GIS mapping systems such as MassMapper, Massachusetts Interactive Property Map, Town GIS web pages, or OnX Hunt app to find landowners names and send letters or try and call them in advance for permission.
Many farmers experience crop damage and will want/expect you to shoot any legal bear you see (including a sow with cubs), so be prepared for that question.
Many farmers west of the Connecticut River allow multiple bear hunters on their land. Some landowners will let you hunt, but others are happy with their existing hunter numbers. Be respectful of landowner requests, and respect fellow hunters. If you find stands or blinds in an area you are scouting, find a different place to hunt.
Scouting and hunting near cornfields
As stated above, use Google Earth or Google Maps to find likely spots for bears. These areas can change from year to year due to a variety of factors and there is no substitute for in-person scouting close to the season opener. To verify that bears are using an area, look for patches of corn stalks pulled to ground, bear tracks, piles of scat, regurgitated corn, and obvious trampled trails heading into nearby forest. Often, bears will only come into and out of the corn right at dawn/dusk offering limited shot opportunity for an ethical shot at the edge of the cornfield. It is often more productive to find a stand or blind location in the woods adjacent to the corn field where you have a good view of the bears entry and exit trails.
Always ask permission prior to walking or driving into or around someone's corn field. Consider offering to share your harvest, helping out with a chore on their land, or even bringing a thank-you gift to show your appreciation.
The same general scouting applies to other food sources such as acorns, beech nuts, and cherry trees. These food sources draw in bears and there is often less hunter competition. Look for cherry trees that have been bent over or snapped to ground, scat, and claw marks on trees. Bears can and will climb trees for food.
General bear hunting tips
- Reduce your human scent. Wash clothes and shower in the scent-free wash of your choice. Store clothes outside on a clothesline or in a bag with natural vegetation like dry leaves and pine boughs.
- Pay attention to the direction of the wind. Bears have a keen sense of smell and will quickly pick up on your presence. Place yourself downwind when hunting and, if possible, come into your stand from a direction different from that used by the bears.
- Stalk into your stand. Consider waiting until there is enough light to make your way very quietly to your stand. You may lose some legal hunting time, but your chances of success will increase if you don’t scare nearby bears away.
- Bears often approach food sources close to the end of legal shooting hours. If you are hunting a field edge, sit until legal hunting ends (30 minutes after sunset) or until the last moments of good visibility. When hunting in the woods, adequate visibility for an ethical shot often fades several minutes before the legal shooting time is over.
- Be prepared to properly care for your bear should you successfully harvest one. During the September season, temperatures can still be well above 70 and bears can spoil quickly. Field dress your animal as quickly as possible. After that, plan to either pack the body cavity with ice and transport it directly to a cooler or game processing facility, or—after reporting your harvest online—skin and quarter the animal and pack the meat in coolers on ice.
Field dressing and meat preparation
- Upon harvesting a bear, and after attaching your harvest tag, you should immediately field dress the animal. Get information about reporting your bear harvest.
- Once field dressed, it is important to cool the meat as quickly as possible. Skinning the bear can help cool the meat. If skinning isn’t possible right away, you can pack the abdominal cavity with ice until you are able to skin and butcher it.
- When the bear is skinned, trim the fat layers away from the underlying red meat. The fat can be retained and later rendered down into bear grease/lard. The grease can be used as a cooking oil or to make a variety of pastries/pies.
- The remaining butchering process is like any other big game animal and depends on your personal preferences (steaks, roasts, stew meat, grind, etc.). The best steaks come from the loin (aka backstraps). You can cut several large roasts from the front and hind quarters and reserve the rest for stew meat and/or grind into burger.
Bear meat preparation and safety
Black bear meat is a healthy and delicious source of protein along with iron, phosphorus, and vitamins B1, B2, and B3. Learning how to prepare and cook meat from a bear that you harvested can be extremely rewarding. Since bears can be carriers of Trichinella spiralis (the parasites that can cause the disease trichinosis in humans), it’s important to carefully follow the cooking techniques below to make sure your bear meat is safe to eat.
- The internal temperature of the thickest part of the meat needs to reach 165°F for at least 3 minutes. Heating the meat to an internal temperature of 170°F is an easy way to ensure that it’s thoroughly cooked.
- Cook until there is no trace of pink meat or fluid, paying close attention to the areas around joints and close to the bone.