Scout Now for Fall Bear Season

by Jason Brooks

Fall bear season is just a few weeks away and that means it is time to start scouting. Late July and early August provides enough daylight, warm weather, and opportunities to locate your bear now so when the season opens you are ready. Here are a few tips on locating the best bear areas now to be successful this fall.

The author’s son Ryan scouting open slops for signs of black bears-Jason Brooks

#1. Glass for bears, habitat, and terrain.

When scouting don’t just sit and look for animals. In July and early August, you might not find game out feeding. The lack of seeing game doesn’t mean bears aren’t there, it just means that bears aren’t there right now. Especially if the berries and other food sources are not ripe. Also keep in mind that the daylight is still strong, the temperatures warm, and thermal winds kick up earlier. Instead look for plants, other food sources, benches, hiking routes, stalking routes and camping spots. The idea of scouting isn’t just about finding game but also learning the lay of the land. A good pair of binoculars and a spotting scope are a must. Lightweight and compact models such as the Vortex Vanquish are perfect for scouting trips.

Mountain Ash is one of the black bears favorite fall foods-Jason Brooks

#2. Bears like berries.

As the alpine snow finally melts off you will notice the blooming wildflowers starting to wilt. This is because most of those flowers are blossoms to the many wild berry patches that grow in Washington. Learn how to identify the plants from afar and you will locate the bears much easier. Broadleaf plants, such as thimbleberries, blackberries, and wild raspberries ripen first. Concentrate on avalanche chutes and open slopes were you locate these plants. Mountain ash is a small tree or large bush and bears love the berries they yield. You can spot an ash tree from a long distance away and bears will shake them, rip them down, and pull them over when their fruit is ripe. Oftentimes I locate bears simply by watching the brush and see if it starts to move or shake.

Bug’s are annoying, so be prepared to keep them away while out scouting-Jason Brooks

#3. Be bug prepared.

Hiking in July and August is primetime for biting bugs. Especially in the high country where ground heather, moss, and tarns are still saturated with water. Mosquitos can ruin a day of scouting. Biting black flies are even worse. Use a quality repellent with DEET. If you don’t like using chemicals then a good head net, bug resistant clothing, and a Thermacell are a must, especially when sitting and glassing.

With the long summer days, and clear skies now is the time to get into the mountains and start looking for bears and their habitat. Learn the food sources in your hunting area. As fall approaches bears will go into a constant feeding mode and you will find them out eating all throughout the day. For now, just locating where the food is, how to get there, and a place to set up camp will help you fill your tag when the season opens.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

Scout Now for Fall’s Hunts!

by Jason Brooks

With special permit draws being announced hunting season is starting to feel a little bit closer. If you drew your “dream tag” or struck out once again now is the time to start your scouting. If you attended my seminar last April then you heard me talk about other resources to help with your scouting, if you missed the seminar then keep reading as I highlight some of the details. A record snowpack means that you might not be able to put “boots on the ground” to find your big buck or bull this fall for a few more weeks or even a month but you can start your scouting right now!

Finding bucks in the summertime helps find them again in the Fall-Jason Brooks

Start with your state’s Fish and Game website and their hunt planning tools. For Washington it is the “Go Hunt” feature at the WDFW Hunting Tab. On this planner you can find public lands, private lands that allows access, integrated maps with satellite photos, roads, unit boundaries and harvest data.

WDFW Go Hunt allows you to find maps of your unit as well as harvest data-Jason Brooks

Once you have your unit figured out then it is time to start thinking about other places for information. Websites such as Hunting WashingtonEastman’s Hunting , Muley Madness, and other sites offer articles and even forums where hunters give up information. You can also contact members and ask them directly about their experiences, especially for the hard-to-draw tags.

The SNOTEL website lets you know how much snow is still in the high country-Jason Brooks

As you start to narrow down your areas search maps and topography websites such as “Google Earth”. You can also find other maps and data about your area from government websites such as the SNOTEL site that gives you up-to-date snow depth information. This will let you know when you can actually head to your unit and do some physical scouting of the ridges, mountains, draws, and drainages you want to hunt.

Google Earth shows you topography as well as other features such as lakes, open slopes, and ridges-Jason Brooks

Other websites that provide information are ones that non-hunters frequent and provide trail reports for such as Washington Trails AssociationWilderness.net and wildland fire data at National Interagency Fire Center.

Before you head to your unit make sure to check the local forest service website if you are hunting the national forest. This will list road conditions and closures, trail conditions, planned projects such as construction or prescribed burns, and other information including ATV use.

National Interagency Fire Center provides up-to-date fire maps and information-Jason Brooks

Now that you know if your hunting the yearly “deer camp” or are heading to a new unit and a dream hunt it is time to start scouting. Between weekend trips keep up to date with various websites and maps. Learn the area and talk to those that are familiar with the unit such as biologist, guides, and other hunters. Just remember to share information as well when asked.

Kyle Hurst knows scouting pays off and helped him harvest this mule deer during a general season-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer 

Shed Hunting 101

As the snow melts it’s time to go find some sheds-Jason Brooks

by Jason Brooks

With deer and elk dropping their antlers and the snow level climbing above 5,000 feet it’s time to go shed hunting. This long and harsh winter is finally coming to an end and before green-up occurs the matted-down vegetation found in the woods right now makes it easier to find the prized bone. Here are a few tips as well as some reminders on shed hunting here in Washington.

My Hungarian Vizsla “Lucy” helps me find sheds-Jason Brooks

Use your dog! One way to increase your antler cache is to train your dog to look for sheds. Play fetch or force break retrieving using an antler and heavily reward your dog when they find it and bring it back. It won’t take long and they’ll be out searching for sheds and bringing them back to you in trade for a small treat. You will note my Hungarian Vizsla Lucy is wearing her hunting vest by Browning. This helps me keep tabs on her as she races across the hillsides. If we stumble across some deer or elk I can easily see her and call her back, leaving the animals alone.

When you find one shed look around for the other side nearby-Jason Brooks

When you find one shed, look for the other. The bases loosen and they fall off, which often happens simultaneously. If you find one shed search around and you might pick up a match set.

Leave winter kill skulls and antlers in the field-Jason Brooks

Leave winter kill animals alone. In Washington you can only collect naturally shed antlers so if you come across a winter kill leave it for the coyotes and other animals.

Leave deer and elk alone so they can recover from the long winter-Jason Brooks

If you find a group of deer or herd of elk then back out and come back another day. You might be out stretching your legs and getting a good workout in while hiking the hills but the animals are still enduring the harsh winter. Their fat reserves are gone and until the grasses and brush start to green up they don’t have much of a food source. It’s best to leave animals alone, even if you see a nice buck and hope to follow him until the antlers drop. Mark the spot on your GPS and come back next week.

Finding sheds is a great way to get afield in the springtime-Jason Brooks

Remember that shed hunting is a business for some and it can be very competitive. If you find an open slope and are lucky enough to find a shed or two then remember the spot for next year and keep it to yourself. Popular places near known wintering grounds can be very competitive. Only shed hunt on public lands or where you have permission and check the WDFW website regarding WDFW lands as most of them are closed until later in the spring to allow wintering animals a place to rest.

I love shed hunting because it’s a chance to work with my dog, get some excersice, and spend some quality time outside with my kids. After the winter we’ve had here in Washington it’s about time all of us get outside anyway. It’s been a long one!

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line-Blogger
Jason Brooks Photography

 

Next Hunting Season Starts Now

Kyle Hurst with his Idaho Mule Deer-Jason Brooks

Kyle Hurst with his Idaho Mule Deer-Jason Brooks

Tips for Becoming a Successful Deer Hunter

by Jason Brooks

With most deer season’s winding down and and folks updating their social media sites with “success” photos some might find themselves asking, “How are certain people so successful and other’s only find a buck, any buck, every few years?”. I am often asked this same question and what it comes down to is lifestyle. Those that live to hunt also hunt to live. Making eating venison a priority in their life. Ryan Lampers, of Ray’s Baits, is one of these guys, and so is his family. Ryan is a very successful hunter and he explained on The Outdoor Line radio show a few weeks ago that the primary reason he is so successful is because hunting is a lifestyle. Lampers lives, eats, and breaths hunting.

A Montana Late Season Sunset-Rob Endsley

A Montana Late Season Sunset-Rob Endsley

Rob Endsley and I were talking about hunting and how it drives the way we live. Both of us agreeing that preparing for next year’s deer season starts the day after this year’s season ends. Endsley spends a lot of time scouring maps and a lot of time on Google Earth. Pouring over data, success rates, public lands, and access to public lands is what successful game plans are all about. This leads him to new hunting grounds and a higher success rate than the “average Joe”. A willingness to hunt new places, and even other states, will force your to learn new areas, migration routes, herd management, and deer behavior. All of this leads to becoming a better hunter.

Scouting, and learning new areas lead to successful hunts-Jason Brooks

Scouting, and learning new areas lead to successful hunts-Jason Brooks

My main hunting partners, Chad and Kyle Hurst, also subscribe to the “hunter’s lifestyle” and make wild game a staple in their diet. Kyle is one of those hunters I describe as a “machine”. A guy who puts physical fitness as well as dietary essentials as a main focus of how he lives. It showed this past fall when we flew into Idaho’s backcountry. Kyle hiked nearly 39 miles in five days and packed meat on three of those days. The last evening of our trip he heard about a hot springs three miles upriver, which he jogged to.

Kyle Hurst with a high country buck-Jason Brooks

Kyle Hurst with a high country buck-Kyle Hurst

Luckily, we don’t have to be in “super-human” physical shape like Kyle or Ryan, though it does help immensely. Back to how Rob and I prepare for our hunts. By expanding your hunting areas and knowledge you increase your chances at success. Of course I prefer to hunt from my deer camp in my home state of Washington, and I have taken some nice bucks over the years there, but on an average day in Washington I might see three or four bucks. In Idaho I see around ten to fifteen a day. Even then, the “caliber” of bucks is no comparison. In Idaho I passed up bucks until the last afternoon, always looking for “Mr. Big”, and let go several four points that were in the 140-150 inch class. In Washington I rarely pass up any legal buck.

Chad Hurst packing out an Idaho buck he killed 5 miles from camp-Jason Brooks

Chad Hurst packing out an Idaho buck he killed 5 miles from camp-Jason Brooks

This brings us to the measure of “success”. I talk to a lot of hunters, some who brag about their big bucks, as they should, but also frown on those that take barely legal bucks. Then there are the hunters who draw a doe permit and get stoked at filling the freezer. The measure of success is an individual decision. Personally, I still get excited to get a doe with my muzzleloader or bow as much as shooting a buck with my rifle.

Adam Brooks with his first deer, a muley doe, and a successful hunt-Jason Brooks

Adam Brooks with his first deer, a muley doe, and a successful hunt-Jason Brooks

In Idaho this year I wanted a “monster” buck but on the last afternoon of my hunt I ended up taking one of the smallest legal bucks I found on my entire trip. I was thankful for the deer, as I wanted the meat more than the antlers. Plus, I was able to hunt the entire week, given an opportunity at any moment to find my “buck of a lifetime” and enjoying the week in the mountains. This was a total success and at any time I could have shot the buck of a lifetime.

When we got home both Chad and Kyle took their four point racks and put them into the pile in their garage again reminding me that it is the hunt that drives them and their hunt-to-live, live-to-hunt lifestyle.

Most big game seasons are coming to an end right now, but next season is just beginning. Make a pact with yourself to do your homework and up your game between now and next fall. Spend some time studying maps, Google Earth, game department data, and online forums. Become overly proficient with your bow, muzzleloader, or rifle and get yourself in shape. If you’re a weekend warrior then make those weekends count!

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer