It is like the question of the chicken and the egg: is spring or fall hunting for brown bears best? I have to admit I don’t know which is best, but I know they are two completely different hunts. Both can be incredible, and both can be miserable.
Let’s look at each, – you decide which is best
Spring hunts can vary from looking for bears that have just emerged from dens to glassing large expanses hoping to catch a boar roaming in search of a receptive sow, to hunting near shorelines where bears are eating grass and scavenging after a long hibernation.
One thing these hunts have in common is you will do a lot of glassing, and likely you will not see high numbers of bears. If you are there fairly early, you will likely see more boars as they tend to come out of the dens first.
The best thing about spring hunts (again early) is that the bears’ coats are at their absolute peak. They needed all that long thick hair to get through the cold winter in hibernation, and it gets no better before they start to rub it.
After the first few days of waking up from hibernation, boars seem to be more active during daylight hours than in fall. They are on the prowl for females and they are hungry. Alaska Outfitter Preston Cavner of Cavner and Julian produces as many really big brownies as anyone these days, and he told me, “You may see more bears in fall, but your window on the big boys is much shorter. In spring you can see a monster boar roaming in early afternoon, and then you have literally hours to make a play on him for a shot.”
In spring, you can see much better because there is not much cover and generally no foliage. You can see farther, but so can the bears, so shots at this time of year tend to be longer than in fall. For this reason I believe the .338 Win is the best brown bear choice. I like the hard-hitting Winchester Accubond CT in 225 grains traveling at 2800 fps. This load is supremely accurate to long distance, much farther than I am going to shoot a brown bear, and at 250 yards, it has all the power needed to hammer even a 1,000-pound monster.
Not only does it hit hard, but the Accubond CT will give you all the penetration you need while exhibiting controlled expansion and excellent weight retention.
Fall hunting often centers around salmon streams and blueberry patches where bears are gorging themselves in preparation for the upcoming winter. They need to put on all the fat they can in a very short amount of time, and it is simply unbelievable to see how many fish a bear can devour in an hour. They can also eat up to 10,000 blueberries in a day. It doesn’t seem like that could be accomplished in 24 hours, but when you watch a bear on berries, he is just like a huge vacuum cleaner
In fall, you will likely see more bears on average per day since they will congregate on streams with the most fish or hillsides with good berry patches. But as Cavner explained, “It is often warmer on these hunts than early spring, and sometimes the bears have been pressured a bit during the summer. The old, wise boars basically become nocturnal, and you may only have 30-60 minutes before dark when hunting the trophy bears is really viable. You will see more bears and enjoy the overall experience of bear hunting and encounters, but you need a bit of luck to score big!”
Since they are concentrated on food sources, and there still is lots of foliage in August –October, hunters can often glass bears from vantage points, but then execute good stalks and end up quite close to their quarry. For this reason, I have chosen bigger calibers on my fall hunts.
The .375 H&H, .416 Remington and .458 Win. are all super brown bear stoppers. The .375 and .416 are the most versatile because both hold up really well out to 200-250 yards (at 2530fps and 2400fps), but in close the big 300 and 400-grain (respectively) bullets sure do a number on bears of any size.
Winchester’s Safari line offers the tried and true Nosler Partition bullet in all of these calibers that fit the job at hand to a “T.” The Partition will expand as it drives in deep, and it will retain virtually all of its weight as it transfers energy into the big bear and causes massive trauma. For the closer situations fall brown bear hunting often offers, the Winchester Safari line simply can’t be beat.