Black bear hunting with a muzzleloader is challenging. The muzzleloader does not provide the bullet velocity or range of a rifle and the hunter must be prepared for a close encounter with the bear. The close range adds danger to the hunt and requires advanced preparations to remain undetected when the bear is within range.
Caliber and Range
Use the largest available caliber and shoot at the closest possible range. Shots at less than 100 yards are ideal, but many bear hunters prefer 50 yards or less. The round ball of a muzzleloader loses velocity quickly and short ranges are the best option for a clean kill. Use at least a .50-caliber gun with a 250-grain minimum on the ball. Practice with the same load to prepare for the kick and minimize the muzzleloader's effect on accuracy.
Scent control is more important for bears than any other species. The black bear has a strong sense of smell and will either run or charge if the human scent is detected. Controlling your scent is accomplished by bathing with scent-free soap and washing clothes with scent-free detergents before the hunt. Spray solutions are also available to mask scent immediately before the hunt. Black bear hunts require a blind or a chase and approaching from downwind is a rare option. The bear chooses the approach and you must shelter your scent to prevent scaring the bear. Scent control is important for all methods of hunting, but the close range required for a muzzleloader makes it especially important.
Baits and Blinds
Baiting black bears is outlawed in some states and regions but is popular and effective where legal. Common baits include concoctions of burnt sugar that release a strong smell in the air. The scent helps to cover the human scent and appeals to the sweet tooth of bears. Blinds or tree stands are placed around the bait and the hunter waits in a concealed state until the bear arrives. The baits are especially useful for muzzleloader and archery hunting because the hunter is able to sit within close range and control the distance of the shot.
Dogs are a highly effective method of hunting black bears. The dogs limit the need for scent control and engage the bear in a chase. The dogs follow the scent, and you follow the dogs. The bear is chased until it tires and runs up a tree. Running dogs requires training them to build their tracking skills and endurance for the chase. Dogs are a top choice for muzzleloader hunting because the bear can be shot at close range after the dogs run the bear up a tree.
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