I wouldn't worry too much about bears. Usually by the time you see them they are long gone, that is unless you come upon some cubs and get between them and mom then even the spray may not be enough. All the bear encounters that I have had here in Colorado they run away as soon as they saw me.
Now if you want to pack a firearm then you need to pack one that will do some serious damage and not just piss them off. The usually means something in the .44 mag and up and the best thing to carry is a 12 gage pump loaded with slugs. As far as the law about packing a firearm when scouting go ahead and do it, no problems.
I never have carried bear spray, either hunting or scouting. You can open-carry a loaded firearm (rifle, pistol, shotgun) legally on National Forest land and BLM land. Use caution on SWA lands if you plan on scouting those. Often times those SWA are off limits to people during certain times of the year. Be sure to check the local regs of the area you will be scouting. These days being accused of poaching while scouting is becoming a secondary concern. Unfortunately with all the illegals coming up here and planting pot on National Forest land the state police and game wardens might be a bit more numerous and more suspicious of anyone out there carrying fireams and poaching might be the last thing on their mind. Just be sure to exercise common sence if approached by lawmen while scouting when armed. Before certain people started planting pot in the National Forest lands I never came across any law enforcement officers out in the bush while scouting. Only ever saw them on some of the back roads. Rarely ever come across any recreational type people either, except for maybe the occasional diehard fisherman. Now, in light of this recent phenomenon that's taking place in the high country lately I also worry much more about my own safety. All the more reason to carry a firearm. I'm even concidering an AR-15 or AK-47 to carry while scouting.
A perk of majoring in wildlife biology in college is the plethora of hunting knowledge that you collect throughout your course load. One of the most important factors in whether an area can hold large quantities of animals or produce large antlers is forage.
Most universities, state schools and even community colleges offer basic botany courses and plant ID courses. Although it might not be feasable for the average middle age hunter to pay tuition and go back to college to learn hunting...