We are just two weeks away from Maine’s 2018 bear baiting season, which begins Aug. 27 and runs through Sept. 23. We are well within the 30-day window for pre-baiting, which is a good idea if you plan to attract and hold a bear near your chosen site.
While most of the attention regarding bear baiting has been focused on guides and major operations that may include dozens, even hundreds of bait sites, there is no reason Average Joe Hunter can’t set up a few carefully selected bait stations and do just as well on his own.
I’ve been involved with and hunted over baits for bears for many years and have seen all sorts of bait combinations ranging from dead fish and beavers to the more common breads, donuts, pastries and sugary offerings. One old hunter I know who recently passed away went around to all the discount stores the week after Halloween and bought up all their unsold candies. He’d slow-cook these till they melted and then poured them into individual 5-gallon buckets that he stacked in an old freezer till the following bear season. Other than pouring some Liquid Smoke on nearby trees and brush he used no other attractants yet the bears seemed to flock to his bait sites. Everyone in the family who wanted a bear got one, including the old fellow himself who, at 84 was still actively setting out baits.
It seems that every bear baiter I know has his own secret recipe for attracting bruins to a bait site and nearly all of these mysterious concoctions work. Back in the 1970s when Maine still allowed spring bear hunting I used to go up small tributary streams and spear suckers that I’d arrange in piles every 100 yards or so along the brook. The bears, which were coming out of their dens at that time, would tear into the suckers as well as the skunk cabbages that were sprouting all along the waterway.
Every so often a farmer would give me a horse, cow or pig carcass to dispose of and I’d tow it off into the woods to be used as bear bait. All of these strategies worked but I must say that hauling and dumping barrels of donuts, pies and pastries is a lot easier!
The key is the placement of your bait. Bears can tolerate humans but are none too fond of them so look for a spot that is secluded, close to dense, swampy evergreen cover and off the side of a logging road, stream or lake shore.
Place the bait in such a way that the bear must turn broadside to the blind or stand and place something in the site that will give you an idea of how big the bear is. No hunter wants to shoot a cub or yearling but many times these immature bears look much bigger than they are. This is partly why hunters use 55-gallon drums as bait sites – not so much to fill the barrel with bait but simply to gauge the size of the bear as he comes in to feed. In fact, most hunters place only a few cupfuls of bait inside or on the barrel – remember, we’re not feeding the bears, we’re baiting them, much as we use only a garden worm and not a night crawler as bait for trout. A little bit of bait will go a long way in attracting a bear to your site – anything more is merely free food for the bears, which have all night to sit there and devour all those extra donuts, pastries and pies.
The “barrel method” makes is simple to judge the size of a bear. With the barrel standing upright, any bear whose back does not reach the middle or second ring of the barrel is too small – let him go and grow.
If a bear comes in whose back is above the top ring or completely obscures the barrel – that’s your shooter!
If the barrel is lying down and one end is cut open, you can still measure the size of the bear by noting whether or not his body is as large as or bigger than the barrel. If a bear can walk right into the barrel and begin eating he’s way too small. But, if he walks up to the barrel and his head won’t fit into the opening, it’s time to shoot. That will be one huge black bear!
Baits should be checked every few days either in person or via trail cams. Some of the newer cameras allow the hunter to monitor the bait site “live” from a computer or “smart” phone. When a bear (or bears) begin to show up regularly note the time of day and direction of approach and then replenish the bait as necessary to keep the bears coming in. Also, if the stand or blind needs to be moved now is a good time to do it based on the bear’s time of arrival and direction of travel.
If you need to move a stand or blind wait at least two days to let the animals get used to the changes you’ve made. In most cases it is best to wait till you have the information you need before installing blinds and stands, but once the bears get used to them they will continue to come in. It’s all a matter of how much time you have to spend on replenishing baits, monitoring cameras, moving stands and actually hunting the site.
In a perfect world your bait will be irresistible to bears, your site will be impeccable, your bear will show up in broad daylight and he’ll be twice the size of your barrel. I actually had this happen while hunting in Labrador. We set out baits and stands on Sunday and by late Monday afternoon we were tagged out.
Don’t bet on it but it could happen!