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In just a few short weeks it’s going to be time to start thinking about the fall bear-hunting season, and already sportsmen are scouting for good places to set up bait stations and at least one hunter I know is buying bags of dog food and buckets of molasses in anticipation of the coming season.
There have been several attempts to end the bear baiting and dog-hunting seasons in Maine but nothing has come of these efforts so far. So, at least in 2007, hunters can begin placing their baits in suitable hotspots and look forward to next month’s opening day (set for Aug. 27 statewide for baiting).
General hunting season for Maine bears is Aug. 27 through Nov. 24, ?Hunting with dogs is allowed from Sept. 10 through Oct. 26.?Hunting with bait is allowed from Aug. 27 through Sept. 22.
The annual bag limit is one bear per year. A bear-hunting permit is required in addition to a big game hunting license from Aug. 27 through October 26. Hunting with bait applies to so-called "set-bait" hunting from stands, blinds, etc., overlooking bait or food. It does not apply to hunting over standing crops, food left from normal agricultural operations or from natural occurrence, which may be done at any time during the bear hunting season.
Baits must be placed at least 50 yards from any travel way that is accessible by a conventional 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle, and the stand, blind, or bait area must be plainly labeled with a 2-inch by 4 -inch tag with the name and address of the baiter.
Bait must be placed more than 500 yards from any solid waste disposal site or campground and more than 500 yards from an occupied dwelling, unless written permission is granted by the owner or lessee.
Baits may be placed not more than 30 days before the opening day of the season and not after October 31. Baited areas must be cleaned up by Nov. 10 as defined by the state litter laws. Any person hunting from any stand or blind set up by another person must have permission to use that stand or blind.
With all the legalities out of the way, what’s the best way to bring in a bear to a bait? The first rule of thumb is consistency. Do not expect to place a bait a month before the season opens and expect bears to keep coming indefinitely. Most commercial bear-hunting operations replace their baits daily or at least every few days. Bears like fresh food and plenty of it, so expect to haul at least one 5-gallon bucket of bait per site per day. Most hunters find it easy enough to maintain two or three sites over the course of the season, but if you’re going to guide people, you’re going to need bait by the truckload! Once the bears start coming in they will devour all the bait (and destroy the buckets and barrels) pretty much daily, especially as the season wears on and the animals become more voracious. They know they need to pile on the fat for winter and early fall is gorging time for them.
Baits can be anything plentiful, sweet and carb-based. We all know about donuts and honey, but bears are also attracted to commercial feeds (dog food is fine), liquid smoke, fresh meats, fruit and the like. Hunters should avoid fast-spoiling baits such as meat or fruits unless they are willing to clean up the old bait and replenish them daily. I know of one hunter last year who decided nailing a beaver carcass to a tree was a great bear bait. Of course, in the September heat the thing rotted quickly, stinking up the woods, and he quickly learned that rotted meat is not a good bear bait. Not one bear came to that site (otherwise a perfect setup in a remote place near a small brook) the entire season, and when the wind was right the hunters couldn’t stand being in the area, either!
“Bait” by definition should be something that entices the target animal, not repels it! A good recipe is half a bucket of dog food laced with molasses or honey. Tuck the bucket into a cubby made of logs in such a way that, when the bear comes in to feed, its shoulder area is exposed to the blind or stand so the hunter can have a clean, killing shot. Some hunters use large, metal barrels filled with food, which is great, because the bear has to spend a lot of time rolling the barrel around to get to the bait that dribbles out, but in so doing the bear can easily roll himself (and the barrel) right out of sight! This happened to me once on a recent trip. The guide forgot to anchor the barrel (using chains or wire) to a stout tree, and the bear simply came in, started shoving the barrel with his forehead, and rolled it straight into a thick alder patch. I could see the alders shaking and could actually hear the bear’s claws raking the metal barrel, but never had a shot.
By the way, don’t think that bears are stuffed animals. If you place your baits in a sealed 5-gallon container you will soon see that a hungry bear can tear the thing apart and scatter the pieces all over the woods. Same goes for steel barrels. Anchor them solidly or put a tracking beacon on them because a busy, hungry bear can take them 100 yards or more away. One site I hunted recently was on a riverbank. The bear took the steel drum completely across the river to the other side, where we didn’t have permission to hunt! This was a remote site so we had to motor down the river, retrieve the barrel and cart it back across the water to the other side. Of course, then we decided to do some serious anchoring.
Review the regulations on bear baiting for 2007 and start planning your sites. This is a popular, productive season with a lot of competition. But, for seeing, examining and selecting a trophy bear, there’s no better way to do it. Good luck this season!
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