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The hot-cool merry-go-round of weather we’ve had lately keeps one wondering what tomorrow will be like – humid and hot or breezy and cool. Somewhere near the end of August the temperatures tend to dip slightly and the humidity starts to go away, which makes being outdoors pure pleasure on many different levels.
If you’re into picking berries, you may find yourself in the middle of a blueberry barren filling pail after pail with the delicious fruit, or you can get the last of the red raspberries, the ones that seem to linger well into the end of the month in small patches here and there. Don’t be surprised (as I was) to find a black bear or two sharing the berry patch with you – after all, it’s harvest time for them, too!
My last visit to an apple orchard (one where I’m more interested in the grouse, deer and bears I will see there than the apples we all seek) showed some trees were heavily laden with fruit while others were empty. There may be something to the theory that certain varieties “give” on odd or even years (which is often the case with oaks, beeches and such), so I like to sneak into my favorite haunts well before the hunting season opens to see which trees are producing fruit and which ones are not. My quarry won’t bother with trees that hold no fruit and neither will I. Because things change from year to year it’s worth checking, however, because when the fruit is “on” the hunting can be non-stop and world class. For example, one year I found that an entire orchard on the McCorrison Road in Orneville was in full fruit, so I focused nearly all my upland hunting attention there that fall. According to my records (notes I kept on flushes, shots taken and birds downed) one day I put up 14 grouse in one afternoon, shot at 6 of them and bagged four – one of my best hunts of all time. In fact, I also downed two birds on one rise – a certifiable double – and never traveled more than 100 yards the entire time! Those kinds of days don’t happen very often, something to remember for years afterwards. If you know of a secluded old orchard that’s bearing fruit this fall, plan to be there shortly after opening day or any time toward the end of October. You are sure to have a banner day, too.
The buzz this month, of course, is bear hunting over bait. Folks are already getting their baits ready, gathering the necessary (usually secret) ingredients and planning where and how to set their baits for the most action when the season opens Aug. 30.
While every hunter has his own special concoction for luring big bruins into range (and donuts seem to rank high on the list), I have had better luck using a simple mix of dog food, molasses and liquid smoke. This potent mix (placed in a 55-gallon drum on a covered 5-gallon pail) will keep the bears busy and interested all season. I replenish the baits every other day until about a week before the season opens, and then I go in every day and add about half as much bait as I normally put out (four or five cups of dog food drizzled with a cup of molasses and a few capfuls of liquid smoke). The trick is to put out enough bait to keep the bears coming back but no so much that they stay away for a day or two because they are full! The purpose of a bait is to lure a bear in for a quick, free meal. If you put out so much bait that you are literally feeding them, you may not see a bear at all while hunting because they’ll come in well after dark and fill up. But, if you put out less bait, they will come in early to slurp up what they can before another bear gets there.
Bears are, after all, gluttonous and selfish, so the amount of bait you put out should be tailored to a particular animal rather than aimed at feeding all the bears in the woods. When you get sows and cubs coming in you can’t afford to feed them all, but if you have one or two large boars on the dole, you can keep them interested by putting out just enough food to whet their appetites.
Fall bears are insatiable and endlessly in search of food, so make your “snack” of dog food and molasses just enough to force them to swing by for a sample in their nightly foraging expeditions.
One thing to remember is that bears do not like carrion, garbage or tainted foods – they are rather picky about what they eat and will go with fresh, sweet foods before they are forced to demean themselves with rotten meats and such.
A buddy and I hunted with a guide in northern Maine who was sure that bears liked beaver meat, so he nailed a dead beaver to a tree at every stand site he had. After two weeks not a single bear had been to the bait. We convinced him to clean up the bait sites, put out some dog food and molasses, and in two days we all had bears! I’m sure the dead beavers caught the noses of marauding bruins far off in the woods, but nothing brings them in like sweets and fresh foods.
If you plan on hunting bears over bait this season, study the appropriate regulations (available on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Web site at
Season dates, regulations and permit requirements vary throughout the fall for bait, hound and “regular” hunters. Now is a good time to study the rules so you can be prepared and ready for action when your particular season opens.
Meanwhile, keep an eye out for a sale on dog food. You don’t need to purchase the most expensive brand, but you will want plenty of it. A 300-pound Maine black bear can put away a lot of food!
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