Not wanting to be the first to say that summer is slowly coming to an end, let’s just say that it’s already time to start pre-baiting for Maine’s 2016 black bear hunting season, which begins Aug. 29. Baits may be placed 30 days prior to the season opener, which means the fun begins as early as July 29.
Despite the Humane Society of the United States’ rather ludicrous claims, bear hunters don’t use baits to feed bears – that would be expensive, time-consuming and ineffective. Just as in fishing, the use of bait is designed to lure bears into range during daylight hours, and for this reason only a small amount of bait is used to accomplish that goal. A few cupfuls of bait is all it takes to bring hungry, curious bears in at some point during the day (usually early in the morning or at dusk), but if one were to dump a huge pile of donuts, dog food, meat scraps, etc., the bears would almost certainly wait till after legal shooting hours to fill their bellies.
This makes perfect sense if you consider that most bear complaints involve a bold black bear coming onto someone’s back porch to raid the cat food bowl or bird feeder. No one I know puts hundreds of pounds of bird seed out at one time, yet still the bears come in. They’ll take a handful or a mouthful, in fact preferring to hit-and-run rather than roll around in great gobs of rancid food. Bears typically roam over a 20-square-mile area, stopping here and there to fill up on whatever foods (natural or otherwise) are available. You don’t have to feed them a trash can full of food to keep them coming back. Once your bait site (or bird feeder) is on the list of preferred stops you’ll have a hard time getting rid of the bear. If you bait them, they will come.
There are rules and regulations governing bear baiting on private property, but if you own land or have permission to bait (oral or written) you’re good to go. Log onto www.mefishwildlife.com for specifics on bear baiting and hunting. As you’ll quickly see, it gets complicated!
Keep in mind that bringing bears in close to homes, farms, gardens and livestock is a risky business because bears can’t tell the difference between a bucket of dog food or a fatted calf – being omnivorous, that pretty much means bears will eat anything that will put fat on their backs.
Choose your bait sites well. Locations that are well away from human habitation, farm animals, crops and other human endeavors are the best choice. Set up a stand or blind if you want to observe bears “in person,” or install a trail camera so you can sort through the exciting images in the safety of your own home. These days there are trail cameras that can be remotely viewed in “real time” through your phone or computer, so you don’t even have to go back to the site until it’s time to replenish the bait.
Most bear baits are universal attractants for other creatures so don’t be surprised if you see raccoons, porcupines, fishers, pine martens and various other critters making a raid on the site. When all these lesser creatures suddenly vanish (usually near sunset) you can be sure that a bear is nearby and waiting to come in for a snack. If you’re sitting in a ground blind 20 yards from the bait you will suddenly feel extremely anxious, and well you should! A bear may circle the bait site a dozen times before he comes in to eat, and if the wind shifts he may stroll right past your blind or stand, often just feet away. Now THAT is exciting stuff!
To get started in bear baiting all you need is a 5-gallon bucket, a bag of dog food, some blueberry or raspberry sauce, a bottle of liquid smoke and a can of cake frosting. Mix the sauce and a pound of dog food together in the bucket, and then sprinkle the liquid smoke on the logs, rocks and branches around the bucket. Smear some cake frosting on the top of the bucket and on a couple of nearby tree trunks and you’re done. Any bear within 500 yards will get a whiff of your offering and swing by for a sample. Expect to have to refill the bucket every day from that point on, because the bear will add your site to his regular stops as long as there is food available. If you stop feeding the bear will go elsewhere because in fall these animals must eat in order to survive their long winter hibernation. They won’t waste time visiting sites that have no food to offer.
Baiting is a great way to observe and photograph bears but expect to spend some long hours waiting for them to show up. In a hunting scenario the shooter is in his stand or blind around 3 p.m. and will remain there till one-half hour after sunset, which in September is after 7:30 p.m. There are no guarantees, of course. A bear may show up or not; it may be a sow with cubs; just cubs; a small bear; a group of bears or . . . who knows? The mystery is part and parcel of the baiting game, so if you are the impatient type you might want to find something else to do. I’ve sat over baits for a week where nothing came in, and other times I was surrounded by bears all day. The hunter can make all the preparations he wants in order to cover all the bases but the bear ultimately decide what happens next!\