Our first week of baiting season proved successful…or at least for John’s bait. He not only had hits from big bears, but he had early hits so his chances of seeing a bear before dark looked promising. My bait had no hits.
Just at dark
Just after dark set in.
The second week of baiting, we both got bears. I finally had a sow and cubs on my site and John continued to have big bears and more bears on his site…and no sow and cubs.
During shooting hours…skinny momma
Momma getting some grease while cub looks on
Week three was a bonanza for my site. I had several bears, a set of boars, a couple single boar sightings and one bear possibly a dry sow that I recognize from last year, and of course the sow and cubs. They sow and cubs were and still are the most frequent visitors.
I’ve been hunting and next week, I’ll let you know what’s been happening…until then, I hope your baits are getting bears!
Bear season officially began August 28th, with baiting allowed to start one month prior to the hunt. Before you can ever think about hunting, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into baiting even before the season begins. The main items needed for baiting are bait, scent, and grease…and then comes all the other stuff you need: a good blue or white barrel; an infrared camera that can take bear chewing on it; buckets–square ones are better; old clothes as nice ones don’t last long lugging bait; rope; bait tags; tree stand or blind; license to bear hunt and or trap, and maybe even a beaver carcass if you have one.
In order to manage our bait sites, we have to buy bait, which can be a number of different foods. You want high calorie, high fat, no or low chocolate food that bears will seek during hyperphagia. When natural food is abundant, they don’t eat nearly as much. Last year there were no beechnuts nor acorns where we hunt. It was also a very dry year so berries weren’t nearly as abundant as they should have been. This year, we have a lot of beechnut and acorns, and berries, particularly blueberries, so we probably won’t use as much. Knowing this, we also know that it will be harder to bring them to the bait if they’re not hungry and the weather stays hot.
In years past, we tried to buy day-old goods and put them up in barrels ourselves, but that got to be seemingly impossible and downright unpredictable. Plenty of places have goods available, but they’ll save them for family members or sell them to pig farmers, so you never knew if you’d score or not. It also seemed to be about the time larger outfitters were buying extra from their sources and they began selling bait by the barrel. Buying bait takes the guess work and worry out of not having bait. We use about a barrel of bait for each site for the entire season. This year, we got two barrels of donuts and one barrel of honey oats granola. We also bought cherry pie filling, frosting, and peanut butter for bonus flavors. Just like people, bear may become bored with your offerings so you have to change it up to keep them coming.
Scent is also the most important thing to lure bear to your bait. Your bait has to smell good…really good. Bears sense of smell is extraordinary, but the distance has been untested. Read more about bear behavior >>
The cost of scent is probably the largest expense besides bait. Depending on brand, many scents can be purchased locally, and some you have to buy online. I did both this year, and probably spent $140 just on scent. We had some bear jelly with beaver castor from last year’s supply so we smeared some of it on a tree. Beaver (yes the beaver that make dams and ruin trees) is a treat for bear. Bears can smell it, and even though the jelly, which looks like Vaseline, is a year old, it had all kinds of scent. A must-have is anise oil. We hang it from a small tree out of reach of the bear. I found using a tiki torch wick works great. It soaks up a lot of oil and holds it so that I’m able to hang it and then it slowly drips over time. Nothing is worse than refreshing a bait site only to have a torrential downpour an hour or a day later. This anise wick lasts and lasts through the weather.
Once you have all the bait and scent, a good bait barrel and rope is crucial to that the bear won’t haul it off. I had to get a new barrel this year because the bear nearly ripped the old barrel from the rope and it couldn’t be repaired. My new barrel has a removable top which makes filling the barrel easier. Otherwise, we have to fill the barrel through the front hole which can be time consuming.
And lastly, I have a durable nighttime game camera with infrared flash. Since changing to a camera with infrared, I’ve noticed the bear are much more comfortable but some bears still know there’s a camera and try to chew it off…so durable is key. In the last three years, we’ve been videoing instead of just taking pictures. It’s truly amazing to see how bear behave versus just a still shot picture.
Now that I’m ready for bear baiting season, stay tuned to what shows up.
Day one of bear season was uneventful. The winds were gusting, and even though the temps were cooler, no bear showed. I had set since about 2pm until 8 pm. My butt was sore, but I wasn’t discouraged.
Day two was also cool, but with little to no wind. Bears would be moving. Instead of going at 2pm, we were there at 4:30. “Still plenty of time to get in our stand before a bear shows.” John and I decided to “scent up” the bait sites since it was nice and quiet. I took my time walking into the site, not only to walk with the breeze, but also to not become a sweat-fest after all the time I took to de-scent myself. The wind was blowing up the hill so in my mind, when you hunt the wind, you cover your scent downwind. To help me come in undetected, I decided to squirt a little Big Bear Scents Ultra Red Smoky Bacon scent attractant on a tree or fern ever fifty feet or so. Good thing I love bacon!
As I made my way up the trail, I kept a mental note of where the stumps are located in the woods. These stumps are black for some unknown reason, and on more than one occasion they have tricked me into thinking I was seeing a bear. As I approached the top of the trail, I spotted a black spot. I stood there trying to figure out if it was the stump located just behind my bait. About the time I took my gun off my shoulder to get a better look, that stump took off like a bolt of lightening. That “stump” was a small bear!
Now, I have never seen a bear in the wild, let alone while bear hunting. To put it mildly, I was relieved I wasn’t all out terrified by seeing it. In fact, I was excited. “Perhaps it will come back. I really want to get a bear.”
In an effort to not make any more noise and in case there was another bear nearby, I decide against spraying up the bait site and go directly to my blind. It’s more noisy than I like and I don’t have a lot of room. In an effort to keep quiet, I decide to put my jug of spray on the ground between the ladder and tree. “I’m only 40 feet at the most, from my bait, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. And then I won’t knock it out somehow and make noise.”
I text John to let him know I jumped a bear. He said it would be back. In my mind I was sitting pretty. I sat and watched out into the woods. I see what I think is a bear cub. Are you freaking kidding me?! The animal hops like a baby animal. It has a longer tail. Not a cub. Phew! Porcupine? No. Porcupines don’t act like that. Then out of the bushes comes a pine marten. In an instant the squirrels and chipmunks run for cover. He doesn’t stay long, and later I spot it again off in the distance. Thinking back, I’m still not convinced I didn’t see a cub.
At times, the silence is so profound, you wonder if you’re deaf…until you hear something. Around 7:20 pm, the time when bear have been showing up on my site, I hear a noise behind me. Twigs, many twigs, breaking with every step. Very deliberate stepping, very steady. Very big footed and heavy sounding unlike a deer. Definitely a bear.
The bear walked right up behind my stand and stopped right at it. “I CAN HEAR HIM SNIFF MY FREAKING JUG OF SPRAY, BUT I DON’T DARE MOVE TO SEE HIM! I AM SUCH AN IDIOT.” I don’t dare breathe. I don’t dare move, or even swallow or blink my eyes. As fast as he was there, he turned and walked back down the trail. He had smelled my bear spray that I had sprayed on my way in.
I figure my night is over. I get out my phone and text John, “Be careful, bear in trail.” and put my phone away. John won’t let me walk out alone so I sit until he arrives with his hand cannon (aka bear handgun) and retrieves me. I’m pretty proud that I didn’t get scared, and about the time I’m sitting there all smug, when I hear the bear AGAIN. He was coming back, but making a circle. Damn it. It’s now 7:30. He’ll never get to the bait before shooting hours close. I didn’t know if I’d have enough light to see him. I sit still. He came back quicker than I thought he would. He walked to the right of my stand where I had put some cherry flavored unsweetened cool-aid mix on some leaves. “It was meant for the site, but I didn’t want to scare anything off.” He really liked it. I could hear him, but STILL couldn’t see him! I wasn’t moving a muscle. In concentrating on him, I hadn’t realized how dark it had gotten. I figured I only had about five more minutes of shooting time, and then I wouldn’t be able to shoot him.
Then my eyes spotted him. There he was about 10 feet out in front my stand in the underbrush. A big – HUGE – black blob just standing there! I’m thinking, “it’s now or never.” I pull my gun up.
He’s still standing there. There is nothing but silence.
I carefully stick my gun out the window of the blind. If only I didn’t have a this damn blind around me! I never thought I’d hear myself thinking that.
Before I even get the gun to my eye, he bolted. He was gone. I could hear him circling and running around out in front of me in the woods. He was gone. I hope he’s not gone for good. I think he’s the bear that left a big pile of poop for me the night before. For now, he was gone.
Now tell me that baiting is easy…that bear hunting is easy. It’s not. I’m still hoping my “Plan B” will be able to happen. It won’t unless I can find a way to not involve a sow and cubs that managed to be the only thing to come to my bait that night. The weirdest thing is that I had nothing on my camera from the bear I jumped nor the one the bolted in the end, so I’m still unsure which bear I had seen.
I will never forget this night of hunting. It was exciting, thrilling, challenging and in the end, a bit regretful for this things I did, and didn’t do. I try not to stew on the shoulda- woulda-coulda things and just take it as a learning experience. After all, how many people can say they got to experience what I did?
I’ll be back out in the woods tonight, scenting up the site, and not my tree stand…and hoping Mr. Bear (any bear but a sow with cubs) returns.