Prepping for Maine’s Bear Season

I wrote this article for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s July 2018 newsletter, but this version is a bit longer with more detail.

I love to hunt, and nothing gets me more excited than the anticipation of Maine’s bear hunting season. I’m not sure if it’s the amount of preparation it takes leading up to opening day, or if it’s the actual hunt, but bear hunting has gotten under my skin, and it’s a hunt I highly recommend, if you have never tried it. I was able to harvest my first black bear two years ago, and even though I didn’t get one last year, I still can’t wait to do it all over again this year.

Not everyone has the ability to bait, and even if they do, not everyone owns or has access to land where they can hunt bear. If you don’t have land to hunt bear, then consider hiring a Registered Maine Guide or teaming up with someone who does. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting ready for a bear hunt, and this may even make you opt to hire a Registered Maine Guide when you see how much time and money it requires. It’s work, but work that my husband, John and I love to do together. It’s the challenge of getting everything perfect that makes it so rewarding.

We are fortunate enough to have permission from a landowner to hunt bear on land about an hour and a half away. Thank you again Mr. S! Since neither the hubby nor I are Maine Guides (though it is our dream to become ones some day) our day jobs prevent us from baiting in the morning, which is considered the best time to bait. Over the past couple years, we’ve changed up our baiting patterns so that bear would have less bumping off the bait. We originally baited three times a week, after work. We had our best year ever when we switched to once-a-week baiting on early Sundays. This issue is always debated among hunters…I say just do what you can and what works best for you. I like the fact we can camp all weekend, check bait, and still have enough time to get in some fly fishing before heading home.

Preparation is the key to success in baiting your own bear site. Following is a summary of supplies and items we use to set our own bait sites. First of all, good bait is essential. This winter, we called and made arrangements with our bait guy for four barrels of bait. When we first started out, it was frustrating to try to buy dated sweets since everyone else was trying to do the same thing. We didn’t know where to buy bait. We’d watch for ads or search the internet for bait locally, and would usually find some to buy. I also stock up on flavored marshmallows, cherry gelatin, unsweetened cherry drink mix, and popcorn for my popcorn-wheel barrel. I also buy a jug of honey to use as a honey burn if we decide we need one. Our bait guy can also get us frosting, peanut butter, pie fillings, nougat, marshmallows, trail mix, granola…whatever we decide to use. We avoid chocolate chips since the big controversy over too much chocolate can kill a bear. I don’t think the use of chocolate chips is outlawed in Maine, but it is in New Hampshire.

 

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Bait barrels are a necessity and can be found at local retailers, online or sometimes at yard sales. We have blue plastic ones, but I’ve seen white ones and rust colored ones too, as well as steel barrels. We bought one for $35 from a store, and I know we paid too much. Make sure you have some heavy rope or cable to secure the barrel to the tree. Nothing is worse than finding your barrel missing when you go to check bait. We also use a lot of 4-5 gallon buckets to carry bait. I found square buckets at a local national retailer that used to let you have them for free, but now they charge, but it’s still less than buying new. All you have to do is ask. They also fit better in our four-wheeler basket. We also use 5-galloon buckets for grease and frosting, and these can also go missing if not properly secured to a tree.

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Bear scents are a must. I’ve bought locally, ordered online, and stock up when I see them in my travels. At $20 a bottle, it can get expensive. I have my favorites, but there are plenty to choose from, and over the years, we’ve tried them all. We’ve had our best luck with bacon, cherry, anise, blueberry, and caramel. Bear Jelly works great to spread on trees so that the scent last longer. We add our own beaver castor to the jelly for added scent.

Bear love grease. We get fryer grease from a local Chinese restaurant, but any fryer grease will do. You can also buy additives for the grease that creates a sensational teeth tingling sweet-smelling concoction that promises to bring the bear running. I even have a video on my Facebook page with a bear practically bathing in it. I stock up on those water sprayers kids use in the summer. They work great to spray the trees with grease so that the scent will travel.

It wouldn’t be bear hunting without anise oil. We buy a big jar of it and use a Tiki Torch wick to soak up the oil and then hang it from a string high in young sapling that we can bend down, and then release. We re-dip the wick each time we bait.

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Game cameras are a must. Whether it’s a photo or a video type is personal preference and like anything, cost can be a factor. It takes a lot more time to review videos, but videos show you behavior you might not otherwise catch in a photo. I recommend at least two on each bait since we’ve been known to blunder more than once and not set the camera correctly. This also eliminates any fighting over whose fault it is that the camera didn’t work. And, in order to see if it’s even worth sitting for hours on opening day, you need to know whether bear are hitting the bait, and if so, what kind. Last year, I was graced with a sow and two cubs, and the year before, a sow with three cubs. I also had boars of all ages coming to my bait. Last year, I heard bear coming into the bait on a dead run, which is unusual. I caught a glimpse of them through the trees as they circled and approached the bait from the far side. I was thinking it was the pair of young boars that had visited the night before. I decided to wait to see “both” bears before taking a shot. No such luck! A sow stepped out, followed by her two cubs. I’m glad I knew they were a possibility and waited to shoot.

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Game cameras also let you identify bear year after year. I don’t know if he died or just wasn’t hungry enough to venture my way, but the bear I named Scrapper never showed. He is old and has the scars to show he’s ornery, and he’d been at my bait for three years. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get to see him reappear. Remember to secure your game cameras too. More than once, bear have tried to chew, or pull our cameras off the trees. We use black out infrared cameras too, which has reduced their attempts to attack the camera. Don’t forget to bring extra memory cards (labeled) so you can swap them out quickly.

 

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I still haven’t gotten the nerve to sit in a ground blind. Since bear like to approach my  bait site from behind me, I opt for a tall ladder stand. This year, I’ve purchased each of us, a tripod ladder stand that we can position in the ideal spot without having to rely on a tree. I gave up the blind since it prevented me from getting a shot at a huge boar that was under my stand two years ago. I still dream about that night and “if I could do it all over again.” Do what makes you comfortable; being scared wouldn’t be fun.

Taurus_444_Raging_Bull_2-444069_01Another must is the handgun we bring; it’s a bear gun-a 44 magnum Taurus Raging Bull-a two-handed cannon so to speak. I’ve shot it, and it’s about all I can handle. A few years ago, we encountered a bear. After we had set the bait and were walking the area to see about moving one of the bait sites, we were unexpectedly charged by a bear. It growled and charged from the trees, which reminded me of a Jurassic Park episode, but it never showed itself. We ended up yelling and clapping and the bear moved on without incident. Perhaps it’s just for peace of mind, but nonetheless, it’s always with us when we bait.

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Lastly, we have two four-wheelers and a trailer. Baiting would be too much for this girl if we had to lug everything a quarter mile into the woods. We register them, load it up with all our supplies and head up the mountain. We’re usually in and out of our site within fifteen minutes. Don’t forget to bring gas…and the key.

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One more last thing…don’t forget your license—that’s a big game hunting license, a bear permit, and archery license if you’re using a bow, and trapping license if you opt in to the trapping season. Know the laws and abide by them.

 

John and I prep for the bear hunt together, but we hunt separately on our own baits. The only thing left is saving up my vacation time to hunt, and having the nerve to walk into my bait alone. I’m usually jumped by a partridge, frog or a snake the first couple times in, then it’s just a matter of taking my time so that I make no noise on my way in. It gets easier the more I do it, but since we’ve jumped bear at night, hubby likes to walk in and meet me. Guides will do the same if needed.

The best is yet to come…bear arriving on your site while you’re sitting in your stand. I can’t wait to hunt, and I hope you give it a try. It won’t be long, and bear hunting will be under your skin too.

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Old lady eyes and no mascara and lipstick…sorry

I’m hoping I’ll get to bring my friend, Erin along again this year, and maybe she’ll even get to see a bear. Crossing our fingers that this will not be another banner beechnut year!

Happy hunting!bear claw

 

 

 

 

P.S. Don’t forget to label your bait site. I make a laminated card and hang it high on the tree. And for the first time, a bear got to the tag this spring and chewed it up. I’ll be making some new ones and hanging them a little higher. IMG_20160806_121616700_TOP

 

 

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Bear Season Success

I know I’m extremely late in posting. I’ve never gone this long without a post. The problem was that bear season brought lots of unexpected events that I wasn’t prepared for.

First of all, the week before the season started, I had six different bears on my bait. I was feeling ecstatic and sure I’d get a bear this year. Of the six, I also had a sow with two cubs. I wasn’t too concerned as I figured they wouldn’t hang around long with all the boars I had showing up.

The night before bear season began, my husband became ill with vertigo and sudden hearing loss. A healthy, robust, avid hunter ended up flat on his back and helpless. Two weeks later, a trip to the hospital, tests, an MRI and a specialist ENT doctor revealed no brain tumors, and there was nothing anyone could do except wait it out. He’ll either get his hearing back, or not. The vertigo will go away, but when, we don’t know.

John only managed to hunt a couple times, but we did get out to the sites together to check the cameras. A walking stick and later a four-wheeler was a big help for him to get around. I hunted a bit more. I tried to hunt by myself. I took the hour and half ride north and sat a few times. Our cameras also decided to quit…two $150 cameras dying followed by repeated mishaps with other cameras made even checking cameras a chore and a dread.

The first time I sat, I got to see the sow and cubs come into the bait. When they first started coming in, they weren’t quiet. In fact, they were so noisy, I thought it was a moose, then when I realized it was a bear, I thought for sure it was the two male bears that had visited the night before. I’m glad I waited to see both bears, because the second bear ended up being a cub…then another cub. I figured I’d let them just eat and leave but then Momma bear decided to snoop around and started coming over to my stand. I had to stomp my feet to scare her and her cubs away before she spotted me. It was pretty comical to see how the bears reacted to my stomps.

IMG_20170901_163327507The second time I sat, I had my friend Erin join me. She loves to bear hunt and had never been to my bait site. We put a hang-on tree stand directly above my ladder stand. She and I braved the hurricane force winds for a chance to see the pair of male bears that had only been there two days before. The plan was that we would each get to shoot one and the job would be done…no such luck. No bears at all that night. I guess the wind was just too noisy for them to come in. Erin I owe you another hunt.

IMG_20171015_182840737_TOPThose winds brought down the most beechnuts I’ve ever seen in one season. After that night, I only had a couple brief encounters with bears on camera for the remainder of the season. Too much natural food and literally, the bears were gone.

The third time, I sat alone. I saw the sow and cubs again. This time the cubs came in, but Momma bear was no where to be seen, which I did not like. It was quite a while before one of the cubs walked to the right and only then did the mother appear. Somehow she had stayed out of sight and circled around the site. She knew I was there, and as quick as she stepped out in front of the barrel, she moved back out of sight. Then she began making her way toward my stand. I figured I’d just keep an eye out for her, but when she started snapping her jaws and huffing at me, the party was over. I stomped my feet. I huffed back. They left.  After that night, they never returned to the bait during daylight hours that I sat. I videoed this event and you can find it on my YouTube. Go to the four minute mark to see the cub and what goes down after.

I sat a couple more times as the season came to an end. I picked nice quiet nights with the sun shining late, i.e. the best kind of nights a bear may just happen to come back for a visit. I had a big bull moose come in the exact same direction that the bears had come in. At first I couldn’t tell what it was and I was hoping it was a bear. He made a big circle around my bait. My honey burn had brought him in. I could hear him sniffing the smoke. He rubbed his antlers on trees several times and as he made his way around to my right, he walked away grunting the most majestic moose grunt. I then heard a cow moose give one long call. Love was in the air that night.

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Honey burn causing a lot of smoke…

We spent two weeks trying to snare a bear, but with only sow and cubs coming to our sets, we decided to call it a season. This season was the worst we’ve ever had.

In fact, I was pretty bummed about the season. I was both mentally and physically exhausted with nothing to show for it. It’s taken me all this time to realize that my bear season really wasn’t the total bust I had thought it was.

I’ve always said, “success isn’t in what you end up with. It’s the adventures along the way.” It took me this long to realize I had a successful season. I had seen a sow with cubs TWICE . Not bad since before last year, I had never seen a bear in the wild. I also saw a bull moose in rut and a pine martin. I had a blue jay rat me out squawking from tree to tree then nearly attacking me in my tree stand. I saw a partridge repeatedly on my way in and out of my stand only to fly away when I finally tried to bird hunt. I almost stepped on a tree frog and saw a very big snake from the four-wheeler. I found mushrooms too. And most importantly, I still have a husband and we’ll get him through this illness.

And there’s always next year. For now, John and I have done some bird hunting to fill in the gap, and now I’m deer hunting. I promise to not stay away so long this time.

Happy Hunting!

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Tree frog in my trail

Florida Adventures for a Maine Girl – Part III

Alligators In My Backyard!

Everyone knows Florida has alligators. The last two times we went to Florida, we visited Gatorland in Orlando to see alligators up close. Gatorland is located in the bird corridor which means when it’s spring, the migrating birds lay nests of eggs throughout the property. Gators linger beneath the nests hoping for a quick meal from a fledgling misstep.

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While the alligators were still interesting, the swamp walk was even better. The one thing I can say is that in Maine, you can just go out into the woods with no worries. It’s a lot harder to encourage that in Florida because everywhere around you there is something that wants to eat you, bite you or chase you.

The swamp walk at Gatorland has been the highlight of our trips not because of the swamp, but because of what’s in the swamp. There are species of plants and animals not found in Maine. Geckos galore. The green ones are native and the brown ones invasive; and 90% of the geckos seen are brown.IMG_20160422_134821371_TOP

One animal in particular that makes our adventure an adventure ….is the snake. Lots of snakes…And this Maine girl does not like snakes at all! However, seeing snakes with caution is entirely different than looking at them through a glass partition. I get to challenge my fear while still feeling safe…somewhat. The board walk is roughly four to five feet wide with minimal railings, but the message is clear: Stay on the boardwalk and watch out for snakes and what ever you do. Don’t touch them or try to catch them. They can be nasty and most are poisonous. Duly noted!

I wasn’t that close…thanks to the zoom on my cell phone, they look a lot closer than I really was. 

The first time we did the walk in 2011 we found about five snakes. Only one was what I would consider big. It was a copperhead and I still shudder when I remember seeing it because when I finally spotted what everyone was looking at, I was WAY closer than I should have been…and Mr. Snake was looking at me at only about five feet away.

So this time, I used a bit more caution. I would spot a snake, but I was content seeing it NOT move. I made mention that one of them looked dead because there was no movement. Wrong thing to say. The son found great pleasure in watching snakes jolt and scurry from a good blast of air on its back  (he’d literally blow a gust of air on them to make them move) and me making my noises short of a scream of “please don’t let it come my way.”

Luckily the snakes were only seen in the swamp walk. Alligators on the other hand were where I least expected them. In the little pond by our hotel where the guests walk their pooches. I laughed when I first saw the sign, but then another guest informed us that not only are there bass, turtles and birds in the water there are gators.

Sure enough, we finally got to see him…uhmmm them….yup two gators showed up daily. I still can’t believe there was an apartment complex on the other side of the pond and it’s obvious kids live there from seeing the power wheels vehicle parked outside. Yet, not one single resident ever showed themselves outside their apartments. So much for spending $79 to see gators at Gatorland. They were free for the looking in our backyard though probably not as entertaining. I’m glad I can say there are no such animals in my backyard in Maine. For more pics of the gators and snakes we’ve seen, go to MyMainelyGirlAdventures Facebook page.

 

Florida Adventures for a Maine Girl – Part II

Air Boat Ride in the Swamp!

In Maine we truly have it lucky. There aren’t many spots where a person can take a dip in the water and not worry about encountering some animal that wants you for lunch. I spent my entire childhood swimming in everything but a pool or the ocean. Worst case scenario a snapping turtle or water snake encounter occurred; both are certainly enough for me to get out of the water, but I know I’m not at risk of dying.

IMG_20160425_094428498On the other hand, Florida’s hot weather makes one want to jump in the water, but unless it’s a pool or the ocean, you’d be crazy to do so. As a matter of fact it would be a cold day in you-know-where before this girl ever ventured out into the swamp with anything smaller than an 18 foot motorized boat, let alone put my toes in it!

Before we ever got in the boat, the captain let anyone who wanted to, hold a gator. I was surprised how smooth its skin is; not rough at all, but very luxurious. I can see why their hides are so highly sought after. This gator looks small but its actually three years old. They grow fast for the first four years, then grow slowly thereafter. So a six foot gator is approximately 20 years old!

Our Florida trip included an air boat ride into the swamps of Florida. Imagine seeing all these nice homes along the shoreline of Lake Panasoffkee, yet no wharves, no boats and no one swimming. In fact, at best the the lake is only four feet deep, heavy with peat and is described as a flood plain that’s spring fed. The only way you can navigate the lake is with an air boat. The nice thing about an air boat is that it glided over everything and didn’t disturb vegetation or wildlife but let us get really really close.

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Just as we have in Maine, we followed a stream to navigate our way to the lake. On the way through, we saw several alligators and birds. Our guide said that it wasn’t a great day to see snakes but they see them often. I was okay with not seeing any snakes.

Doc1-ANIMATIONThe air boat was actually pretty tame. It wasn’t as loud as we expected because our captain didn’t try to take us on too much of a thrill ride. I didn’t want to miss  any wildlife so slow was good. He’d open it up do swerve then slow down so that we wouldn’t get wet.

One of the waterways we took came to a dead end. Our captain threw out a handful of pelleted dog food. The water bubbled with fish! This spot was the location of the natural spring and with a spring comes lots of food and oxygen for fish, so the fish hang out here. I wish he had offered us to go fishing too!

IMG_20160425_104600434Our ride ended with our captain showing us a honeybee tree. The bees were actively making honey in the old tree. If you get the chance to go ANYWHERE, I highly recommend that you stop and really get to see how people live and experience the culture. Now I can say I know what an alligator swamp looks like, and I know for sure I never want to live near one!

Next week: Part III – Alligators in my backyard!