Sitting on my tree stand I could see three bears on the next ridge in the brush, scattered across a distance of 100 to 400 yards away. I was running out of light and I couldn’t understand why they weren’t coming to my bait. I had an active bait with a lot of bear sign. I only had the weekends to hunt and the season would end in two weeks, I was ready to have a bear in bow range. Sitting in a tree stand you have a lot of time to think about what you should have done or what you could do differently. I knew there had to be a way to get mature bears to my bait during legal shooting hours.
I started bow hunting black bears in 1985; they are my favorite animals to bow hunt. Living in Idaho, I have the opportunity to know a lot of people who bait bears, almost everybody says they have the best way to make it happen. The problem I was having was not being able to go to the bait every day to replenish it. I needed a better system, one that will work with family, job and the price of fuel. I also needed a way to get my bait active and have it active when I was ready to hunt. Here are some suggestions that have worked for me and a couple of my friends.
Choosing an area
In order to have a trophy size bruin at your bait, you have to go where they have been in the past. Try your state records, Pope and Young, and Boone and Crockett record books. Talk to people that have been successful in the past taking big bears and ask their opinions on areas. The only problem is there will be other bear hunters doing the same thing you are. Here is where you have to be willing to go the extra mile and get to places that typically other hunters will pass over.
One of my favorite things to look for is road that has been temporarily closed to motor vehicles by the forest service. This will discourage someone that doesn’t want to haul their bait for a couple of miles or doesn’t want to walk in that far to retrieve their dogs. Look for areas that don’t have easy access. An area that doesn’t have any open roads that a bear would have to cross to get to your bait, the more consideration it would get. The area that I have hunted in the past re-opens to motorized vehicles June 15, the last day of bear season. I use this to my advantage when season is over and take my truck on the road to bring out my tree stands and bait barrel.
On the first trip, plan on using a whole day or more to do all of the work that you can possibly think of. Put up stands, haul in all of the bait, clear all of the possible shooting lanes and even take your bow and take a couple of shots to make sure you are dialed in. I am not able to make several trips into a bait every week. I need to do all of this the first weekend. Part of what makes this system work is not going back to the bait. Let the bears work out their pecking order without any disturbances from the outside. I use a 55 gallon drum and fill it as full as possible and then chain it to a couple of trees so that the bear will be positioned broadside. I want my bait to last for 10-12 days. That is when I will plan on sitting for the first time. I noticed that the bigger bears will come in the last hour before dark, be patient and enjoy the fruits of all of your hard work.
Choosing the bait site
I like to set my bait on the tops of ridges, preferably where a couple of fingers meet. This is to help disperse the scent of the bait in every possible drainage. I usually hunt in the evenings and most of the time the thermals are going downhill and set my stands accordingly. I will set my stand to the side of the ridge with the least amount of ground cover. I have noticed that bears are not as comfortable coming to a bait site that is out in the open, try to take advantage of this. The best bait I have had was set up on the side of a big ridge and my stand was in the only clump of trees on an open finger that ran up to the ridge. The bears would approach from the downwind side of the bait and had no clue I was 18 yards away sitting in the stand watching them come in.
Bait site tips
Dig out a depression about the size of a basketball (also known as a goodie hole), directly in front of the bait barrels hole and fill it with french fryer grease. This will help spread the grease on the mountain increasing the number of bears at your bait. It will also keep bears coming to the bait when you run low or out. Next, set something big like a stump or a rock next to the hole on the side closest to your stand. It will block the bear’s vision when he sticks his head in the hole so you can draw your bow without being seen. Try to keep the object you put next to the goodie hole as clean as possible, you don’t want any bears moving it before it gets a chance to do its job. I think a bear has alot better vision than he is given credit for. I treat bears with the same respect I do any animal, and I will draw when their head is behind something or looking the other way.
Bears are one of the hardest animals to judge. There are several methods to help with this. I use a 55-gallon drum to help me. If a barrel is not legal in your state, you might want to use logs cut at a certain length, such as 5 feet, to help determine the size of your bear. You also might want to mark a tree at 30 inches next to an approach trail or at the site to judge how tall your bear is at the shoulders. Look at their ears, if the ears look big the bear is small. If the ears look small and there is a crease that runs down the middle of a blocky head, shoot.
Types of bait
I have used anything from bread to dog food. I want everything I have in my barrel to be a staple for them their next few visits. All of this bait also gets french fryer grease dumped on it. The next type of bait I use is stink bait. I want something that I can hang next to the bait that any bear within ten miles can smell. I have used carp that another friend of mine shot with his bow. I put them in a five gallon bucket for a week before I go to set the bait. I also don’t think enough can be said for the power of grease. If you are baiting in too far in to use a barrel take in a set of post hole diggers and dig a hole as deep as you can, then fill it with bait and french fryer grease. This will keep the bears busy digging out the sides to get out the bait they can smell. I put all I can in a 55 gallon drum and put some in front of my barrel in the goodie hole. If your bait does better than you expected and is out on your first trip to hunt, the grease will soak up into the dirt. I have had several bears come in to an empty barrel and dig around where the grease was at.
Keep it hidden
I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I spend alot of time making sure that nobody can find my bait site. I have had the unfortunate experience of having a tree stand stolen. The weekend before I had my stand stolen I was sitting on my bait and had not seen a bear all night. I couldn’t understand why. When I got out of my stand I was starting to hike out and saw a cigarette butt about 10 yards from my stand (I don’t smoke). I then knew why I had the slow night. The next weekend I stalked into the bait and my tree stand was not there. The only thing I found was a spent 270 casing. Now I spend as much time as it takes to erase every track to my bait. Most of the time I use a game cart or a wheelbarrow to get the bait and equipment in. If someone is unethical and wants to sit on your stand or run their dogs off of it, you need to take every precaution that you can. A piece of brush or pine bow can be used to wipe out the tracks you will leave.
There are several things that will make your hunt more efficient. I feel like I am beating a dead horse when I say make sure your broadheads are as sharp as possible. This is so important. With a sharp broadhead and a well placed shot your tracking job will be shorter. I also like a sight with a fiber optic, which gathers more light and makes a shot toward the end of legal shooting light easier and more accurate. You use a bear’s nose to find your bait, but he also uses it to find you, make sure that your clothes are clean and wear rubber boots. We have also been using a scent elimination spray on our clothes to help cut down on the chance of getting winded. I would also recommend a range finder. On my first trip when I set up my stand I range several spots that are a possibility for a shot and make a note. You don’t want to be surprised by bears on their approach to the bait and have an opportunity for a shot and misjudge the yardage.
If you have to re-bait
Timing is so important when filling a bait barrel that went empty. If I have not taken my bear and the bait station is out, I only fill it at times when bears are not typically at the site. This usually means between noon and two P.M. I do not want to run a bear off of the site. The worst thing you can do is run a bear off of your bait at the time you would normally be in the stand. Rebating at this time could turn your bears nocturnal and not have an opportunity at them.
Now that all of the planning and work are done it is time to enjoy all of your hard work. I enjoy sitting on an active bait site and watching a young bear sneak into a site and run out. The real adrenaline rush is watching a huge bear walk straight into the bait and not care that other bears know he is there. This is when it is time to prepare for the shot that you have already ranged and know exactly where to hold your pin.
If you looking for some great bear attractants make sure to visit BoarMasters Wildlife Attractants.
Images courtesy BoarMasters