T*H*E 3 Year Quest: Patience Pays Off on a DIY Black Bear Hunt.
As I shuffled about my chores, I reflected on past trips to this gorgeous area. I had generally been successful in attracting bears, and had even harvested my share of moderate-size specimens, yet one bruin had become my nemesis. This particular blackie had a knack for only visiting my bait site when I wasn't present. For a couple of years, I figured it was only a matter of time until he slipped up and gave me an opportunity to skin his hide. And I'd been right on that assumption--problem was, it looked like that "matter of time" was going to be, like, maybe, forever! So now, after having been played the fool for much too long, I knew I had to try something different. And I just happened to have a brand-new idea ...
Better Bear Baiting
After unloading the massive amount of support gear involved in a DIY bear-baiting trip, I set about getting the particulars in order. Scent attractants were arranged, bags of bait thrown into a pile and treestands situated. With all of my supplies laid out for inspection, I slowly but surely started loading some of the equipment onto my ATV. Bidding my groupies farewell, it was time to hit the woods and make some sweat roll. I pointed the Honda down an abandoned logging road and was soon immersed in the dark, damp world of Idaho black bears.
Carefully maneuvering my machine around the new growth that was reclaiming the roadbed and climbing over rotting timber, I soon arrived at my destination. Donning my self-made backpack--complete with a 55-gallon metal barrel strapped on it--I began fighting my way through some especially rough country.
A half-mile in, I arrived at a hunting spot I knew very well. I slipped out of my heavy load and, unstrapping the barrel, secured the metal container to a nearby tree. Heading back to the ATV, I continued the long process of shuttling gear and bait from machine to bait site. Sweat was trickling down the crease of my back long before I finished.
My task finally complete, I set about preparing the site. I hung my stand on a new tree in the hopes of better scent dispersal, trimming the trees for a clean shot toward the bait barrel. The coolness of the springtime mountain evening began to settle into the area. Hurrying, I soon had the barrel filled with bread products. A bag of dog food was dumped below a nearby rock overhang, which would provide the pile with shelter from the site's frequent rains. Pouring some bacon grease on nearby logs, I sprayed the area down with scent, loaded all the support gear into my backpack and hiked back to the ATV.
As the sun dipped behind the western ridges, I knew the next few days would include much more of the same. My back would ache, my arms and legs would get sore, but satisfaction would also come. Smiling inside, I climbed on my machine and headed for camp and a warm greeting. Completely content, I was doing what I love--working hard in the great outdoors.
Life Among the Bears
With the passing of our first week in-country, things were rolling smoothly. We had friends that lived 75 miles away, and they had been gracious enough to supply us with more bread products from a bakery. Additionally, I'd been to a distant Walmart and stocked up on 50-pound bags of dog food--my arsenal was complete. Three bait sites were out, complete with trail cameras to monitor them. Hopefully, I'd discover my old friend was back. Then, it would be game on!
Making my first visit to the bait sites, I was thrilled to learn my old adversary had made an appearance at the same location he'd been visiting for the past three years. There were also a couple of other middle-aged bears showing up--my confidence and excitement were soaring. Another bait was being hit regularly by a half-dozen bears of varying sizes and colors, while the third spot sat ignored--clearly, something was amiss with its setup. Well, as they say, two outta three ain't bad!
With another eight-hour day of refurbishing baits under my belt, my legs and lungs were starting to get stronger. I was also starting to get excited to sit in a tree and observe bears up close. The fun part of this outing was still to come, and I found my old bones aching for some bow-hunting action. Realizing the fire for this stuff still burned inside me even after 40-plus years, I shook my head and smiled. I'm a simple man, an outdoorsman--it's in my blood; it's what makes me tick. Without a twinge of regret concerning my chosen lot in life, I mounted my machine and headed toward my girls. I felt rich, blessed and happy.
Spending a day getting gear arranged, shooting my bow and making plans, I began considering a new strategy for success on my big, old, black boar. In previous years, I'd been much too predictable--a new approach was in order. I decided to try a different route to my treestand, one which required wading up a creek. I would also attempt to throw the old coot a curveball by employing a new wind direction for the hunt. I couldn't help but wonder, though, if my plans would end up worth little more than fodder.
Peg had told me a few days earlier that, rather than hunting, she'd simply enjoy camp life this year. With the first week of June splashing warmly on the scene, she and Lulu thus delegated the hunting to Pops. I happily accepted my responsibilities, making the decision to place my rear end in the woods the following day. Conditions were going to be favorable for a hunt at the spot where the big boar had visited, so I chose to go for broke.
Moment of Truth
The following midday, as I prepared for my evening hunt, I thought back on my previous experiences with this bear. Having always entered the location early in the evening when prevailing winds were blowing my scent up the valley, I strongly suspected the old boar was scenting me as he lounged somewhere uphill. Past camera records indicated he would then simply wait until long after dark before visiting the bait. So, this evening, I would try something different; I would wait until late evening to go to my treestand. I knew it would be hard to discipline myself enough to implement this approach, but it was something I needed to try.
The new effort would hopefully allow the sun to dip behind the high peaks to the west, thus allowing for evening thermals to flip the wind in a downhill direction. I'd still-hunt up the creek with the wind in my favor, hopefully arriving unannounced. Always excited to try new tactics, I donned my rubber boots and headed for the woods.
Sneaking up the noisy creek toward my hunting location, I couldn't help but feel I would arrive much too late. As I quietly came within sight of the bait, my fears were realized --a bear was already present. This one was chocolate, however, so I breathed a sigh of relief; it wasn't the old-timer. Now I was faced with a new quandary: what to do now.
Opting for caution, I hunkered down behind a creekside deadfall, watching as the average-size bear raided the bait. Grabbing a few mouthfuls before bolting to a nearby mound, the bear nervously gulped down the bounty while scanning the area for trouble. Hoping this schizophrenic behavior was a result of its knowledge that "big daddy" was nearby, I bided my time. After a few minutes of hurried feeding, the chocolate bruin exited the clearing. Seizing the opportunity, I covered the last few yards to my tree and climbed up.
I had barely settled in when a cinnamon-phase bear made his way onto the scene. An adolescent, this bear also fed cautiously, leaving the scene almost as abruptly as he'd come. A few minutes later, movement caught my eye--a bit of black movement. I readied myself for whatever might show. A wide-shouldered, black bruin soon waddled in. This was him!
I'd only seen one other bear like this in the previous years, so I immediately knew I was looking at a trophy for the area. Getting a slight case of the "jimmy leg," I took a couple of deep breaths and settled into the task at hand. A tinge of regret settled into my spirit as the bowstring touched my face.
Seconds later, all was quiet again; the old-timer had departed to expire privately. This had been an amazingly short hunt, and as I climbed down from my lofty perch, excitement and sadness flowed through my veins--excitement from the obtainment of my lofty goal; sadness at the end of a spectacular, challenging quest. Spotting a large lump of black fur ahead, I simply turned and headed toward camp--Peg and Lulu would want to see this! Making my way through the woods, I thanked God for allowing me to live this outdoor existence.
Baiting bears isn't for everyone, and attempting it DIY is certainly a tall task. Being a "local" bear baiter is one thing, but baiting bears as a nonresident is another entirely. As a nonresident, going outfitted is usually the most sensible route--for many reasons, the majority of which I'm sure you can imagine. However, as I've proven, it can be accomplished on your own, but you'd better be cut out for it or you'll never stay the course. Here's a quick overview of the many logistical challenges to overcome.
First and foremost, it takes a lot of time to successfully bait and harvest bears. Scouting for good locations, establishing bait sites and allowing them to become active requires a liberal investment of time. When tackling a new area, I generally expect to allot three to four weeks for every punched tag. If you've already hunted a spot, though, you're already well ahead of the game and can realistically expect to bait and harvest a bear within a two-week time frame. My first few bear-baiting trips were four-weekers, and I needed every bit of that time to get things my way.
The next-largest obstacle to overcome involves the accruement of baiting materials. Each--each--of my bait sites starts off with approximately 75-150 pounds of bread products; 50 pounds of hard dog food; 20-50 pounds of rotten meat scraps; a 50-gallon, metal barrel designed for the task (give it a Google); and two to three gallons of scented, used fryer grease (I use oil of anise).
In order to get most of these materials into backwoods locations, you'll need to have country that's accessible by ATV. It isn't realistic to expect to backpack all this stuff many miles into rugged country. Once you've gotten fairly remote by ATV, you can then shuttle your loads as far off-road as you can stomach--usually less than a mile for me. On the other hand, if you have access to horses, and wilderness country, and are willing to go through a massive ordeal, you can get into unbothered areas that should provide great action and, possibly, older-age-class bears.
Odds and Ends: Attempting to transport a couple of 55-gallon barrels, an ATV, bait, treestands and all of your other support gear is a daunting task, indeed, for a nonresident, but a cargo trailer can easily accomplish this task. Also, consider the timing and location of your spring bear-baiting trip, as the past winter's snowpack, in conjunction with the current weather trend, will present different timing issues in relation to accessing backcountry areas. Fresh green growth is high on the list of natural bear attractants at this time of year, so "early" bears will usually be concentrated in lower elevations. Be sure to carefully study your destination state's regulations, especially on baiting permit requirements and particulars, and be prepared to meet bear check-in and out-of-state transportation requirements.
Finally, if you decide bear-baiting is definitely not for you, consider simply going afield in the springtime with a bow in your hand. Spot-and-stalk is always a great option, and it's a lot of fun. Western landscapes are gorgeous in May, and the habitat is always changing. Rivers are roaring with spring runoff, morel mushrooms are popping up everywhere and there's no shortage of newborn wildlife frolicking in the freshly greened-up meadows. Consider putting a turkey tag in your pocket while you're at it. Opportunities abound for the industrious bowhunter--be one of them!
Caption: Home away from home: The Claypool clan knows a thing or two about making bear camp comfortable.
Caption: Northern Idaho scenery is spectacular in the spring--new life is everywhere, rivers run full and bears are out putting on weight after a long winter in hibernation.
Caption: Peg and Lulu served as camp hosts on this trip, electing to leave the hunting to Pops.
Caption: They may be black bears, but a fall from this stand sure would be "grizzly."
Caption: DIY bear baiting can bring bears out during the day, offering hunters the perfect shot--or, in the case of this sow and her cubs, a fun afternoon of wildlife watching.
Caption: The author shares his trophy black bear, three years in the making, with his campmates.
Caption: An ATV is almost a necessity on a DIY bear-baiting trip. It can transport large amounts of gear into the backcountry, but you'll have to accomplish the rest on your own. Get in shape!