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The finer points of bait-hunting bears: following these tricks will help convert frustrations into more filled bear tags.

I'd never realized one could see fear in a bear's eyes before that moment. Just before the young boar brushed my ground blind in his desperate flight from the bait, that realization became crystal clear. No doubt about it, he was terrified.

There was no question in my mind why the young bear was running in terror. I was certain that I was about to meet the depositor of the huge scat pile near the bait. Frankly, it was that scat pile that had inspired me to set a blind on that bait to begin with. I could only hope he lived up to the advertising hype.

Spotting him in the dark timber, it was tough to tell. I'd moved the bait to the edge of a three-foot drop. With a pile of fallen trees creating a backing, it forced any bear working the bait to offer a broadside shot. Because he was currently traveling "the low land," I could tell the bear was big, but not how big.

That changed the second he scaled the rise. One glance at eye level was all it took to realize he was huge!

He was going for the bait, so I wasted no time getting ready. I wanted to leave as little to chance as possible by taking the first ethical shot he offered.

The blockaded backing worked perfectly. As the melon head slowly plodded towards the bait, I came to full draw. Following him with each slow, purposeful step, I decided the time to shoot was now. With his near leg extending, I squeezed my release just as he transferred his weight to that leg and sent my Rage-tipped Easton arrow flying.

Plowing squarely into his fully exposed vitals, the monstrous bruin roared and snapped his powerful jaws at where the arrow had already sliced through. Twirling on a dime, he displayed remarkable speed and grace as he bolted away. Moments later, the death moan alerted me to what I already knew. The huge spring bear, which had a skull measurement just one-eighth inch under the Boone and Crockett minimum, was mine.

Veteran hunters realize that there's a fine line between close encounters and successfully arrowing bears over bait. Unfortunately, the close encounters occur far too often, and when dealing with the truly big boys, second chances are rare. Luckily, there are simple steps we can take to maximize the number of filled bear tags.

Bringing Them Back For More

Most savvy bait hunters realize that when it comes to the size of individual pieces of bait, less is actually more. Sure, using loaves of bread or entire beaver carcasses may be easier, but small pieces are better. With a large chunk of bait, the bear can grab a hunk, slink back into the woods, and fill up.

When given the option, this is the strategy most mature bears prefer. Virtually anywhere bear hunting is allowed, these creatures of the shadows don't get old by being overly stupid. Most associate bait sites with danger, and for good reason. Because of that, the old-timers tend to linger as little as possible.

That makes it easy to understand why small pieces of bait are better. The harder the bear has to work to eat, the more it stacks the odds in the hunter's favor. When it comes to bait size, keeping each piece to fist size or smaller is worth the effort.

Another good trick for inspiring bears to linger is using liquid scent. When poured on logs, rocks, stumps and other such objects, bears often will pause to smell and lick on the substance. When poured on the dirt, rolling in the scent is common.

I first witnessed this many years ago. Soaking a rag in Wildlife Research Center's Ultimate Bear Lure, I tossed it over a branch, high off the ground. My thought was that the scent would really reach out to bring them in, only to have the power of the bait take over once they arrived.

To my surprise, all five bears I encountered that day were fixated on the scent. Although each was alone, they all did the same thing. They approached the scent, sniffed the ground where it had dripped down, and rolled in it.

A modification of this technique serves the purpose of keeping bears at the bait, as well as drawing in even more. Pouring the scent around the bait, forcing the bear to step in it to access the food, makes the visitors work for the bait hunter.

As the bears leave, they create scent trails for other bears to find. Each trail leads straight back to the bait. This tactic works well anytime, but particularly well when establishing fresh baits, as well as when bears are coming out of hibernation or during the spring breeding season. In each case, it can be a real attention grabber to draw in bears unaware of the bait.

Getting The Shot

Bringing bears in and keeping them at the bait is half the battle. One must also get the shot.

The second bear I ever killed serves as a great example of how challenging that can be. Many years ago, I headed to Alberta on my first bear hunt. With two bear tags, my plan of attack was simple. Arrow the first decent bear I could, and then hold out for a really good second bear.

It was seemingly working like a charm. On my first sit, I passed on six bears. I considered a couple of them, but I knew when I spotted the seventh that I'd made the right choice to pass. As soon as the 200-plus-pound spring bear gave me the shot, I took it. I was beyond thrilled to watch him tumble within 30 yards.

The positive trend continued on my next sit. Choosing another bait, I didn't match the seven I'd seen the afternoon before, but all three were bigger. I'd put the first over 200, with the other two between 250-300 pounds. A video review back at camp confirmed these beliefs, along with several hunters informing me that I was. nuts for passing the biggest of the three.

Things went south the next afternoon. With breeding season in full swing, my guide convinced me to return to the bait I'd shot the bear from. I'd seen two sows without cubs, and chances were there were others I hadn't seen. Who knows what the sow activity could drum up?

It wasn't Icing before the action began. Coming in head on, both my cameraman and I instantly agreed this was the one we were looking for. Approaching the bait in the middle of the opening, he removed the protective logs and was feeding in no time, but he remained head on. After a few minutes he turned and left in the same direction. I was helpless to get the shot.

The boar returned a few minutes later, only to repeat the actions of the previous visit. He came to the bait head on a total of four times, fed briefly each time, and then left without ever offering me a shot.

The fifth time was the charm. Having knocked the five-gallon bucket over towards us when he left the last time, he circled to get at the food. Coming to full draw, I waited until his head was buried in the bucket and let the arrow fly.

Tracking the bear with my cameraman and our guide was an experience I won't soon forget. Let's just say that it's never a plus when your cameraman emphatically informs the guide that the bear at the end of the blood trail isn't yours. In fact, I'd wager that never occurs when the bear is bigger than one believed.

Still, even if we hadn't woefully misjudged the size of that bear, the point remains the same. When left up to chance, it's remarkable how much time a bear can spend around a bait site without offering a shot. Making matters worse, because truly big bears tend not to linger long at a bait site, opportunities at these monsters are both rare and fleeting.

So, force them to give you a shot. Simply don't allow bears to hit baits without being broadside or at a slightly quartering-away angle.

Often, hunters try to accomplish that by cutting two holes in 55-gallon drums. The bottoms of the holes are typically about half to three quarters up from the bottom, allowing the drum to still hold a good amount of bait. The holes are on opposite sides of the drum, creating the opportunity to position the drum to encourage bears to feed broadside. The drum is then capped and chained to a tree to prevent drum movement.

Regardless of what's used to hold bait, place the container so that it has a backstop that won't allow bears to feed quartering to your position. In the case of the 55-gallon drum, selecting a location with a clump of trees can often allow the drum to be chained in a manner that forces the bear to be broadside or quartering away from the stand.

Now, let's go back to the hunt that began this article. Although many years after my first bear hunt, I was hunting with the same outfitter. To this day, they still use five-gallon buckets for bait containers. Running the baits with the guide that first morning, the huge scat pile revealed this was where I'd hunt. I also knew some adjustments were necessary.

For starters, the bait was sitting in the middle of an old, elevated logging road. Luckily, all the brush and trees had been pushed to the side when the road was cleared. That created a perfect backstop. Shifting the bait a smidge allowed me to take advantage of that impenetrable blockade. I slipped the handle through a mostly buried, stout branch, and used a lot of heavy gauge wire to secure it in place. With that, the bears were forced to offer a good shot angle to work the bait.

The next step was setting a blind. The existing ladder stand was in a good location, and based on how the bears were traveling, would work great for a north, northwest, west or southwest wind. Placing a blind just offset to the west would allow for south and any easterly winds.

Therein lies another difference maker. Hunting a stand with the wrong wind can be disastrous, but wasting sits on inferior baits is also a bad idea. When a bait is hot, you can easily solve both problems by having two stand options.

Because the bait is backstopped, the trick lies in finding how the bears enter and exit the site. That way both stands can often be placed on the same side of the bait, yet offset to the sides enough to allow for any wind direction.

Finally, I highly recommend creating three or more bait sites per hunter. Furthermore, separating the sites by several miles will reduce the chance of the same bears working multiple baits. I know that's a lot of work, but it pays off when baits go bad or one nocturnal monster drives all the others off.


With bringing bears in and forcing good shot angles taken care of, all that's left is making the shot. Practicing with your gear before hitting the bear woods does wonders in that area. Taking it further and practicing from the types of stands you will be hunting from is another big step. Add shooting in lowlight conditions, in wind and rain, and all that's left is to release the arrow on a melon head.

Judging Bears

As was the case with the second bear I'd ever shot, it can be alarmingly easy to misjudge bears. Even after accurately judging the first 10 bears and having that one come in five times, both my camera-man and I were convinced he was huge.

After that first hunt, I made it a priority to educate myself. Identifying a few simple traits has stopped me from making that mistake again.

For me, it begins with the head. Ears look very small on a big bear. Little bears have Dumbo ears. Along with that, every mature boar I've seen has a noticeable crease running down the center of his head. The muscles on either side of the ridged bone in the center of their skull grow so large that they create a valley, of sorts.

One can also use a height marker. On 55-gallon drums standing upright, if the bear's back is above the second ring, it's a good bear. One can also mark a tree with a ribbon at 40 inches above the ground and use it as the decider.

Finally, when in doubt, don't shoot. Trust me, when you see a big bear, you won't question it for a second.

Getting The Most From Scouting Cameras

Scouting cameras are great tools for determining which bait to hunt. Not only do they reveal the caliber of bears working the bait, but they also show the time of day it's being hit.

Still, in order to not spook bears or get cameras trashed, while still getting the most from the unit, several steps should be taken:

* Deodorize the unit and never contaminate it with bait or human odors when swapping chips.

* Always use a bear box and cable to protect the camera.

* Set the camera back at least 20 feet from the bait and blend it in.

* Put a 40-inch height marker by the bait to judge size.

* Don't point the camera into the setting sun, unless the site is shaded from direct sunlight.

The author is an outdoor writer from Marshfield, Wisconsin.
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Author:Bartylla, Steve
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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