Best Bear Baiting Tips
Text & Photos by Nick Hopkins
Spring is just around the corner and soon thousands of hunters will enter the woods in pursuit of black bear. For many this is an annual trip or a family tradition while for others this may be their first bear hunting adventure. Whether you plan to hunt DIY or take a guided trip, prepare to be challenged. A mature black bear is one of the smartest animals you can hunt and a bear hunt over bait is no exception to the rule in spite of common misconceptions. Here are some of my best bear baiting tips that will help you get a crack at a trophy bruin this spring.
Location is an extremely important aspect of a successful bait site so start by looking for tracks and scat in dense, dark areas, old timber growth near water and around spring food sources where your chances are best at finding a hungry bear or two. Pick a spot that will allow the bait scent to travel far and wide on thermals like at the head of a canyon or multiple canyons. If you need help picking a spot, your local wildlife biologist and a little research online can help point you in the right direction. You still need to scout the country to confirm your suspicions and nail down the perfect spot. Keep in mind each state has various restrictions on how close a bait can be to lakes and streams, campgrounds, roads, trails, and cabins. If you’re backpacking bait, you’ll need to find a spot that’s reasonably accessible, but meets all the local laws.
Scent is extremely important when it comes to hunting bear. A bear’s nose is reported to be seven times stronger than that of a hound dog. If you’ve never been around a hound dog, let’s just say that’s a pretty remarkable sniffer! The key to bringing in lots of bears is to put out as much scent as possible, especially if it’s a new bait site. There are all kinds of commercial products on the market designed to attract and hold bears. Saturate the baiting area and nearby foliage completely each time you re-bait. This acts like an alarm clock for the bear to let them know you’ve brought food. They normally don’t wander far from an established bait site so when that fresh smell enters their noses it won’t be long until they come check it out. Now remember, a bear’s nose will pick up human scent just as easily so try to stay as scent free as possible and limit your time and activity around the bait. Get in, bait, and get out!
Bears are very cautious when they approach a bait site, so be sure your setup will help stack the odds in your corner. Here are some important points to consider:
- When choosing your stand location, pick a tree downwind of the bait site and pay attention to the thermals in that area.
- Try to keep the bait site in an area where the bear doesn’t have to come out into the open, which may cause him to be uncomfortable and reluctant to hit the bait during shooting hours.
- Give yourself plenty of time for scouting and setup – even if this is your first time baiting! Making the effort to find the right setup will ensure you’re not wasting your time later at an unproductive site. I would rather spend an extra weekend scouting for a good site than two weekends working on a bait that is never going to produce.
- Clear all your shooting lanes and brush-in your tree stand or ground blind thoroughly to break up your outline.
- If you are using a barrel, be sure to chain it tight to the tree so the bears can’t change its position. A barrel that gets moved could cost you a shot opportunity.
- Make sure you have quick, easy, and quiet access in and out of your stand or blind and it’s best to approach from down-wind of where you expect bears to come from.
- Arrange the stand and bait so that you will have a quartering away or broadside shot. If necessary, build a crib or blockade to funnel the bear to the proper angle and make sure they can’t sneak bait out from behind the crib.
- Keep your shot distance within capabilities of you and your weapon choice.
- Finally, don’t get caught messing with your set-up on the night you come to hunt.
Condition the Bears
One of the biggest mistakes hunters make when learning to bait bears is not allowing the bears to become comfortable or conditioned to the bait site. Bears like feeding times to become a routine. Try to re-bait at the same times each day. If you are re-baiting daily or couple times a week make sure to supply them with just enough to keep them coming back for more. Be consistent.
Bears don’t see particularly well, but they are extremely smart. Hunting a bear over bait may seem easy but taking a good boar is very challenging. There will be times when everything seems perfect but a smart or nocturnal bear will still not hit the bait while you’re on stand. Often times, these smarter bears will circle downwind, well out of range and spook without offering you so much as a glimpse. When you find yourself in one of these chess-matches, you may need to get creative and try different tactics. Sometimes the smallest changes in routine or bait can make all the difference.
Try placing only half the bait you normally use at the bait site for example. When that big bear shows up after dark a few times to an empty barrel he may change his pattern to get there earlier before the other bears eat all the bait. You can also try introducing an “intruder” by using a commercial bear urine. This can help to create a sense of competition for the food and may cause the bears to change their patterns.
Another tactic that can work is to bring two people to the bait site – while one person baits, put the other in the stand. Have the second person leave after baiting like normal. Often bears will come in shortly after a site is baited – assuming the hunters have left so they can get first crack at the fresh food. Use a trail camera to uncover these patterns with a crafty bear.
As a last resort, you can wait until the last 15 – 20 minutes of daylight and still hunt/stalk into the bait-site with the wind in your favor. This tactic allows plenty of time for a cautious bear to circle down-wind and realize the hunter is not on stand. He may then proceed to the bait and feed. You may want to have some backup along especially if you’re bowhunting.
If you would like to add some additional attraction to help get your bait site rokin’ check out the full line of bear attractants from BoarMasters!