Still time to prepare for bear

Bill Graves, Special to The County
17 years ago

Bear baits can be set up 30 days before the season opens, and for those that have lost track of time that was over a week ago on July 28. Don’t panic, there’s still plenty of time. As a matter of fact, with the rising cost of gasoline as well as baiting material, many regional guides wait at least a week, two in some cases, before starting their bait sites. Cost savings over that period are substantial when 50 to 100 baits are being maintained.

Weather conditions are another good reason to postpone baiting a week or so. When local temperatures hover in the high 80s and low 90s each day, bear are no more interested in eating or wandering about than you and I are. Once nighttime temperatures drop into the 40s or low 50s, travel and hunger will pick up. Another stumbling block for bear hunters in early August is the widespread abundance of natural food supplies, chokecherries, beechnuts, apples and raspberries for example.
Sportsmen planning to hunt over natural baits can certainly begin scouting these native food sources as well as area grain fields and clover pastures where local bruin visit for tasty, fast food. Once bear are spotted, it’s simple to pinpoint entrance and exit trails and figure a feeding schedule, since in most cases black bear maintain fairly regular travel routes and eating times, just like humans. Then it’s just a matter of building a ground blind or setting up a tree stand within comfortable shooting distance of one of the trails a couple of weeks before the season begins.
For those hunters setting up a man-made bait site, the first step is to select a likely spot and obtain permission from the landowner to run a bait. Black bear are everywhere throughout Aroostook county, some living right in the urban sprawl edges of towns, but a few selection guidelines will assure bruin will use the site on a regular basis and during legal shooting hours. Although I have seen bait barrels set up right in the open on old remote logging trails attract bear to feed, dark, heavy forest is better, and if the site is near a swamp, marsh or a water supply, all the better.
Set up far away from highways, ATV trails, logging operations and any agri fields where farm machinery will be used regularly. Quiet is the key to a dependable bear bait. Make sure there is a suitable location for a ground blind, or a sturdy tree, properly positioned overlooking the bait for a stand. In either case, select a spot where the setting sun is not in the shooter’s eyes and brush, limbs and leaves help break up the silhouette of the hunter.
Several diverse and varied options are used to store and present food. Most common is a metal or plastic barrel of 35 to 55 gallon size set on the ground and cabled to a tree to prevent bear from dragging it away. Other options I’ve seen include two or three car tires piled up with food in the center hole; five gallon buckets hung from tree limbs; and even plastic grocery bags filled with food scraps and hung from a tree branch with a rope so the bear has to stand up and claw the bag to drop the food on the ground.
All of these ideas work, but I consider the best option to be hanging a barrel from a steel cable looped from one tree to another. Raccoons and other scavengers can’t get at the food, only a bear can stand up and reach into the suspended barrel. Even small bear can be eliminated from feeding by hanging the barrel higher. This set up saves on bait and also makes the bear stand to eat, providing a better shooting opportunity, and a chance to make a good judgment on size.
Some sort of attractive scent trail along the ground or in the air will help attract bear from afar to any new bait location. One simple and inexpensive option is to hang lobster shells or fish carcasses in a mesh bag from a high tree limb near the bait barrel. The limb must be strong enough to support the bag but small enough that a raccoon can’t use it to reach the scent bag, and far enough out that a bear climbing the tree can’t grab it either. Wind will carry the strong smell for miles and once a bear comes to investigate he will find the food.
Doing a honey burn at the bait site or hanging a commercially flavored bait ball produced by Bear Scents LLC will work also. Anise, honey, blueberry, strawberry, shellfish and raspberry are a few of the 20 Bear Scent flavors that come in balls, sprays, and powders. If buckets of used cooking oil can be obtained from local restaurants, spread this liberally on the ground around the bait site. When one bear visits and gets the oil on his feet and fur, another bear may cross his trail and then follow the aroma back to the bait site. If this happens a couple of times, pretty soon you have a multi-bruin barrel.
Although this process sounds fairly simple, the trick is to attract some large bear, not just sows with cubs, and to induce these bear to visit the bait during shooting hours, not after dark. If and when that finally works out, being in the right place at the right time for a good shot is the final step. On a good year there’s only about a 33 percent success rate on bagging a bruin, but every hunter has to start somewhere. The first step is to establish a bear bait, and even if you just want to watch and take photos, that’s okay too. Baiting season is at hand now, so get the ball rolling before all the good locations are claimed.