The Star-Herald

Prepare for bear hunting

Black bear hunting begins Saturday, Aug. 27, with youth day, and general hunting starts Aug. 29. Bait sites have been established and tended since July 30. Trapping season and hunting with dogs begins Sept. 1 and 12, respectively, and it is legal to tag two bruin annually; one each by hunting and trapping. 

The bear population continues to expand and the annual harvest isn’t large enough to stem the growth, with COVID-19 keeping many non-resident sportsmen from traveling.

The breathtaking price of gas and a notable cost increase of many baiting foods are very likely to decrease the number of hunters who maintain a personal bait site or two. Some will postpone baiting for a couple of weeks or more, while others will turn to spot and stalk shooting of bear, visiting myriad regional grain fields, wild apple orchards, raspberry and chokeberry patches and beechnut ridges.

For those wishing to establish a bait site, it’s unlikely that a drive of more than 20 minutes would be required anywhere in Aroostook County. Many hunters utilize their own land, but it’s generally not a problem to acquire permission from regional farmers and owners of vast woodland properties. Then it’s just a matter of picking a location away from regularly used roads, ATV trails and hiking paths, and nowhere near houses, camps or even remote farm storage buildings.

Forest and fairly dense ground cover around the bait site make bear feel safer and I try to be at least 100 yards into the woods from the dirt road where I park my vehicle to bring bait to the location. A nearby brook, pond or marshy area help keep bear near a baiting area. It’s necessary to clear a trail through the brush, locate a tree for the bait container and another for a tree stand. If a hunter intends to use a portable ground blind, a space needs to be created to position it at a preferred shooting distance, which varies for use of rifle, handgun or bow.

Greg Palm has put bait in a barrel and now hangs a strong-smelling attractant ball from a cable to bring bear from long distances, adjusting the bait ball location with a long stick. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

The final step is to secure a bait container to a tree with wire, cable or chain so it can’t be hauled off into the woods by a bear. I’ve seen every size and shape from a five-gallon pail to a 55-gallon barrel. It’s important to position the container to keep other pest animals away from the food and cover with heavy material so only a big bear can obtain access to it.

It’s important to use an attractant scent at the bait site to accompany the smell of food the wind disperses through the woods. I hang a soccer-ball-size, bacon-scented sphere created by Bear Scents LLC of Wisconsin that lasts for weeks, slowly dissolving and sending out a delicious aroma. There are also gels, sprays, powders, fryer oil additives and scent pads to install for the season or utilize each baiting visit, and anise, honey, bacon, strawberry, blueberry, jelly donut and dozens more flavors that draw bear to visit, then are carried off on their feet and fur so that other bruin will cross the scent trail and also visit the bait area.

Whether your bait site is for hunting food, photography, or just animal watching, it’s a lot of work and more expensive than ever this season. The chances of even seeing a bear, let alone getting a shot with gun, bow or camera during regular hunting seasons, are very limited. So it’s time to make a choice: either set up a bait site and postpone two or three weeks until just before the four-week season, or select another style of bear hunting.

Despite the non-hunter opinions that baiting is unsportsmanlike and an easy way to take a bear, the annual success rate remains below 25 percent. If you think about it, you’re much more likely to spot deer and moose when traveling than a black bear. Another couple of factors that should affect considerations and have changed notably the last couple of years are unusually warm September weather and dry conditions that effect natural food sources. 

Bear season is fast approaching. It’s time to decide where, when, and how to hunt this year.

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