Aromatherapy for bear hunting

Bill Graves, Special to The County
11 months ago

It’s difficult to believe that summer is winding down, another year has passed and bear hunting season is on the horizon. 

Baiting opened for outfitters, guides and individuals on July 29. Youth hunting day is Aug. 26 and open season begins Aug. 28. The fairly short season for hunting over bait ends on Sept. 23, and outdoorsmen hope the windy, wet weather that affected many fishing trips won’t impair bear season as well.  

Aroostook County abounds with black bear, but annual success rates remain less than 25 percent due to the extraordinary senses of sight, hearing and especially smell that every bruin possesses. Hide in a well camouflaged ground blind or tree stand, remain as still as a statue and use a bucketful of cover scent, and most bear will still detect your presence. 

Over many years of experimenting and trial and error, it’s become apparent to me that using a tantalizing attractant scent not only coaxes more bear to visit my bait site, but also disguises most of the human odor that a cover scent may miss.

Decades ago, well before any attractant scents were even invented or commercially produced for sale, crafty hunters used a “honey burn” to generate a sweet, attractive aroma at bait sites. They just poured a jar of honey into an old pot or frying pan and heated it over a fire until it began burning and smoking. The sweet, dense smoke would travel on the breeze and adhere to trees, brush and leaves at the bait bucket and far into the forest. Bear, who love honey, would smell it and follow the scent back to the food. The pungent smell also helped cover the hunter’s scent, and the old trick still works today.

My Dad was a hardcore whitetail hunter and pretty ingenious. Before man-made cover scents were sold, he would often cut an apple in half and place a piece in each jacket pocket as scent cover. A lot of deer, bear and moose hunters purchased 1-ounce dropper bottles of cedar oil and placed a drop or two on each boot so the pungent natural woodsy smell masked human odor.

A dozen years or so ago, some bear hunter had the bright idea of spreading used cooking oil from restaurant deep fryers on bear trails and bushes around the bait. The strong cooking smell travels on the wind. Bear come to investigate, find food, and then step in the oil or brush their fur on the saturated leaves. Any other bear crossing the first bruin’s trail will pick up on the yummy scent and backtrack to the bait bucket. Most restaurants are happy to give the used oil away so it’s a win-win for both parties.

The current hunting marketplace is literally flooded with hundreds of shapes, sizes and smells of aromatic products to entice bruin, and most offer the added effect of helping hide a hunter’s presence. Without exaggeration, I’ve personally tried at least 25 pump sprays, gels, powders, crystals, solids and aerosols in several flavors and aromas. I think every bear hunter should evaluate their own selection of products to judge effectiveness, cost, ease of use, longevity of attraction smell and availability.

A bacon scented ball hangs from a cable above the bear and the bait barrel. This bruin is licking the ground where the drippings have been accumulating. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

I’ve settled on three products, each with a different application style, but all meeting or exceeding my requirements for an effective bear attracting scent. Best of all, these have the added feature of helping shroud my human scent. Bear Scents LLC of Lake Mills, Wisconsin, offers online shopping for a wide array of attractants. My go-to is a bacon-infused bait ball. I hang one of these soccer-ball-size orbs from a wire cable strung between two trees near the bait barrel, high above a big bear’s reach.

A porous cloth bag encompasses the sphere, allowing the strong aroma to waft on the wind as it slowly dissolves. A single bait ball will last the full two months of baiting and hunting. There are 18 other scents besides bacon, all real bear magnets, as well as more than two dozen attractant products for bear, deer and wild boar. 

The Conquest company manufactures a bear scent stick that looks and operates like a king-size deodorant stick. By swiping the roll-out, soft gel core against a tree trunk, blow down or even the bait container every two or three days, there will be an aroma to draw bear to your location. I’ve not found a more effective gel application for less than $20 that can be used every other day for three weeks.

My third and final option is a food-flavored liquid spray. I carry a 32 oz. spray bottle of anise-flavored bear attractor produced by Northwood’s Bear Products. I spray the ground and brush at the bottom of my ladder, and once up in the tree stand I dose the surrounding limbs, branches and leaves. With scent blocker clothing and scent neutralizing spray, the anise offers final cover as well as offering flavor attraction.

To successfully hunt bear, you need to see bear. To see bear, you need to give them a reason to come into the open during daylight. Food helps, but a properly utilized attractant aroma is a linchpin to opportunity and triumph. Try a bit of aromatherapy during this year’s bear season. You won’t be sorry.