Bait hunting is just an advanced form of trapping in which the hunter becomes the steel jaws of the bear trap. It’s a chess game, sure, and a waiting game requiring the ability to sit still and zone yourself into mental nothingness for hours—nay, days on end while waiting for that brief window when the donut-fattened bear of your dreams waddles in and you trigger the trap.
Let loose your imagination and come with me to Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness where I saw the biggest black bear of my life.
My guide, Greg Wonders, and I were sitting in a tiny hanging basin just below the mountain peak, leaning on a massive pine log killed 101 years earlier by a historic fire and eating our lunch, when he pointed up the slope and said through a mouthful of ham sandwich, “Look at that big black bear.” Then, he added, “Biggest damn black bear I’ve seen in years.”
The bear was sitting on his haunches 200 yards away, front feet between his splayed rear legs, luxuriating in the afternoon sun. He’d seen us, but was unbothered. He looked like someone had up-ended a ’67 VW Bug and planted it on its bumper. Watching this massive bruin was ever so much better than watching a bear bat a hanging rotten beaver carcass around.
Spot-and-stalk bear hunting in an area with a good population of bears and huntable habitat offers the ultimate in bear hunting. It’s a real hunt—dynamic and ever-changing, requiring adaptability and excellent stalking savvy. So climb down off your high horse and put yourself in the bear’s kitchen and hunt him by his rules. Only by becoming part bear yourself can you be consistently successful at spot-and-stalk hunting. —Joseph von Benedikt
Show me a self-righteous spot-and-stalk bear hunter and I’ll show you a guy who has sooner or later shot a “huge” bear at 300 yards only to hike over and find they could pick it up with one hand. There is no tougher animal to judge, and baiting offsets this—a lot.
Disclosure: I’m a dyed-in-the-Woolrich spot-and-stalk hunter. I’m just not imperious about it for the same reasons I don’t drive a Prius or order egg-white omelettes. Bear with me here, ahem, but baiting’s superior for a lot of reasons.
Portrayed as a “lazy” hunt, in truth it takes a lot more effort and time to set up a bait than it does to wander the countryside, spot a black blob, and blast it with a big bore.
It’s true showing up at a bait that someone else prepped and flattening a bear with a scoped .300 can leave you feeling a little empty if all goes your way. But it rarely does. Close-range thrills and chills come only with bait hunting.
Truth is, very few parts of the U.S. are spot-and-stalk country because bears live in brush country, and outside of the alpine Rockies, you have to bait or run hounds.
Elitism aside, spot-and-stalk hunting is just not that tough. Bears, like moose, are easy to spot and don’t see well. Dope the wind, and you can sneak within 200 yards with half the cast of Sesame Street behind you. Big, old bears are actually a lot spookier around a man-made bait because they know there’s no free lunch.
But mostly, it’s those thrills and chills that make baiting a riot, the magic of being in close proximity to a large predator. Close enough that you’ll likely be able to identify a sow before you pull the trigger. And the best thing about baiting? You will never have to name those orphaned cubs that are trying to follow you out of the woods. —Skip Knowles