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How to Successfully Bait Bears

Stack the bait in your favor — and fill more bear tags — with these tips and strategies.

How to Successfully Bait Bears

(Author photos)

Bear baiting is an art form. It is not science, and it is not cheating. It is grueling hard work combined with a sixth sense for terrain and topography and a malformed appreciation of culinary products.

One bear hunter confessed, “I like to spot and stalk for spring bears, because baiting is way more work.”

He was right. Bear baiting done right is backbreaking work. However, it’s also the most successful and—some would argue—most ethical way to hunt spring bears.

Why ethical? Three reasons: Hunting over bait enables you to wait for just the right shot presentation; to be selective in what bear you kill; and to be certain there are no cubs present.

Let’s dive into how to successfully bait bears.

Pick Your Spot(s)

Like releasing an arrow from a longbow, successful bear baiting requires extreme focus on the spot. Or in this case, the site. It’s part instinctive, part analytical and part practical.

Bears are lazy, like humans. When convenient, they’ll take the easy path. Unlike humans, however, no matter how ponderous a big bear may appear, he will flow over gnarly, treacherous terrain with the greatest of ease.

When following his nose to a free meal, a big bear (the sort we’re after) likes an easy, but protected route to the restaurant. Big bears like bait sites in or next to dense bedding cover, where the prevailing wind blows into that cover so they can smell other bears, humans or fresh donuts at the site.

Carrying bear baits on your back
Establishing and tending bear baits is backbreaking work. Done right, it’s extremely productive and worth the effort. But there’s a lot more to it than just baiting and waiting.

High bear densities don’t typically exist. Not in the same sense as deer populations. A pinch point or natural terrain funnel can make or break a bait site. Look for wide, sweeping bends in rivers and canyons, where a steep bank or gulch swings close to a cliff face or exposed canyon side—anything that concentrates bear travel near your bait site.

Bait sites for rifle hunting should be placed 100 to 300 yards from an easily accessible vantage point. That way, hunters can hunt the bait with minimum risk of bumping bears with sound, scent or movement.

Avoid the common mistake of putting sites too near each other. Last year, I tried three bait sites in a new drainage. An old friend and veteran bear baiter warned me they were too close together. He was right: I had one big boar randomly hitting all three sites. As a result, his movements were unpredictable. I never connected.

Play the Percentages

For reasons only known to themselves, bears like some bait sites more than others. When setting up a baiting campaign, use the shotgun approach: Set out more bait sites than you need each year. The local bears will show you which sites are most effective. Abandon the unproductive sites and try new spots each consecutive year until you’ve found as many hot sites as you want to hunt. Place Your bait

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Pick a good tree to chain your bait barrel to. Set the barrel up so bears must stand broadside to you to insert a paw to dig out bait. Pile logs and branches that force bears to stand in places that provide good shot opportunities.

It’s an Operation. Keep it Sterile.

Bears have incredible noses. Wear scent-free rubber gloves when setting up your site. Start with low-pungency products first, stuffing the bait barrel with dog food, popcorn, bread and cookies. Distribute power scents such as sow-in-heat urine and anise oil last. Don’t allow new-to-the-site hunters to come in and help bait an active location; an unfamiliar human scent will cause bears to avoid the site for several days.

Trail Cameras are Disposable

Whether you believe trail cameras are disposable or not, bears are quite confident they are. Don’t get attached to your cameras. Don’t use super expensive cameras. Don’t use super cheap ones, either, as they’re likely to fail to take pictures.

Trail camera photo of black bear at bait site
Baiting is not only productive, it’s very ethical. Hunters can wait for ideal shot presentations; can study bears to be sure they’re taking mature animals, and be sure there are no cubs present.

For whatever reason, bears love to gnaw on the plastic that makes up a trail camera’s case. If you can afford to buy protective steel boxes for your cameras, do so.

Always hang or tend existing cameras before tending your bait. Whatever you do, don’t touch the camera after handling old pastries, or sow-in-heat urine or any other bait product. The combined smell of trail-camera plastic and bait residue is irresistible to bears.

Mix the Perfume

The gnarly old boar you’re trying to kill is not your wife. He likes his scents mixed and his food items touching each other. When baiting a site, use variety. Bears are individual, and just like humans, one old boar may prefer cookies and anise oil, while another can’t resist dog food and old fry oil. Supplying a spectrum of foods and smells tickles the fancy of more bears. More bears is good.

As a secret weapon, add some specialty bear scents. Concentrated sow-in-heat urine, powdered attractant crystals, pastes and other products formulated to work on bears like crack cocaine will skew the odds in your favor.

Finally, a bucket of old nongame fish parts, well ripened in the sun under a tight lid and hung high in a tree near your bait site, can call bears from miles around.

Mind the Wind

Bears often stink, especially if they’ve been eating fish. However, to them, humans positively reek. And with a sense of smell thousands of times stronger than ours, bears are rather sensitive when they get a whiff of man.

Don’t hunt a site unless the wind is right. It should be blowing your scent away from the bait, and away from thick cover where they’ll potentially approach from.

If you’re on stand and the wind switches and becomes unfavorable, abandon ship. It’s not worth contaminating a bait site and disrupting any wise old bears just because it’s a pain to move or give up your evening hunt.

Sleep in. Except When You Shouldn’t.

Traditionally, bears are more active in the evening. Also, it’s much easier to approach a bait site quietly when there’s daylight rather than stumbling around in the predawn dark. Morning bear hunts aren’t usually as fruitful as evenings.

Cinnamon black bear hero photo
This whopper of a bear came in to one of the author’s friend’s bait sites at the thin edge of dusk, and Becca Golightly took it with a shot from her 7mm Rem. Mag.

Long springtime days have very stretched-out evenings, so you may not get back to camp until midnight. As a result, most serious bear hunters figure it’s most effective to sleep in, get good rest and hunt long and focused during the afternoons.

However, sometimes you need to hunt early mornings. How do you know? The most obvious is when you find a big boar on your trail camera, and the time stamp indicates he’s hitting the bait around dawn. Often this happens when a randy old bear shacks up with a young female. Young sows often make a morning visit to the bait site to avoid conflict with bigger bears that come to the bait in the afternoon.

Another profound reason to hunt mornings is if you’re running out of time. If you have just one or two days left of your hunt and have yet to pull the trigger on a bear, best get your tired hindquarters out of the sleeping bag early and go sit the bait. A daughter of a friend did just that last spring and shot a whopper of a boar for her pains.

Bear baiting is hard work, but learn to combine instincts, art and just a bit of science, and you’ll start bringing home more bears—and bigger bears—than you ever will spot-and-stalk hunting.




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