I would be the first to admit, fall bear hunting just isn’t at the top of my to-do list every year. Living in Colorado, there’s just too many other opportunities to sink my teeth into, with hunting mule deer, antelope and elk always making it to the top of my list. That being said, as primarily a bowhunter, my western season generally comes to a close towards the end of September. And with November whitetails still a month away, October can be a great time to match wits with a fall bruin looking to put on some pounds before winter.
Many times it’s not the knowledge of “best practice” that dictates our baiting schedule, but rather finances, time or other restrictions. However, understanding these strategies might help you in future years. Remember this: baiting is a conservation management tool designed to help game agencies accomplish their management goals. Bear baiting is under fire in many arenas, even inside the hunting community. We bait bears so we can be selective in our harvest, and it should be our goal to harvest older mature males in most scenarios. Be careful how you talk about baiting bears and especially how you post things on social media. Baiting bears isn’t easy and it’s a ton of work! It’s all about the journey, not the destination.
After spending the previous seven months serving our country abroad, I was more than ready to leave the hustle and bustle of Europe for much quieter days in Alaska. The timing of my return was perfect, because I would land in Fairbanks, and we could immediately begin the process my wife and I have come to love each spring since we’ve been married. Baiting grizzly and black bears is a labor of love, but the sounds and smells of spring coupled with anticipation of close encounters with the top of North American’s food chain keeps us focused on the goal.
In some areas, you have a short time to get your baits working. Here are some strategies for firing them up fast and keeping the bears coming.
Baiting bears is simple, but when it comes to the execution of a bear-baiting plan many realize the difficulty and complexity of the task. How much bait do I need? Where do I get it? What do I use? How soon before hunting should I put it out? These questions need answered, and everybody has an opinion.
I learned early on after baiting over 10 sites for multiple years and having varied results at each. I could have predicted the outcome of some of the sites, but others surprised me. Outfitters and serious bear baiters agree, certain locations are better than others and it isn’t just chance. Bait sites that produce big bears year after year have some common trends. Here are seven characteristics to great bait sites. Every site will not have all of these characteristics, but are the trends of the best I’ve seen.
Variety is the spice of life, and it’s also a key to a good bear bait. Bears are like humans; they've got individual preferences. I once heard of a bear that despised lemon-flavored pies so much that he raked his tongue with his paws. Bears are also driven by biological urges that push them towards feeding on optimal food sources that achieve their strategic goal. A bear’s goal is to “get fat quick.” Having multiple options for quality types of bait in different categories creates nothing but positive outcomes.
October 1st is a day I won’t soon forget. Five years of effort and hustle culminated into my best day of bear hunting. I was bear hunting on private land in Oklahoma for my fifth year. In 2015 I took a 360-pound 20 8/16” bear and was thrilled, however there was a larger bear on the property that I named Batman. He wasn’t just “bigger” he was a lot bigger. He was extremely wary and rarely showed up during the daytime. It's hard to beat an older-age boar's nose. They understand the game. They live long because they come in downwind when they approach the bait – it’s that simple. Or they are 100% nocturnal. They rarely make mistakes. I knew to harvest this bear I was going to have to get extremely lucky, or find a way to be totally scent free - and luck can't be trusted. Your typical “wash your clothes” in scent free soap and spray down is a joke in the bear woods when you’re after a world-class bear.