By Clay Newcomb
Bears don’t use their ears to find food. Neither do they use their eyes as the primary tool to locate food. As we all know, bears use their nose as their primary sense to direct them towards food. When baiting bears, scent is the primary attractor. Understanding scent and having quality scent is the foundation of successful bear baiting. Step two for a successful bear bait is providing quality and diverse bait that provides the bear with the food it wants. In this article we’ll focus on bait scent dispersal and how understanding the prevailing winds and thermal currents will help you choose the right bait site. Secondly, we’ll talk about some types of bear bait.
When I first started baiting bears, I quickly realized that not all bait sites were created equally. Often times, even when in good bear country, I found that some baits had the ability to attract multiple bears quickly, while others only randomly attracted bears for a few days. Some never attracted bears. Just like in real estate, location is everything. You cannot make a bear eat in a place he doesn’t want to be, or at least not for a very long period of time. Secondly, you can’t attract a bear to a bait site that he can’t smell. And the best nose in the animal kingdom cannot smell a bait site that is upwind - period. A bear could by 50 yards upwind of an established bait and never smell it. Nothing can beat wind direction in terms of scent dispersal – not even powerful commercial scents. Scent travels by air movement. Let’s look at the two primary scent dispersal mechanisms – prevailing winds and thermal currents.
Every geographic location has a prevailing wind for different times of the year. For example, in Arkansas while I’m baiting bear in September and early October, the prevailing wind is from the Southwest. After years of watching the weather patterns during this time period, I would say that any given day there is an 80% chance the wind will be coming out of some variation of South. However, from November through February the prevailing wind is going to be out of the North, but his is irrelevant for my bear baiting. An old timer once told me, “The winds may change, but you’ve always got to plan based upon the prevailing wind.”
What does this mean for baiting bears? When I have a choice, I will always place my bait on the south side of regions that I believe to hold the most bear. Your bait needs to be placed so that the bait scent will blow into the areas that you want to draw bears out of. If you are baiting on vast tracts of public land this may mean positioning your bait so the prevailing winds blow scent into a roadless canyon. If you’re hunting private land bordering a large tract of wilderness, you’ll want the prevailing winds blowing into the areas of wilderness. I could tell many stories of “would be” bait sites that were on the wrong side of prime bear-holding areas. I can think of two that have been complete flops, despite being on the edge of exceptional bear areas.
I once talked with a bear-baiting veteran who was eagerly awaiting a shift in the prevailing wind just prior to the season opener. The winds had been out of the South for a full month and a front was blowing in out of the North. He anticipated a new batch of bears visiting the multiple bait sites he had out.
Thermal currents are caused by uneven heating of the earth’s surface by the sun. As the sun rises in the mornings it heats the earth’s surface which in turn warms the air near the surface. The warming air begins to rise causing air movement. Likewise in the evening, air above the ground begins to cool as sunlight decreases, causing it to sink. In the morning air currents rise and the evening they sink. These air currents carry the bait scent with them. To translate this into applicability, bait scent will rise to higher elevations in the morning and lower elevations in the evening (on a calm day with no wind). A stiff wind can nullify the effects of thermal currents temporarily.
What does this mean for bait placement? If you are hunting in mountainous terrain it can influence bait placement significantly. If you’re baiting on a mountain top, place the bait on along the rim on the side from which you want to draw bears. Evening thermals will pull the bait scent down the side of the mountain into the lower elevations. Likewise, baits placed in lower elevations will disperse scent into the higher elevations in the mornings.
A Deadly Combination
Achieving maximum scent dispersal is key for baiting bears. Much of this has to do with bait site placement, but as much has to do with the types of scent that you use. Commercial scents are chemically engineered to have more and longer lasting scent properties than any natural bait. However, commercial scents must be accompanied with quality and diverse baits for best results. Using great scents without great bait is like food smelling great, but not tasting great. You wouldn’t come back to a restaurant like this.
Often times in the spring bears are hungry and you can get away with using less diversity in your bait. But I don’t suggest it. Many outfitters use one primary ingredient (i.e. oats and grease) and have success drawing in bears for the time period they are baiting. However, adding variety to the bait is far better and will produce better results. By results I mean more bears and more commitment from them. My favorite baits include: cookies, donuts, popped popcorn, dogfood, candy (gummy, licorice, jelly beans), bread, frostings, sugary toppings, fruit, fruit toppings, meat scraps, beef/pork fat and grease. I really like to apply the grease heavily to all my baits. And I always use some type of scent grease additive. I buy my bait from Big Woods Baits in Wisconsin.
Use your knowledge of prevailing winds and thermal currents to carry the scent of your quality bait and commercial scent into the areas that hold bears. I know you’ll have better results because of it.