It has been my good fortune to be able to hunt all over North America. I’ve hunted with many outfitters and learned a lot from most of them. But I have learned the most about baiting black bears from my own experience of baiting them in several states and in Ontario.

Some of the hunts I have undertaken on my own, in a state far from home where I have no prior experience, have added the most knowledge to my storehouse of bear hunting wisdom. My personality, sad to say, requires me to learn the most from making mistakes (I prefer to call it a “process of elimination” to ease the pain). Either way, I can tell you that lessons learned the hard way are lessons learned well.

I noticed a pattern years ago while bringing bears to bait in Minnesota, but didn’t really think much about it. You see, we start baiting bears about two weeks prior to the season opener, so it didn’t really matter to me when the bears visited the baits when the season wasn’t even open yet. But when I began to travel in order to bear hunt, it took on a new meaning and I sat up and took notice. I was under a time schedule, usually a week to ten days, so every nugget of information I gathered meant a lot.

The advent of scouting cameras that take digital photos opened up a whole new world of knowledge and intelligence to me, and I seriously doubt if I would have ever figured this out without game cameras that allow you to pull a card and look at the photos after each check of the baits. And these days, when cell service can be relied upon, the cameras will immediately send you the photos they take.

This pattern is so predictable, it’s downright fascinating how bears from Idaho to Maine and states in between will follow this pattern with few exceptions: once a bear finds your bait, that bear will lie up nearby, usually in a cool, damp area or in the closest source of water. He’ll then start to visit the bait every time his stomach urges him, usually about every 6-8 hours—doesn’t matter the time of the day. If the bait site is located in an area where the bear has security cover and water nearby, along with a sense of comfort and security at the site itself, it’s like clockwork.

This will go on for four to eight visits over 30-48 hours, assuming the bait supply holds out and he doesn’t get spooked off the bait during this time. The second phase of the pattern takes place as the bear migrates into a low-light visit sequence. Black bears are crepuscular animals, which is just a scientific word to describe that they most actively feed during the early and late hours of daylight. The bear will do one of three things at this time, 1) he’ll be there feeding both mornings and evenings in the first and last 30 minutes of daylight or 2) he’ll come in during the later part of the afternoon and feed until after dark, often staying for several hours, or 3) just flat go nocturnal.

With any of these three scenarios, your chances of killing that bear are very high if you do everything right. While hunting mornings can have some merit when there are multiple bears coming and going at a bait site, it’s usually counterproductive for targeting an individual bear. I could do an entire magazine article on that topic alone, but for the purposes of hunting this one bear, let’s condense. If you spook that bear off the bait during this early time period, your chances of shooting him just went way down. It’s way too risky to try to get into a stand before daylight or even right at daylight—it’s just not worth it.

Kill him in the afternoon. The bears that settle into an afternoon and evening pattern are the most killable. But the bears that went nocturnal on you are not lost. I have found that if my bait site location offers them everything they need, most importantly a feeling of safety, security, and a high comfort level, even these nocturnal bears will work themselves into a daylight pattern. Be consistent with your visits, keep quality food there, and wait them out. I can think of a dozen or more times when I had a bear that wouldn’t come to the bait until well after dark that gradually migrated into a legal shooting light pattern over 3-5 days because the bait was right on location and I didn’t screw it up by changing up lures, baits, or baiting patterns. Consistency breeds comfort and I would never, ever underestimate the value of a bear’s ability to have a level of comfort and safety at the site.

So to sum this up, there are three windows of opportunity to increase your odds of turning that bear into a bear rug. The first one is right when you discover that he is hitting the bait. He’ll be back every 6-8 hours, so get in a stand now. “Hang and hunt” is what I call it. When I’m on a road trip far from home, I love this opportunity and I have learned to act immediately when I discover this first moment. If you already have your stand up, you’re one step closer to success.

The second window of opportunity in the pattern is when the bear starts hitting the bait at a predictable time each day, usually the last couple hours of daylight. Your odds are very high at this point, but they go down quickly with every time you sit in the stand. This bear is actively patterning you. He associates your scent and activity with the availability of food, and he’s really tuned into what is going on at the site, especially with your activities.

All of these strategies depend on getting good scouting camera intel, but the last is most critical. The third window of opportunity requires more patience and a willingness to act quickly. I’ll give you an example. I had a mature male bear that went right into a nocturnal pattern. I am sure he had played the game in the past and he just started coming in about two hours after dark. I walked into the bait every other day at noon, added bait if needed, gave it a fresh spray of Northwoods Bear Products, and switched the card out of the camera. Over four days, he started showing at 10:30 at night, about 20-40 minutes earlier each night. On the fourth day he hit the bait at 8:30, only 20 minutes after the end of legal shooting light. On the sixth day I once again pulled the card and saw that he came right at the end of legal shooting light. I went home and changed clothes, grabbed my gear, and headed out to the stand. I killed that bear at 8:00 that evening, with less than 10 minutes of daylight remaining.

I was patient and consistent in my strategy and, most importantly, I created a bait site environment where that bear felt a high degree of security. So the next time you are baiting bears and you have a new bear show up on a bait, pay attention to this pattern and see if it doesn’t play itself out on your hunts. Strike at the right time and you’ll have a success story to tell.