15 Black Bear Hunting Tips & Black Bear Baiting Tips

Bob Robb with a Black Bear Gun Harvest
This bear hunter took this 200 lb. bear in Quebec with a good ol’ .30-06 on a guided trip with a super outfitter that knows how to get hunters on baited bears.

Tens of thousands of black bear hunters pursue bears over baits each year. While many hunters have done it before, others will be attempting it for the first time this year. And as sure as the sun rises in the east, unless Lady Luck smiles brightly on you, you will discover that killing a big bear over bait isn’t as easy as many would like to believe.

There are lots of reasons for this, but the number one reason big bears escape from bait hunters every year is that the hunters -- and often, their hunting guides -- completely underestimate an old bear’s intelligence. If they live in areas where they are hunted much at all, big old boars will not tolerate any sloppiness on the part of hunters and guides alike. Treat them like you would a 5 ½-year old whitetail buck -- an animal we all agree is as hard to catch as smoke on the wind -- and you’ll be well on your way to getting a controlled shot at a dandy bear over bait.

Whether you go guided or set baits on your own, here are 15 tips to help your baiting success this spring.

1) Pick a Spot:

Bear baiting is like buying a house -- lots of things are important, none more so than location, location, location. Choosing a hunting location is a process some call “shrink your focus.” You have to locate the bait in a specific spot in a specific area in which there are lots of bears. You can only learn where the best spots are by talking with people and doing a lot of scouting. Sometimes it takes several years hunting the same area to learn where the sweet spots are. It’s time well spent.

2) Water is Key:

Big Bears are ALWAYS close to water. It might be a small creek or big river, small pond or large lake, but bears love water. Hunt it.

3) Setting a Treestand:

A good standard is to set all your baits for bow shots, setting the tree stand 20-30 yards from the bait. Closer is too close for fidgety bears, further makes the shot iffy. Try and set your tree stands at least 20 feet high, to make it easier to see down into the thick cover and get your scent as high as possible. Tree stands should be set in trees that afford lots of background cover, like evergreens, or clusters of other trees to help hide your outline from the often-underrated eyes of a bear. And it should go without saying that the stand should be set downwind of the bait itself.

4) Access/Egress:

Big bears live in a world of scent, just as big whitetails do. Thus you should choose your tree stand locations so that you can both access and egress them without leaving your own scent along the trail most likely used by the bears when they approach the bait. Always spray your clothing and boots down with Tink's Odor Eliminator to eliminate any telltale human odor you might be tracking in and around the bait site.

5) Pavlov’s Dog:

Spring bait hunting means one thing -- biting insects, and lots of them! A goofy trick is hanging a rag soaked with your favorite bug dope at your bait site. Not only will it ward off the bugs, but the bears will soon associate the smell of the repellent with food. This really helps!

6) Opening the Bait:

Bug Repelling Devices and Sprays
Using a heated insect repellent matted device and insect repellent can keep biting spring bugs at bay. Soak a rag with your chosen bug dope and hang it near the barrel from the beginning, conditioning bears to its smell before the hunt begins.

A new bait site must be “opened,” meaning you want to put out massive quantities of scent to draw in bears from long distances. There are a few ways to get this done. One is to burn honey and bacon on a camp stove right at the barrel, sending plumes of greasy smoke into the air. Using lots of anise oil on a rag works, too. Another is to drill a lot of small holes into a three-foot section of six-inch diameter PVC pipe, fill it with a smelly attractant (like herring, for example), and hang it high over the barrel. Another tactic is to dump old frier grease obtained from a fast food resturaunt all over the ground around the bait. It wreaks, but thats what you want.

7) Funnel ‘em:

When setting up the bait itself, try and position it so any bears that decide to feed there will offer a broadside or slightly quartering-away shot. You can do this by erecting barriers of brush, logs, boulders and the like that force the bears in and out this way. The funnel should also force the bear to move upwind of your treestand, and keep his head pointed away from you.

8) Bait with Sweets:

Bears love sweets. Alot of hardcore bear hunters will actually dumpster dive for things like discarded pastry dishes and other old sweets. Baiting with kibbled dog food covered with large quantities of chocolate or maple pancake syrup also works. They gobble it up! Bears also love peanut butter, if you can get it, as well as jams and jellies. A friend uses a mixture of grain, brown sugar, and water, which he mixes in a barrel and allows to ferment a little. Bears are not teetotalers!

9) Bait with Meat:

In some areas bears love meat. Old beaver carcasses, for example, are prime baits in many parts of Canada. One of the problems with meat baits is the fact that it sometimes draws in grizzlies, which means you have to close the bait down. Where there are no grizzlies, some like using meat in conjunction with dog food and pastries.

10) Artificial Baits:

If you are short of food baits -- and even if you are not -- there are alternatives in artifitial baits. For example, in 2009 on a trip to Quebec one hunter brought along a couple of artificial baits. There are many different brands available and they are a great compliment to meat baits. And there are sex attractant scents that also work quite well at times in spring, when bears are in rut. Good stuff all.

11) Hide in Plain Sight:

Old bears know the drill -- especially if you are with hunting guides who have a tendency to over-hunt a bait stand. It is imperative you wear total camouflage, refrain from moving a lot, and have the stand set so that you are concealed in the afternoon shade. A gun hunter 80-100 yards away isn’t as affected, of course, but the worst thing you can do is to underestimate a bear’s eyesight.

12) Use Trail Cameras:

Hunter Reading a Topo Map
The key to establishing a new bait site is location, location, location. Use topo maps to help get started then ask lots of question of experienced locals about bear sightings and traditional bear movements. Hunter shown wearing Lost Camo.

Around 20 years ago, many hunters have began using trail timers at their bait sites. These electronic devices simply recorded as a number anything that walked past their beam. Such devices are great tools for detecting hot spots to set up bait stands. Today, of course, we have infrared trail cameras that take digital pictures and show when the animals are there. You should have one set up at every one of your bait sites.

13) Feed ‘em Regularly:

One thing about bear baiting -- it takes massive quantities of bait to keep the bears fed. Once they start hitting your baits they’ll eat everything in sight -- but once the food runs out, they’ll leave. That means you have to regularly check your baits and keep the bears fed, or you’ll lose them.

14) Patience & Persistence:

Bait hunting often means spending long hours in a treestand while being kept company only by squirrels, birds, mosquitoes, and your paperback novel. When running your own baits, if there is nothing going on at one bait then move on. Let your trail cameras tell you where and when to be there. Amazingly, while conventional wisdom tells us that the very best bait hunting occurs in the evening, hunters have used trail camera data to kill bears at all hours, from sunrise to lunchtime. The key is to never, ever give up.

15) Be Selective:

You’ve been hunting a good bait for days and all you have seen are lone sows, small bears, and maybe a sow with a cub or two. Don’t get frustrated and shoot the wrong bear. One of the reasons bear baiting is permitted in so many places is that hunters can be selective in their harvest, taking only mature bears and leaving the sows for seed and young bears to grow up.

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