Spring for most hunters means chasing gobbling turkeys. But for me, it means bear hunting. In Idaho, our spring bear season opens at the same time as turkey season and lasts through the middle of June. Different areas of the state have different regulations, some areas are controlled hunts, while others are over-the-counter tags, and some allow baiting, and some don't. I live in a unit where we can bait and started baiting bears a few years ago. There is definitely a learning curve to get the bears to come in to bait sites, and even more so to get them to come while you're there.
What to Expect
Hauling heavy packs, a lot of time and routine baiting depending on the number of bears on your bait, and some amazing sausage for the freezer!
Every state where bears can be hunted has different regulations and requirements for hunting and baiting. Be sure to check with your state's fish and game department for that information.
In Idaho, you must have a hunting license and a black bear tag. To bait, you must also have a bear bait permit that can only be purchased from a regional fish and wildlife office and NOT a licensing vendor. If you plan to hunt with dogs, you must also have a hound hunter's permit.
Bait: Where, What, and When to Buy
All baits are different, so don’t think you have to have fancy Bear Pellets to be successful. It’s nice to have the convenience of an all-in-one bait if that's within your baiting budget. If you are looking for lightweight bait, popcorn is a great product to use. Depending on your bait setup, they can go through this really fast, which can result in more frequent baiting trips. If you can get hookups with your local restaurants, bakeries, or grocery stores, it’s a nice bonus to get your hands on expired bread, donuts, frier grease, or scraps. Just be sure you have somewhere to dry them and keep them dry. Once it molds, it will work well for bait.
Bears will eat just about anything. I haven’t done extensive research, although I’ve been told to be careful using chocolate because it can actually kill the bears if they have too much. I don't run chocolate in baits anymore after hearing this. My favorite is the KISS (keep it simple stupid) bait: cheap dog food, any grease, or buckets of frosting/glaze I can get my hands on! This, combined with Boarmaster additives, is a win every year. You can purchase these online or at dealer locations. I carry these in my hunting shop every year!
Barrel or Ground Bait
There are pros and cons to both.
A barrel is awkward and heavy to pack in if you are going longer distances. And, believe me, the trail gets longer with each pack in and pack out! A barrel with a small hole cut out towards the top keeps your bait from getting wet from the weather and also keeps out birds and other critters. It also helps extend the life of your bait, only allowing the bears to grab small amounts of bait at once.
Ground baits are nice because you don’t have to pack in a barrel. I look for a pile of downed logs or a good tree root system to dig out a bit. The logs and roots create a natural “barrel” in protecting the bait. Ground baits are sometimes harder to see from a distance if they’ve been hit or not. One drawback to ground baiting is that once a bear hits it and moves all the logs you have set up to protect it, it allows other animals and bears to consume the bait faster. This could result in more time spent hauling bait to your site.
Bait Set Up
Before we set the bait, we like to go in ahead of time to scout a spot and get it set up by cleaning out the area and finding shooting lanes to minimize missing a great shot opportunity during the hunt.
The Initial Bait Pack in List
In my experience, this averages two trips
with two people.
150-gallon metal barrel with a small hole in the top front of the barrel
1 Pin for barrel lid
1 Metal chain or cable
1 Chain binder lever style
Spy High Trail Cam mounting system (drill for quicker installation)
1 Trail camera with sturdy straps; if you don't have a Spy High System, use a camera lock box
2-3 SD cards (at least 32 gigs)
2 50-lb bags of dog food
2 Gallons of used cooking grease/oil
2 Tubs of glaze/donut filling (something that spreads)
1 Bottle of Boarmaster's Spray
1 Jar of Boarmaster's Paste
1 Pre-mixed bag of Boarmaster's Powder (I mix 1-2 flavors together into a ziplock)
Set up the barrel, chain it to a good tree, and tighten with the chain binder. Make sure it’s tied or locked down solid; bears are strong and will try to move it!
Create a funnel with branches and logs if it’s not there naturally. This keeps the bears in front of the barrel.
Line the entire inside of the barrel with the Boremasters paste and the front of the hole. Once this gets on their paws, it stays there. When they go lay down and lick their paws, it chemically triggers their brain to think they are still hungry. So even if they are full they will keep coming back to the bait more frequently. It is also water resistant, so once it’s on their paws, they create a scent trail to your bait for other bears to pick up on.
Dump your bait in layers and mix as you go, and add the Boarmaster's Powder.
Lock the lid down well!
Use the Spy High Camera Mount System to put the trail cameras up high and angle them toward the barrel; be sure you have new batteries, empty cards, and all of the settings correct. Bringing this system does add more weight to the pack in, but it is a timesaver and can be a camera saver. Alternatively, if you don't have this system, using a metal camera lockbox and Python cable to lock it to a tree will work. Bears are curious and will likely mess with your cameras, especially if you have any scent on them.
Use the Boarmaster's spray to cover the trees within 50 yards of the bait in a circle. Get it as high as you can so the wind catches it, and the scent goes farther. I also do this every time I bait; it’s like a dinner bell to them, letting them know it’s full. I also spray a bit as I walk out. Another trick, if your vehicle can get close to your bait, is to spray it on your tires so it creates a scent trail to your bait.
BRING ON THE BEARS!
Use the Boarmaster's Paste to create a smear as high up on the tree as you can, just above your bait. This will make the bears stand up, and you can get a good idea of their size. The barrel height can also be a good indicator as you look at your trail cam pics.
Smear a second spot on one of the logs to the side of your bait. When you hunt, they will hopefully turn and lick that spot, giving you a broadside shot.
Put a large log or branch sticking out of your barrel or ground bait. From a distance, you can see if it’s knocked down, letting you know your bait’s been hit. A fluorescent rag tied to the top of this log will help you determine if it is knocked down from a farther distance.
Remember, bears can’t count! Bring a buddy with you to bait. When you're set and ready to sit your bait, have your buddy walk out with a podcast playing on their phone. The bears will hear this “talking” as they walk out and think everyone is gone. This will hopefully trick them into coming in while you are sitting the bait.
I hope these setup and trick techniques will help you have a successful season.