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Toying with the idea of planning a spring bear venture? There’s never been a better time. Bear populations continue to rise in the U.S. and a obtaining a tag is often easy. Several states offer OTC (over-the-counter) tags, while others require a limited draw. Do your research and you can easily hunt bears on public dirt each spring. More good news: tags, even for nonresident hunters, don’t require the taking out of a second mortgage.
Once you’ve decided on a hunt location and gotten the ball rolling on tags, start studying your aerial maps. What are you looking for, exactly? According to veteran black bear guide, Jim Brennan, you want long ridges that come to a point and drop into multiple different drainages.
“Finding a good bait site isn’t rocket science,” says Brennan. “Find long ridges that dead-end at a point. This allows the scent of the bait to waft into various canyons, draws and drainages. A bait site at the end of a point lets the wind work for you. Bears will find the site quicker.”
Of course, not every bait site you make is going to get hit, but you can boost your odds of success by getting off the beaten path. Look for points, meadows and locales along waterways that require a little work to get into. Most bear baiters work close to main road and trail systems. You can set yourself apart by venturing far from major public travel routes.
“It can be a task because you have to haul bait,” says Brennan, “but it can be well worth it. If you have animals like horses, mules, goats or llamas, I highly recommend using them. If a bait site gets hot, it can attract multiple bears and they will go through lots of food. You may have to freshen that site multiple times before you kill a bear. Be willing to go the extra mile. If you don’t have animals, get in shape. Use 5-gallon buckets with a lid and tote two buckets at a time to bait sites.”
As previously mentioned, long ridges aren’t your only option. Brennan likes small meadows surrounded by dense cover. He notes bears, especially mature boars, like to be able to slip out of the dark timber, snatch a quick bite and then retreat into the woods. Bears, much like white-tailed deer, are fans of waterways. They love to amble along flipping logs in search of insects. Just be sure to check state game and fish regulations, as some states place a distance on how close a bait site can be to water.
Something else to consider is how you’re going to obtain your bait. Don’t wait to arrive at your hunt destination and expect to find it. It’s likely local hunters will have obtained it, and what is left will be a pricy and in short supply. Some great bait tactics include visiting hometown restaurants. Ask them if you can have or purchase some of their used cooking grease. Most establishments will gladly fill jugs for you. Another tactic is to hit up your local baker. Ask them to give you a ring when they have old or stale donuts and pastries. You’ll be surprised how fast your stockpile grows. Dog food is another staple and is one of Brennan’s go-to baits.
“Find the cheapest dog food you can and buy a bag every other time you make a family grocery run,” he says. “You can accumulate a lot of bait this way, and you can make it part of your budget. Dog food is easy to tote in buckets and when covered in used cooking grease, works very well on bears.”
Cribs are the preferred method for the DIY baiter. It’s not uncommon to find a large hole at the base of a big pine tree. This is a great place to stash bait. If Mother Nature doesn’t provide, build your own. The key is butting the bait up to a large tree or log jam and then covering it with lots of logs and debris. You want bears to have to work for it. This serves multiple purposes. First, moved logs and the like let you know your site has been hit. Second, it makes the bait harder to access, which means it will last a tad longer in the woods. Third, because bears are having to work to get the bait, they will often stay at the site longer, allowing you time to judge the bear. Lastly, a crib will protect your bait from the elements.
Because rain or shine, a DIY black bear hunt is the perfect spring escape. Start your planning, study some maps, gather some bait and go match wits with a big old bruin.