Yamaha Outdoors Tips — Bait a Bow Bear
By Bob Humphrey
Bowhunting for black bears is incredibly challenging. In open country of the west, spot and stalk is a viable technique. In the dense forests of the northeast and midwest however, about the only way a bowhunter will ever get a reasonable chance is by baiting - where legal of course. It’s still no guarantee - nationwide success rates are still around 30 percent for bowhunters using bait.
The first step is locating sites. A phone call to the local biologist or game warden is a good start. Log on to your state wildlife agencies’ web site, and look up bear harvest reports for the past several years. This should tell you where the bears occur in good numbers.
Next, get out your topo maps, narrow down your search area and begin scouting for sign. Keep in mind that bears, like deer, will often follow the path of least resistance; so look for topographical funnels. They also prefer to stick to the densest cover and the coolest areas like stream and river corridors. Find where these places lie in close proximity to natural food sources like acorns and beechnuts, or crops like corn and apple orchards.
Bears are also highly susceptible to disturbance, so look for sites that are well back from heavily traveled areas like hiking trails and woods roads. You want to be back far enough that human activity won’t disturb your baits, but you can still get to them.
Remember too that you’ve got to haul in bait and, hopefully, haul out a bear, so set your baits only as far as your Rhino or ATV will carry you. Incidentally, I made up a small trailer I can tow behind my Rhino that serves both purposes.
You have numerous options for what to use as bait, but nothing beats sweets: donuts and pastries, or grains soaked in molasses. Bears are seeking carbohydrates to fatten up before their long winter’s nap. They also have a sweet tooth.
You also have several choices for how to bait. I like to set up a circular route - so I don’t have to retrace my steps - with baits approximately a mile apart. At each bait I build a cubby - something that forces the bear to approach from a particular direction, in the process offering a clean shot.
Bears aren’t built like deer. They have a smaller vital area that’s more well protected by massive, muscular shoulders and thick leg bones; and they can take a lot more punishment. Even a gun hunter should never consider anything but a broadside shot when hunting bears.
How often and how much to bait is a balancing act. You always want to have bait there to keep the bears coming. But too much bait will breed complacency and nocturnal bears. If you can bait every one or two days, use five-gallon pails. If you can only visit your sites once or twice a week, 50-gallon barrels are a better option.
It’s better to put out less bait, but bait more often. This breeds competition; and the early bears get the best seat at the table. It also conditions bears to your routine. Bears will often lie just out of sight of a bait, wait for the baiter to leave, then move right in.
You can use this to your advantage when hunting season finally arrives. Walk in with a partner. Have the hunter stay while the baiter leaves. This gives the bear the impression the coast is clear and it’s safe to come in.
There’s no question, baiting bears is extremely labor intensive; but that only serves to make success that much more rewarding when it finally comes.