Outdoor Articles

Popcorn Bears

by Pursue The Outdoors on December 17th, 2006 in Big Game Hunting

I glanced at Karena. Her eyes were wide and excited. She mouthed, “bear,” without making a sound. I followed her eyes to the front of the blind. On a small hill above the bait station a bear. Not huge, but a bear. It was coming to the bait station and soon we would have the moment-of-truth. The bear stopped.

Bear baiting is legal in Idaho. Using the correct bait can be the difference between a successful hunt and a hunt watching other wildlife. Karena and I had tried several types of bait but none seemed to interest the bears. We had done our scouting the fall before and found a good population of bears near our home in Salmon, Idaho. We both enjoy the taste of the spring black bear. It makes great roasts and stews.

Baiting bears in Idaho requires that the hunter obtain a baiting permit along with license and tags. No parts of or whole game animals, game birds or game fish may be used. The skin must be removed from any mammal parts or carcasses used as bait. No bait may be contained within paper, plastic, glass, metal, wood or other non-biodegradable materials. The exception being that a single metal container with a maximum size of 55 gallons may be used if securely attached to the bait site. No bait may be contained in any excavated hole greater than four feet in diameter.

Bait stations must be removed within seven days after the close of the spring and fall bear seasons. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game issues a bear baiting tags. These tags must be visibly marked at the nearest tree or on the bait container. Baiting permits are valid for the calendar year and can be obtained at any Fish and Game office beginning March 1. The Department issues three bait station tags for each hunter purchasing a permit. No bait station may be placed within 200 feet of any water or within 200 yards of any maintained trail or any road. Bait stations are not allowed within one-half mile of any campground or picnic area or other dwelling. Certain hunting units within Idaho have different regulations. Some units allow bait stations to be placed up to seven days prior to the opening day of bear season. Check with Idaho Fish and Game prior to hunting.

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Although using metal containers such as a 55-gallong drum is a popular method we decided the bait station in our area needed to look as natural as possible. Making a bait station is much like trapping. The station is a holder for the lure. The lure is the bait. The location of the bait station is dependent upon where the bears are traveling. While many use multiple bait stations, Karena and I decided that one would do the job. This location was at the west end of a meadow that dropped off into a lodge pole forest.

The construction of the bait stations was simple. Several large rocks were placed around the base of a large pine. Logs laid horizontal formed a V from the base of the tree outwards. Other rocks were placed in the center of the V. Under the rocks in the middle went the magic bait.

While watching a movie at home one night, enjoying a large bowl of popcorn it dawned on me. The smell of popping corn, melted butter, and salt filled the house.

Even outside the smell of popcorn was enjoyable. Popcorn would be our primary bait. Popcorn, readily available at the local discount store, already buttered and salted, was cheap and the best part, the individual popped kernels would keep the bear at the bait station longer.

Positioning a ground blind near a bait station has to be accomplished with the utmost caution. Normally it is not a good idea to place the blind until it is determined that a bear is using the bait station. This gives the hunter the opportunity to position the blind downwind from the bait and away from the travel route the bear uses. This year we placed the ground blind the same day that we made the bait stations. The ground blind consisted of several large logs placed between trees, giving the illusion a pile of slash. We knew the direction of the evening wind and just hoped that the bear would not come too close. We checked the bait station every afternoon. The first few checks were negative. On the fourth check, we noticed that the logs and rocks had been moved. The individual kernels of popped corn were gone. A bear had visited the night before. Quickly re-baiting the station with two bags of buttered popcorn, and replacing the rocks on top of the kernels, we quickly moved to the blind. Our wait was short.

Karena saw the bear on the hill above the station. The bear stopped. It sniffed the air currents and appeared to be slightly nervous. The bear continued toward the bait station and if it stayed on course the bear would cross a small opening about twenty yards from the blind. Nothing ever goes as planned. The bear decided that it liked the popcorn and ignored the trail. The bear headed off the hill through jumbles of slash. It attempted to climb over a dead log, but fell off. After scratching itself and rubbing it’s back the bear went around the log and continued toward the station. Stopping every couple steps the bear worked it’s way downwind of the station. Karena could not last much more. At a hundred yards, she had seen enough. The bear passed through a small opening giving the broadside shot needed. The .270 spoke once and we had delicious bear meat for the summer. The popcorn bear was average for the area, squaring just at five feet. The hide was in great shape.

Karena had scored on her first big game hunt. She was hooked. After packing the hide and meat to the truck we reflected on the hunt. The hours of practice at the range had paid off. Returning home, hung the meat, salted the hide and decided to catch a movie. You guessed it, buttered popcorn.

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