Black Bear Baiting

A nice spring black bear

A nice spring black bear

In my opinion hunting black bear over bait is way underrated it’s by far my favorite. I didn’t start out hunting them that way things just sort of evolved. In fact until I moved to where we live now I didn’t even hunt for black bears, except as incidentals while hunting other species. My family and I live in game management unit 16 across Cook Inlet from Anchorage. Most of unit 16 has been closed to moose hunting since we moved here leaving black bear and salmon as our only food source.  The nearest salmon stream is 2 miles of alder and 1 mile of swamp away, so by logistics black bear became a staple food for us. If you have ever  hunted  an alder hell you’ll understand why bait stations are the way to go. The background in the picture is typical of much of the area around  my home. It’s understandable why we have so many black bears since they prefer to work close to cover for protection, we certainly have it. Unit 16 probably has some of the best black bear habitat in Alaska. Even when a black bear appears to be in the open he is usually just a hop, skip, and a jump either from the bushes or from going over a ridge. If you were watching one for the first you would think they just wonder aimlessly they don’t they are very well a wear of their environment their life depends on it.  Over the years I have put many hunters on good bears from bait stations. Hunting over bait has given me the opportunity to learn a good deal about black bear habits.  Even if you don’t live in alder hell and your state allows bait stations you should try it.  It will give you the opportunity to watch how bears interact with other bears. A good station should have more than one bear working it, it will help you to compare bears for quality, and it is one of the best ways to learn how to field judge bears for trophies.

When you are out scouting bait station locations there a few things you should consider. The first is cover, black bears are never far from it if they don’t feel safe they will do one of two things, either wait until dark or take their business else where. They want to know what is going on before they stick their nose out in the open.  Give them a way in and a way out that they at least have the illusion of being safe.

bear coming to the bait

bear coming to the bait

You can see from the top picture the bear has good cover approaching the bait. The lower picture shows the bear after it has come in the bait. It has an escape route, good cover and still gives the hunter a good clear shot. While the dead fall gives the bear an illusion of protection from above.  Black bears are the only North American bear that prefers the protection of thick cover and a canopy overhead.
bear at the bait

bear at the bait

How you place your stand in relation to the bait is also very important. Use it to position your shot and minimize you presents. They will know you’re around they although they may not have you spotted when they come out, but they know, so use everything you can to minimize your presents. I like a stand that has an open field behind it to help lessen the odds of the bear from circling behind me. I also don’t like looking into the sun to take a shot.  I consider the time of the day I’ll be doing most of my hunting and set up accordingly. Set facing toward the west for morning hunts and  in an easterly direction for evening hunts, better have the bear looking into the sun than you.

Set your stand up so the the background will break up your silhouette. I can’t back it up with anything scientific, just  personal observations, but I believe bears vision is pretty much the same as humans.  I think the difference is bears don’t have ability to see a wide color spectrum as humans giving bears  a more two dimensional view. Seeing two dimensional  they have a harder time seeing you against a broken background at least as long as you remain motionless, however when you move they’re going to spot you in a New York minute. This stand is about 8′ off the ground with a large open meadow to the back of it. The hunters sit next to the tree to break up their outlines.

Tree stand with open field to the back

Tree stand with open field to the back

What bears lose in vision they make up in the olfactory department. For every one thing you are able to smell  bear has the ability to smell something like 3,000 things. If you hunt the hills take advantage of the thermals –  cold air goes down, warm air up use thermals to spread the smells of your bait. As I said earlier they will know you’ve been around they probably even watched you bait the station. Just use whats at hand to lessen your presents and give the bears a comfort zone.

About the only other point I can make is the bait, if something isn’t working try something different, don’t be afraid to experiment. The old standard for Alaska is dog food and rancid grease if that isn’t working try popcorn and kool-aid. Work with the bears natural diet as it progresses through the year. When they first crawl out of their den in the spring they have just spent the winter living on body fat and urine that has been recycle into amino acids. For the first few days all they want is new grasses and sedges with a little water to get their metabolism in the summer mode. From there they move to high protein for bone and muscle development. Protein can come from many sources both plant & animal. Plants have their highest protein content just before they flower.  Animal protein come from anything from winter kills to new born ungulates. The rest of the summer their diet makes a steady transition a  higher carbohydrate intake to make the body fat they will need to survive the winter.Study what they eat at at given time of the year and work with it.

If you’ve never hunted off bait try it. They are a good confidence builder for the novice to watch bear interact,  learn their habits, and compare bears features to judge trophies. If for no other reason it’s a great way to spend an evening, take your camera or video gear and film away.

Here are a couple of links if you think you might like to hunt bears in Alaska. A non-resident doesn’t need a guide to hunt black bears in Alaska but you do have to have a licensed guide for brown/grizzly. Notice in GMU 16 you are allowed 3 black bears and 2 brown bears. I can’t book hunts but I can get you in contact with some very good outfitters if you are interested. I’m still figuring out this html stuff so you’ll have to copy & paste them until I get on top of things.

http://www.wildlife.alaska.gov/regulations/pdfs/bear.pdf

http://www.wildlife.alaska.gov/regulations/pdfs/gmu16.pdf

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About the Author

Chuck Lamb

Chuck Lamb

Chuck Lamb lives on a remote Alaska homestead with his wife and sons. He makes a living guiding, running a remote trapline, and writing about homesteading and other outdoor skills.