Success is in the details. Success is in the preparation. The idea that you can have a successful spring bear season by just throwing out "whatever" for bait, in "any" location, in "any" manner, and just hunt is flat out misleading. There's much more to spring bear hunting that meets the eye.
With a few decades of spring bear guiding and hunting under my belt, I've seen my fair share of successful spring bear camps. I've also had plenty of mishaps. Folks often say experience is the best teacher. I argue that phrase and say FAILURE is the best teacher but only when those failures are analyzed and a solution is offered.
Let's dive in and take a look at what I have been able to learn over the years.
FIND THE RIGHT GENERAL LOCATION AROUND FOOD
Location, location, location! I am sure you have heard this before, but when it comes to spring bear hunting it is absolutely pivotal. Early spring is all about the food. If you think about it, bears are working towards getting ready for hibernation the moment they wake up from it! The only bears that start Spring fat and healthy are the cubs. Their moms are super depleted and the single sows and males are not far behind. Bears have a lot of work to do to replace what they have lost during hibernation.
Bears will start with grasses as well as feasting on any animal that didn’t survive winter. Areas along waterways that offer good spring growth as well as high beaver populations are my personal favorite. Foothills and clearcuts offer good food resources as well. One of the reasons I like waterways so much is that bears just seem to natural follow them. This can be major river systems, small streams, or large lakes. These areas typically have plenty of grasses and other potential food items right along their banks making them prime locations for you to consider setting up. If these types of locations are not available to you, look for any water source. After that, agricultural areas may be the next best option.
BAIT SITE AND STAND PLACEMENT
You now have a good general location scouted out but where do you put your bait and stand for spring bear hunting? My first goal is to find bedding or heavy cover near those food sources preferred by bears that were previously mentioned. You are going to be able to pull spring bears from long distances to your bait site from what you will learn further down in this article, but you want to start with your lowest hanging fruit which are the bears that are already using the area.
Once you have narrowed your choices down to areas of cover, you need to consider the prevailing wind. Wind direction should be one of the most important factors for your stand selection. With a nose seven times more powerful than a bloodhound, a big bear will simply not come in if he gets wind of something he is not use to. Your bait should be in an area that bears will feel secure feeding at and just lounging around, while still giving you a clear shot to the bait from your stand.
There is a huge difference in a bait where bears are not comfortable and they come grab food and leave vs a bait they spend hours at. The best baits are ones the bears will nap in and around and spend long periods of time at. You want to be able to create that scenario. The more comfortable they are, the longer you get to take for a perfect shot and selection of the bear you want to harvest. A comfortable bait will often have several bears visiting it. Many times, the only reason a bear will leave is when another bear chases him off. This make for some exciting moments from the stand!
You will easily be able to see the amount of bear activity by the condition of the area around your bait. Try to keep your stand or blind out of the path you think the bears will approach the bait. This is often difficult, but do your best. This is another prime reason I like sets on waterways. With the water at your back (down wind) the bears almost always approach from the bait side of the set. Your stand should always be placed at a distance you are comfortable shooting at. If you are a bowhunter, you must be extra careful in keeping yourself as concealed as possible, out of the wind, and at your preferred shot distance. Firearm hunters have a lot more distance to work with, and in pressured areas tend to see increased success because of it.
WHAT TO USE FOR BAIT
What to use for bait is certainly your next important requirement. If there is one great thing about spring bears, its that they are usually not very picky! They are just simply hungry. But bait selection can make a difference, and how you bait is critical.
The most important part of baiting is consistency! No matter what bait or baits you end up using you MUST have a good supply that will not run out. In the waterway areas I like so much, having beaver to use as bait is almost a slam dunk, however that is just not a dependable resource for me. Often, what you end up using for bait is just what you can get your hands on in mass quantity. I have other guide friends who spend all year hitting bakeries for expired donuts and baked goods. They compress and freeze them in preparation for bear season. This requires a lot of time, as well as spare freezers! Some purchase expired sweets and baits from bear bait suppliers. Not everyone has that kind of access to bakeries though, and not everyone can afford to buy 55 gallon drums of bait from the commercial guys. I like to keep things simple and dependable, but again, bait will boil down to what you have available or what you can afford.
I like to make my own. Popcorn works great and is light to carry in large quantities. I will typically fill two trash bags for each bait site. Pop it with some sugar to give some sweetness. Some hunters use jello mix to add flavor as well. I will also use whatever grain is affordable at the time. Corn, oats, wheat, whatever I can get. I then mix in a healthy amount of bacon grease and cheap maple syrup…dollar store stuff. I always have a sticky/oily component to my bait. This is very important! Every animal in the woods is going to visit your bait. Squirrels, raccoons, opossums, skunks, martins, fishers, whatever is around. You want to make them work for you. Every molecule of scent that gets stuck to their feet is a calling card for bears right back to your bait. Doing this makes every game trail a scent path for a bear from every direction. Don’t miss out on that opportunity by just using “dry” baits.
The other critical point to make here is to never let you bait run dry. You want food to be available any and every time a bear shows up. If a bear is traveling through and there is no food, he may never come back that way regularly enough for you to get a chance at him. You must keep food available! In order to keep food from getting eaten all at once, you should make the bears have to work a little. I love steel drums with a few holes drilled in them. I chain them to a tree in a manner that the bear has to roll them around to get fed. This provides an immense amount of entertainment from the stand! The key here is to do whatever you can to slow the bears down from eating everything at once. Some guides cover the bait with logs, but I do that only to provide more time for a hunter to get a shot. I like the drums because it keeps the rain out for the most part, and also makes the other critters work to get fed as well. A few raccoons can wipe your bait out in a short time. Make them work too. I like 1 ½ to 2 inch holes. Seems to let enough out to keep the bears happy, yet leave enough in to keep me from having to bait every day!
HOW TO BAIT YOUR SITE
After you have your stand set, your bait site filled up and active, you have to be consistent. Not only with keeping the bait filled, but HOW you do it. You want to do the same thing every time with no exception.
This starts with how you get to your bait. If you use a 4 wheeler, side by side, boat, whatever you need to do the same thing each time even during your hunt. So, if you drive right up to your bait to fill it each time you should do the same thing when you hunt. You may have to be dropped off, or drive away from the bait and walk back into the stand, but the routine should be the same. Bears get use to a routine. They hear the motor from your quad and they know food is coming. They hear the motor leave and they know its safe to eat. Most of the time the bear that visits your bait the most is less than 100 yards away from the bait at all times. So keep in mind anything you do while baiting, do it on the days you hunt as well. I have gone as far as to make an intentional noise every time I bait. Like banging the back of my machete on the side of the bait barrel a few times. I do the same thing when I drop the hunter off. It is just like animals getting use to the sound of an electronic feeder going off. It is a calling card.
Make sure you stick to your routine on what you are baiting with as well. Do not try and add something new just prior or during a hunt. The invasion of a new smell at a bait can easily cause a bear to hang up until after dark or not come in at all for a few days. Cover scents and other liquid attractant fall into this same warning. Even adding a bug spray smell when you hunt can cause issues. Following this constant routine has been a very successful method for me for many years.
HOW TO DEAL WITH BUGS
It's inevitable, spring bear season = spring bugs! Depending on your location, mosquitos and black flies can ruin your hunt fast! I have had them so thick that even a couple seconds without a head net has allowed those nasty buggers into my eyes, nose, mouth, and even ears. Exposed skin can be covered by them in seconds.
Most sprays and topical ointments have an odor that bears will pick up. Even Thermacells give off a smell that bears can detect a long way away. However, there are a couple very simply ways to keep the bugs at bay and enjoy your hunt without alarming the olfactory of a big bruin. I am a huge Thermacell fan! My secret here is that I keep all the used pads from my hunters and place them around the bait site itself. Remember the consistency thing?! The bears get use to the smell and the Thermacell can be used without concern. They can be a lifesaver in my opinion.
I avoid sprays and creams completely and like to use head nets instead. Choosing the right head net is the key. Look for nets that are oversize and can be worn over a hat. This keeps the mesh away from your face so you can see, as well as away from your skin. I look for mesh that has holes just small enough to keep the bugs out. The bigger the mesh hole size you can get away with the better. This will allow you to see better at low light. Tight mesh, and often camo mesh will hinder you in low light conditions. You are already hunting a black colored animal that likes to stay in the shadows and often come out right before dark, so give yourself every benefit you can. If its not windy, a Thermacell can prevent you from having to wear a net at all.
I hope there were a few tips in this blog that will help you find success in the bear woods. We have some great videos on bear hunting tips as well as shot placement on our YouTube channel. Thanks for reading, and please let us know about your success!
Author: Chris Creed, Afflictor Broadheads