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Baiting for Bears: Why and How To

By: Tom Claycomb

If you listen to the antis, baiting for bears is despicable. All a hunter has to do is randomly hang a donut in any tree in the forest and bears will come in by the droves and get slaughtered. I can only wish that baiting was that effective.

So, to start, let’s dispel some bear baiting myths:

SOWS ARE KILLED, LEAVING CUBS HOMELESS
I lived in Colorado back in the late 80s, or maybe it was the early 90s, when bear baiting was outlawed on the premises that sows were being killed by the thousands and leaving poor harmless little cubs to starve to death.

That was a flat out lie. The only sow I nearly shot with a cub was years ago on a spot and stalk hunt. It was the last weekend of the season, and I hadn’t seen a bear I wanted to shoot yet. Late Friday afternoon, I saw a decent bear across the river. I studied her for a while. Nice pelt, no rubbing. After 10 minutes, I decided to shoot her. I slipped off the safety, and about that time, a cub came out of the woods, luckily before I pulled the trigger.

If I had been baiting, the above scenario never would have happened. When baiting, you have time to study your bear. Is it big enough? Is the hide rubbed? Is it a sow with cubs? Not so with normal hunting. You see a bear and sneak in for a shot. You see bits and pieces of it and finally have a clear shot. Then what if after the shot a cub comes out? Hunting over bait allows you to study your bears.

HANG A DONUT AND A BEAR DIES
This is the second lie told by antis. Learning how to bait properly takes years to learn. You can’t just randomly go out in the woods and dump a pile of donuts and expect to be successful. First, you need to bait where there are bears.

You don’t want a bear to be able to come in and free feed, gorge, and leave. Put your bait in a 55-gal. metal barrel. Cut a round hole about 10-inches big two-thirds of the way up the barrel. A snap-on lid is great to make it easy to fill.

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Using a barrel has two purposes:

  1. Bears can’t free feed.
  2. If it rains, your bait won’t mildew and spoil.

Make sure you chain your barrel to a tree. Bears are unbelievably strong and will carry your barrel off. I once used a 20-gal. barrel to bait for my old 87-yr-old buddy Roy Snethen. One afternoon, I went to fill up his barrel and couldn’t find it. Finally, after much searching, I found it down in the middle of a thick willow patch. I could barely carry it out. It is beyond me how a bear carried it way down there?

If your bait is in a barrel, they’ll have to set and scoop it out with their paws and not be able to gorge quickly and leave. Strap your barrel strategically so when feeding, you have a sideways shot at your bear, not a Texas heart shot.

WHAT IS THE BEST BAIT?
All bear hunters have their own secret bait that is supposedly the best. Truth be known though, whatever you can get in large quantities is what you will end up using. If you learn to bait properly, you might have up to six different bears coming in every evening. Six bears can eat a lot of food! So, you see why I say what bait you use is more than likely dependent upon what you can get a lot of.

I’m sure that given a choice, bears would favor caviar and chocolate ice cream, but most of us can’t afford large quantities of that. So, what are some adequate choices? As you well know, bears like sweets, so day-old donuts are great. I have hauled up millions of donuts.

A lot of people preach to use meat, and I’ve hauled up thousands of pounds of meat, too. And it works. But meat isn’t the ultimate bait. Here’s why I say this: the first reason is when they come out after hibernating all winter, their stomachs are queasy. Secondly, if you’re using big chunks of meat, they can grab a chunk and go off into the brush to chow down. You want them to have to set at the barrel and pull out small handfuls and eat where you can study them.

Which brings up … if you have access to expired dog food, that would be a great choice. I’ve also heard that popcorn works well. I once worked at a plant that made the frozen dinners for PF Changs, Con Agra, etc. I could get barrels of chicken nuggets. They worked great. They were greasy, meat and breading and…. what else could you ask for? And they were small, so my bears had to set for long periods of time and scoop them out before they got filled.

If you use dry dog food, pour used cooking grease over it. It is also smart to pour 5-25 gallons of used cooking grease in front of your bait barrel. That way, they lay in it and track it out every which way when leaving, thereby advertising to all of the other bears.

Nearly every deep, dark canyon here in Idaho has a bear. But you don’t want just one bear coming in, you want multiple bears. When you get 4-6 coming in every evening, it gets exciting. To do this, you need to hang up some scent bags on the ridges above your bait barrel. Probably the best is to put some chicken in a plastic bag and put it in a 5-gal. bucket for a few weeks to spoil. Then tie a string to it. Throw the string over a limb and pull it up in the air about 10-ft and tie it off. Bears are creative and will usually get it down, so tie it off accordingly.

After hanging it up, get a long stick and poke a few holes in it so it drips. (Don’t be stupid like one guy I know who stood under it when he poked it. That was a pleasant experience…) This will draw bears out of other canyons when the thermals blow the scent around.

You have choices as to what kind of blind to hunt out of. Of course, tree stands are best, but I always hunt out of a brush blind or a pop-up blind. Everyone will tell you that bears are blind. And it’s true; at times I’ve walked right up to bears that I think I could have slapped. But then at other times, I’ve stuck my rifle barrel out of a pop-up blind, and they saw it 100 yds. away and spooked. I could argue either way.

If all you have is sows coming in, and it is near the end of May, don’t panic. They’re the best bait there is to lure in big boars.

Well, I could write another 1,000 words, but hopefully this is enough to get you started. If you’re in Idaho, stop by and attend one of my Spring Bear Hunting seminars. Of course, with the Covid-19 plague going on, who knows if any stores will be having me in this spring.

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.

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