It is that time of year — in fact, a little past that time of year. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to start baiting for bears. Twenty-five years ago, no matter how deep the snow, you’d have found me snowshoeing in 5 miles, dragging a sled full of bear bait. Maybe I’ve slowed down, or maybe I’ve just gotten smarter, but now I wait until I don’t have to haul it so far. Or maybe I just don’t take as many kids bear hunting as I used to do, so I don’t have to worry about getting as many bears now as I have in years gone by.
It’s still smart to get your bait out early, but truth be known, if you’re having to snowshoe it in 5 miles, then the bears have hardly (if at all) come out of hibernation in your spot anyway. Plus, the first few weeks, their stomachs are queasy after fasting for four to five months.
I used to carry in meat, but after a long winter of not eating, meat is not the best choice. No doubt, I’ve hauled literally tens of thousands of pounds of meat up for bears to dine on, but there are better choices. They’ll come in and nibble on it, but if you throw out big chunks they’ll grab a piece and run off in the brush to eat. You want them staying in front of you.
So there are better choices for bait than meat. Small bait is better. By this I mean things like popcorn and dog food — stuff that they have to scoop up by the handfuls so they can’t grab a piece and run off and eat it in the brush, out of sight. They love donuts as well.
It works to pour old, used cooking grease over the top of your bait. They love that, plus they track it off from your bait, which leaves a scent trail in every which direction to draw in more bears. I also like to hang a scent bag so the thermals carry the scent up and down the mountains.
You’ll want to use a barrel for multiple reasons. First off, it keeps a bear from gorging and then leaving. Cut an 8-inch (or thereabouts, I’ve never measured mine) hole about two-thirds of the way up the barrel for the bear to reach in and retrieve bait. Make a smooth cut so they don’t cut up their arms.
Chain or strap the barrel to a tree. You’d be surprised how far a bear can roll, carry or whatever they can do to steal your barrel. One time I had a 20-gallon barrel set up for my old bear hunting buddy Roy Snethen. It disappeared. I finally found it out in the middle of a willow thicket. I don’t have a clue how they got it out there. I could hardly get it out with it thrown over my shoulder.
Once the bears start hitting your bait, you’ll want to keep it full. You don’t want it to get empty and then them move on. You want them staying around your bait. When they start hitting it hard, you’ll find their beds nearby. Many times in steep country they’ll lay on the uphill side of a big yellow pine. You’ll find their beds there.
At first, you’ll want to have scent bags hanging, but eventually, and hopefully, with them tracking out grease, you’ll have drawn in all of the neighborhood bears. And if at first all you have showing up are sows, don’t panic. That’s the best bait that you could have.
The later in the season it gets, the more important it is to sows around. They’ll start going into heat the end of May on into June. I’ve had baits with nothing but sows and small bears and then suddenly the big daddy shows up out of the blue.
And one last thing. You’ll want to get in the backcountry so hound hunters don’t run bears off of your bait. That’s frustrating to haul bait to a spot for three to four weeks, then take vacation and go set on your bait only to discover that someone has been running your bait.
Get a big one!
Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana.