by Chris Larsen
Black bear range and populations are expanding as is the popularity of what was once a hunt reserved for a select few. Bears are typically hunted utilizing one of three common techniques; over bait, with hounds, or spot and stalk. In my home state of Wisconsin baiting is the most common method. Bait is placed for several weeks before the season. Items such as candy, bread, pastries, pie filling and fruit are placed in hollow logs or holes in the ground covered with a rock. As a precaution against the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, the rock(or other heavy object) is required to prevent access to the bait by deer. Animal products such as meat and fat are not permitted. There are also restrictions on bear baiting near public roads or trails.
At first glance, hunting over bait may seem unsportsmanlike, but it is common practice. Bears are nomadic and don’t pattern the same way deer will. To increase success, bait and stands are set in areas that offer heavy cover. Bears won’t frequent open areas during daylight hours.
Hunters often get excited when they find their bait cleaned out day after day. Veteran hunters know a clean bait pile is often the result of several smaller bears using the same bait area. If the bait is being used but left unfinished, it’s a good sign your bait log is being used by one large bear. A large bear will keep smaller animals out of his territory. With today’s trail camera technology guesswork about the specific bears using your bait pile is a thing of the past.
Another common occurrence for bait hunters is a sudden drop in activity around the bait pile in the fall. After attracting bears during the summer it seems like they suddenly disappear. As autumn leaves begin to drop, berries ripen and acorns and hickory nuts hit the forest floor. Bears gorge on hardwood mast to pack on pounds for the winter hibernation. Placing your stand and bait in hardwood areas will help keep bears close during this time.
Size restrictions are in place in many states. In Wisconsin, the bear must measure at least 42 inches from the tip of the nose to tip of the tail. It is also illegal to kill a bear that is with cubs.
Bear hunting can be serious business. The are powerful animals and the methods for hunting them are unorthodox to many. Obtaining a tag may take years in many states. Accompany a more experienced bear hunter while waiting to draw a tag. Keeping the bait log full takes a lot of work and the hunter with a tag will appreciate any extra help. This experience can help the novice bear hunter be more prepared for their future hunt.