Once upon a time I had a very uneducated view on bear baiting and baiting in general, its very easy to sit back and make assumptions when you have no facts. However, after hunting bears over bait myself and helping set up bait sites, my view has changed drastically.
Read about my first and second bear hunts at Pleasant River Guide by clicking the links. I just spent a week in Maine at Pleasant River Guide Service helping to set up for the 2014 season. Trying new baits and new method to keep the bears out in the daytime. The amount of work, food, fuel, barrels, stands and accessories it takes is enormous and no small feat.
Baiting for bear is no different than hunting deer over a food plot, it takes hard work and knowledge to be successful. In many ways it is more difficult. Food plots can feed and attract many deer at once. Rain and sunshine will not benefit bait sites, baiting sites are a constant monitoring and refilling effort that takes a huge amount of food and time. Bear also don’t travel in herds and prefer to keep their food sources to themselves. There are no donut seeds. Successfully baiting for even a small lodge that wants to accommodate several hunters over the season takes thousands of acres, hundreds of man hours and a huge supply of bait that doesn’t come cheap.
Hunting over bait is not a “canned hunt” or a guarantee, the success rate in Maine for hunting over bait is only 30% . The bear population in Maine has grown by 30% in the last 10 years to an estimated 30,000+ bears because NOT ENOUGH bears are being taken. If baiting was truly easy then there would be a very small amount of bears and there would have to be a lottery like Maine’s moose which are declining in estimated population despite lowering tag numbers.
Baiting successfully is not easy or cheap. Bears eat massive amounts of food and if they only show up at night they will never be shot. Baiting is a huge gamble, you might bring in a giant or you might be turning money into bear poo with an empty freezer. Just because you put a barrel of donuts in the woods doesn’t mean you will get a bear, even a successful site may dry up for any number of reasons.
There are two seasons for bear baiting and the differences between spring and fall are drastic as far as bear behavior goes.
In the spring bears are trying to fill their bellies after loosing weight after hibernation, which is harder on the females that give birth and nurse during hibernation. Spring is also when bears start to rut so there is lots of activity and competition for food and mating. During the spring bears are looking to replace the muscle mass loss and are seeking proteins as food sources.
In the fall, bears are looking to fatten up to survive the winter. Carbs help them pack on the pounds. Bears tend to come to the bait solo unless it is a mother with cubs. Competition for these food sources is high as well.
Baiting is an essential tool in knowing what bears are in the area, in states like Maine baiting is the most effective way to hunt bear that live in such thick forests with dense growth where spot and stalk is very difficult if not impossible. According to Maine IF&W “About 2% of hunters are successful still-hunting/stalking black bears in Maine.” In an annual bear harvest, baiting takes up about 73% of all bear taken making it the most effective method by a massive percentage with hunting with hounds falling behind at 11%. Yet only about 30% of hunters that hunt with baits or hounds take a bear.
The majority of hunting shows that feature bears over bait are filmed in Canada where there are a massive amount of bears and the outfitters do an amazing job of keeping the hunting pressure to a minimum so the bears will come out during legal shooting hours. Most outfitters also impose a size restriction so that only the largest bears are taken, so that the younger bears get a chance to grow to their potential.
In Maine, bears are also hunted with dogs so they tend to be more weary and watchful. It doesn’t take much for a bear in Maine to feel pressured and turn nocturnal. Black bear are very intelligent with a sense of smell that is nearly impossible to fool. They move silently though the woods but bears easily detect the presence of other bears. Fooling a pressured bear is a super human feat just sitting still, stalking one would be nearly impossible.
Being able to bait and see what bears are nearby gives you a chance to hunt more mature animals and gauge the health of the animals in the area. It isn’t always law but most if not all hunters refrain from taking a sow with cubs. First year cubs will not survive being orphaned, but second year cubs have more of a chance and having bait to eat can increase the odds of survival. Baiting also allows you to have a better chance at a lethal shot. With a calm bear you have more time to calm yourself down and make a lethal, ethical shot.
In 2013 a very young orphaned bear had been attacked by an older bear and its hind leg was ripped off by the larger bear. It was likely that the young bear wouldn’t have made it due to infection, not being able to pack on enough pounds for winter or by not being able to escape another territorial bear.
Gary Scheel, an avid hunter who travels all the way from Texas to Maine just to hunt black bear, gladly used his tag for this small bear after seeing it on a trail camera, putting an end its misery and save it from further pain and suffering. Bears are very tough but not invincible. If it wasn’t for a regular bait site with trail cameras this bear could have suffered a slow painful death. The weight of the bear was estimated 80 pounds and would most likely been with the mother for one more hibernation.
The future of bear baiting, hunting with dogs and trapping is being threatened in Maine. This November the people of Maine will hopefully vote NO to this ridiculous referendum that threatens the livelihood of guides, will drastically effect the local economies and condemn the bears to a death of starvation or death after they become nuisances when they have to seek food from trash cans and dumpsters. The welfare of other animal populations would suffer as well, bears do eat fawns and moose calves and the attacks on these animals would increase.
For more information on the vote visit: http://savemainesbearhunt.com/
All methods of hunting is needed to keep the bear population in check, even if you will never hunt with bait, hounds or trapping you should support the right of hunters to take animals legally. Conservation isn’t about feelings, its about the balance of nature and taking responsibility for the land and animals we hunt.
For more information on hunting in Maine visit http://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting_trapping/
Also visit http://pleasantriverguides.com/