By Clay Newcomb
1. Not Enough Variety in the Menu
Variety is the spice of life, and it’s also a key to a good bear bait. Bears are like humans; they've got individual preferences. I once heard of a bear that despised lemon-flavored pies so much that he raked his tongue with his paws. Bears are also driven by biological urges that push them towards feeding on optimal food sources that achieve their strategic goal. A bear’s goal is to “get fat quick.” Having multiple options for quality types of bait in different categories creates nothing but positive outcomes.
Different categories of baits would be sweets, carbohydrates, proteins, and I consider grease a fourth category all by itself. Sweets would include candies, jellies, pastries, frostings, or anything with processed sugar. Technically, fruits would also be considered sweets and can work great if you can find them in good quantity (i.e. apples or cherries). The second category is carbohydrates, which would include bread, pastries, chips, popcorn, cookies, or grains. This could be anything with processed flour, corn, or grain but could include sugar, too. It would also include whole oats and corn. A third category is protein, which would include any type of meat product. This could be a beaver carcass, butcher scraps, pork or beef fat, canned fish or any other type of meat. Nuts could almost be considered their own category, and they are characterized by large amounts of fat with some protein. Grease is the fourth category. Grease combined with a commercial grease additive is probably the greatest bear-bait additive of all time. It has caloric content, lots of fat, lots of scent, it sticks to everything, and doesn’t wash away easily with rain. Having variety in the bait will increase the chances of multiple bears staying on your baits.
2. Failing to Interpret Your Bear’s Appetite
If I go back to my bait after three days and realize the bears ate all the food in the first 24 hours, I have failed to interpret the bear's appetite. Most of my experience is with fall baiting, and I prefer to feed the bears ALL they can eat. The bears I deal with leave when the food runs out and are often lost to natural food sources. I want my bait to be so full that it doesn’t make sense for them to go anywhere else. I hear a lot about rationing bait to create competition. In my experience with fall baiting in Arkansas and Oklahoma, it just doesn’t work. When the bait barrel is empty, the bears leave and don’t come back. If the little bears eat all the food before dark, the big bears won’t have any reason to hang around – and they don’t.
Many Canadian outfitters are running 25-plus bait barrels may not have enough bait to fill every barrel 100% full, but if they did, I think they’d have better results. It's just not financially feasible, and they've found ways to kill bears on lesser amounts of bait. However, for the do-it-yourself hunter with one or two baits – keep them FULL. Again, this is my experience baiting fall bears in the south, but I am adamant about it for success here on big bears. However, I’ve been on Canadian bait hunts that I know would have been more successful if the outfitter had used more bait.
*Sometimes spring bears are so hungry and natural food source is so limited it’s hard to go wrong and limiting food availability can create competition. My point is, however, don’t let that philosophy be an excuse to use small amounts of bait because it doesn’t always work.
3. Lack of “Bait-Quantity” Management
Almost every hunter is limited by the quantity of quality bait they have. You’ve got to be strategic with how you use it so you don’t end up a week before the season opener without good amounts of quality bait. Secondly, you can’t start baiting so early that you run out. I’ve started baiting too early and run out of quality bait towards the end. If I had used a better time- frame strategy, I would have had better results. I don’t have any formulas because it’s hard to predict how many bears you’ll be feeding or how much they’ll eat. However, you’ll have to estimate, plan, and ration so you’ve got great bait at the end when it really counts. I would rather bait a shorter time period with more quality/quantity of bait than a longer period with less quality/quantity.
4. Choosing a Bad Bait Location
I think the biggest blunder that can be made in bear baiting is choosing a bad location. With a bad location you can do everything right, but still not have good results. If you’ve got a great location, however, you can make a lot mistakes and still have good bears on opening day. Don’t put your bait 30 yards from a gravel road. And don’t choose your site based upon ease of access. Seclusion is the key. Locations need to be in areas where bears feel comfortable and not threatened (think dense and thick). You’ve got to think like a bear to choose a good location, not like a human looking for a place to bait a bear. It’s got to be in an area the bears already want to be for the time of year you're hunting. It's got to offer close proximity to safety cover, water, and areas void of humans. It needs to be located where the prevailing winds blow the bait scent back into wilder- ness-type areas that hold bears. The prevailing wind direction is key and it is underestimated by many bear hunters. It needs to be an area that you can hunt and access without spooking bears. If you’re “pulling” bears from a long way they won’t stay and they won’t be there during daylight hours. Your bait has to be in a core bear area, not on the fringe of bear range.
5. Not Keeping a Routine
Keeping routine in bear baiting is critical to making bears feel secure at the bait. If a bear has no idea when you’re going to arrive to bait he’ll be nervous all the time. The environment becomes less secure and predictable. However, if your arrival is like clockwork, they'll know what to expect. Predict- ability is security. I always bait my barrels between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. I will never go to a bait site after 4 p.m. I just won’t do it. I’ve found that the bigger bears are more comfortable coming in the daylight if you keep to a rigid routine. This is a challenge for some weekend bear baiters, and I understand that, however, set the routine and don’t break it. If you show up at 8:00 a.m. one day and at 6:30 p.m. the next time, the mature bears will mark this as an unpredictable area that’s not safe to be during the daylight. My advice is to KEEP A ROUTINE! Routine is your best bet towards holding daylight bears.
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