By Clay Newcomb
Many regions of the country regulate the amount of time before season that you bait bears. Some places out West allow you only to bait seven days before the season, while in Arkansas we can bait 30 days before the season. In other places there is no time limit and you could bait all year if you wanted to. However, what is most advantageous if your goal is to kill a mature bear on opening day? There are many pros and cons.
The Short Bait
I would consider a “short bait” putting out bait less than 10 days before you plan to hunt. In my experience, bears hit the bait the hardest when they first find it. The food is new and they’re highly attracted to it. Most of the daytime activity on bait will be at the beginning and they tend to only go more nocturnal the longer they stay, especially in the fall. If natural food sources are available, bears tend to gradually fade away after a certain period of time. It’s like they get all they want of the bait and start to fade away. This is exactly why the “short bait” can be so effective. You can typically hold bears for ten days, but it can be hard to hold them for thirty.
Increased human activity at the baits certainly can influence them to go nocturnal. With a “short bait” the hunter may only bait one to two times before hunting. Reduced human involvement at the bait increases the chance of surprise. The bear may have his guard down because of the lack of intrusion. On a longer bait sequence, the hunter is there a lot, and the older bears may get educated. Basically, the “short bait” offers the chance for catch older bears with their guard down.
If you’re hunting a pressured area you might consider the “short bait.” If the guys around you are baiting for weeks and months, try waiting until five to seven days before season to put out a great bait with lots of options and scent. The bears are in the area, and they’ll be interested in something new. Longer isn’t always better. This has been the key strategy for some successful hunters – basically, “let the other hunters do the work.” Also, you don’t need to gather as much bait for the “short bait.” Often quantity of quality bait is the limiting factor and it’s hard to feed bears for a long time.
There are a few potential negatives of the “short bait.” The bears may not find your bait in time. I’ve had this happen to me. The bears weren’t around and never found the bait before season. Secondly, not as many bears will likely find the bait before season. When you bait for a long time, bears leave scent trails and all the bears in the area will have time to find the bait. With the “short bait,” you may attract fewer bears, but all you need is one “right” bear.
The 30-day Bait
The thirty-day bait is the middle of the road. The main benefit is you’ll likely draw in all the bears in the area. This gives ample time for scent trails to be laid by other bears and for roaming bruins to find it. Over the course of four weeks, you’ll see bears come and go. In the areas I bait, sometimes it takes a while for them to find a bait, and this time frame assures that you’ll have bears. A couple of times in Arkansas and Oklahoma, I’ve been burned by the “short bait” because the bears never found it. Other baiters had bears drawn far away, and waiting to bait was a bad idea.
The thirty-day bait allows you to see the full potential of the region as you’ll likely see all the bear-drawing potential of the site. It’s harder to hold a bear for thirty days, but sometimes the larger males will stick around once you get them on a pattern. The best-case scenario is that a target bear would show up about five to ten days before the season opener. If you’d just started baiting, you probably wouldn’t be seeing him, but the scent distribution of the other bears drew him in.
To bait bears for thirty days you’ll need a lot of bait. You’ll need to keep the bait full so the bears don’t wander off onto natural food. Additionally, the bears will pattern you, so make sure your pattern stays consistent. Baiting this long is also time consuming and expensive. The limiting factor in most people’s baiting is time and money.
The Year Round Bait
Some regions of the country, and Canada, have no regulations on the amount of time you can bait bears. Very few people bait bears “year around” (or at least when they aren’t denning), but some do. The benefit is the site becomes a mainstay food source for all the bears of the region. This doesn’t mean that they’ll all use it all the time, but it’s definitely on their radar. And they depend on it. If it’s done year after year, sows bring their cubs into the bait, and generations of bears learn to value it as a food source.
Many also claim the health benefits of year round baiting. The bears get fat! In the bear world, unlike the human world, this is the pinnacle of health. Sows have larger litters and more bears make it through tough winters. Come opening day, a year-round bait is bound to have some bears hitting it.
The down side of year round baiting is the time and money. It takes a lot of effort and bait to fuel a site this long. Secondly, I’m not sure how strategic this is for holding big bears during the hunting seasons. Older mature bears certainly use the site throughout the growing season, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be there come opening day.
Many times it’s not the knowledge of “best practice” that dictates our baiting schedule, but rather finances, time or other restrictions. However, understanding these strategies might help you in future years. Remember this: baiting is a conservation management tool designed to help game agencies accomplish their management goals. Bear baiting is under fire in many arenas, even inside the hunting community. We bait bears so we can be selective in our harvest, and it should be our goal to harvest older mature males in most scenarios. Be careful how you talk about baiting bears and especially how you post things on social media. Baiting bears isn’t easy and it’s a ton of work! It’s all about the journey, not the destination.