By Clay Newcomb

The first day of baiting bears in Arkansas and Oklahoma is like a national holiday to me. I remember around 2009, about eight years after we started baiting bears, when I had a revelation about how special this ritual was. I was driving out of a bear bait and I came to terms with the fact that I had more fun baiting bears than just about any other outdoor activity.  This was a startling insight that surprised me because I had such a rich background of bowhunting whitetails that started when I was 11 years old – this I considered my first love. I’ve never lost my love of whitetail hunting, but bears would begin to take a unique positioning at the top of my hunting food chain. My love for whitetails didn’t decrease, but my love for bears increased.

clay newcomb and james lawrence

Hot and sweaty, Clay and James celebrate the first day of baiting bears in Arkansas. 

While baiting bears you get to interact with a majestic animal that you’d otherwise never see. Additionally, the history behind the reintroduction of bears into Arkansas made the celebration of the their mere presence worth the effort of just getting a picture of one. Then, after all the hard work of baiting, to not even get a shot was humbling and made the challenge of hunting mature bears over bait a real endeavor. If you’ve never baited bears on your own, then you won’t understand, but it’s a tremendous amount of work and the challenge is off the charts, especially when trying to kill a mature bear. You’ve got to do so many things right it’s unbelievable, and even when you do them all there are no guarantees. Its been 10 years since I’ve killed a bear over bait in Arkansas. That being said, I’m pretty picky and for several years I guided for the Arkansas Black Bear Association, giving away my best spots to people that had some opportunities at big bears.

On September 6th, my bear-hunting comrade, James Lawrence, and myself started our baits in preparation for the September 24th Arkansas opener. Every serious bear hunter has an opinion about the timing of when to start, and I’ve certainly got mine – and I’ve noticed it changes about every three years. This year we’ve waited until 18 days before the season opener to start baiting. It is no secret that the bears “get tired of bait” the last half of September (however you want to explain it – they leave). If you wait too late you risk the bears not finding it. However, if you feed them the full 30 days they’ll sometimes leave LONG before the season opener.

bigwoods bear bait and scents

Clay uses Bigwoods Big Bear Scent products and bait. For many years he gathered his own bait and always ran shy. Now he has it delivered from Bigwoods. 

The best strategy is having a stellar location. If you are baiting where a bear wants to be in the fall then your chances of holding one skyrocket. If you are baiting “fringy” bear country, then your chances are slim that you’ll hold a good one. Secondly, I do believe that quality bait is very important. Last year was the first time that we got bait from Bigwoods Bear Bait out of Wisconsin. It isn’t cheap, but nothing that’s good is. However, I do believe that quality and quantity of bait is a strong factor in holding bears. For years I’ve scrounged all across the county gathering bait for months only to have to ration it out when baiting season rolled around. Those days are over for me. I’ve found it’s better to just pay the piper and get some quality bait. If you are taking bear baiting serious I would suggest the same.

Look for weekly updates on bear baits and I will be sure to share some photos of what’s hitting the baits. Good luck this fall. And watch out for rattlesnakes! We've seen two this week! This one was a dandy and true honor to be able to see in the wild. 

Arkansas rattlesnake clay newcomb

A big Arkansas timber rattler. September is a great time to run across one of these in the woods, so be looking out for them. And don't kill them!