Sep 09 2015
By Clay Newcomb
It’s September 9th and we are probably at the peak of the bear-bait feeding frenzy in the Ouachitas. It’s every year during this period that expectations get set by hunters seeing their best bears trounce back and forth in front of their cameras, eating every morsel of food they put out for them. However, the bad news is that it won’t last forever.
My guess is this bear weighs in the 400-450 pound range. This picture captures just how big these bears are. That's a 55 gallon drum! Try to put your foot on top of one with your opposite foot flat on the ground.
From my experience, these Arkansas bears consistently feed hard up until the middle of the month then you’ll see a reduction in bait activity. However, some bears will stay. And sometimes it’s the big ones that stay. Every year people harvest giant bears over bait, and these are the exceptions. That’s what we are looking for. The Arkansas state record bear, killed by Chad Sharp in 2010 (21 10/16”), was killed at 3:00 p.m. on opening day after staying on bait in the daylight for weeks. Heath Martin has killed two Arkansas Boone and Crockett bears, both on opening day in the Ouachitas. Though his bears were both killed at last light, the old bruins were still on the bait even after the acorns fell.
This bait has a lot of activity from average bears too. Check out the collared bear.
My bears right now are hammering the baits, but I’m trying not let myself get too excited. However, it is extremely fun to bait these bears, and just get pictures of them. We’ve got some big ones on camera and I can’t complain. Sometimes a single picture gives you an idea of just how big a bear is. In one image, a large boar has his right foot on top of a 55-gallon drum, and his left foot on the ground. The bear’s huge forearm is gripping a tree that is easily 7-8 inches in diameter, and his arm is thicker. What does he weigh? He’s big, but he isn’t extremely fat. I believe he weighs in the 400-450-pound range. He could gain quite a bit of weight between now and the season opener. The second bear on the bait is as big as him, maybe bigger.
This is a second large boar on the bait. Notice the crease in the head. Not all big fall bears have a crease. I call this bear Batman because of this big ears.
Every year there is a lot of talk about how to hold bears after the acorns have fallen. This is a touchy subject that has a few direct answers, but none are set in stone. Here are some statements and tips about baiting bears in the acorn-laden fall woods.
Ouachita sow and cubs. Seeing a lot of cubs. The bears are doing exceptionally well in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
1. Switching the bait to something different about five days before season can keep bears interested in your bait past opening day. For instance, I like to add beef and pork fat just before season opener and the bears devour it after they’ve mainly seen carbohydrates at the bait for weeks. Some people use lots of sweets at the very end.
2. Feed them all they will eat. When a bear leaves the bait because there isn’t food in the barrel, he walks out into the woods to find his favorite food lying all over the ground – acorns. He fills his belly up with them, and he’s less likely to return to your bait to check it. However, if he leaves your bait full every time, there is less reason for him to leave.
3. Give them what they want. Quality bait helps. Early in the season you could pour out bags of corn and they would devour it, coming for miles around to clean it up. By late September they’ll be picking through your bait for the choice morsels. Watch what they’re eating and feed it to them. I’ve rarely seen a late-September bear that wouldn’t eat sardines. Often times that’s all they swing by the bait to eat when the acorns are falling.
4. Don’t give up. Sometimes the bears will abandon the bait 100% for a few days around the first of October, only to return around October 6 or 7. Sometimes they’ll leave for acorns, but return and be killable. Keep the bait fresh and don’t give up to quickly. I once killed a bear over bait on October 16th on a year with extremely heavy mast.
5. I believe that bait placement can be key to holding bears past the season opener. Some baits are located in secluded, core, beary areas. The bears would be there in the fall even if the baits weren’t. These types of baits are few and far between, but the bears are more likely to hang around. Some places just hold bears better than others. Bears will go where they want to go in the fall, biology is driving them to find food and suitable denning areas.
The Ouachitas are truly a hidden treasure, holding some of the highest elevations between the Applachians and Rockies.