Aug 10 2018
By Bernie Barringer
Black Bear Hunting using Bait
Early in my education as a bear hunter I had read several things about doing a honey burn. I became convinced I had to use this technique, so I planned it as my ace in the hole when opening day arrived.
I had a couple bears coming to my bait site and my scouting camera showed that one was fairly consistent in coming to the bait in the last moments of legal shooting light. When opening day arrived, I loaded up my gear, including the materials to do a honey burn. When I arrived at the stand, I started the burn just as the experts had instructed me to.
A couple hours later, a bear appeared on the outskirts of the area, first as nothing more than a dark spot that moved through a small opening. Then I saw it again, sitting on its haunches up on the hillside overlooking the bait. He had the wind in his favor and he wasn’t moving. Smugly, I thought my idea of doing the honey burn was going to be just the inducement I needed to bring in this obviously cautious bear.
Hunting black bears over bait is a great way to be selective when bear hunting.
But it was not to be. He disappeared a while later and never appeared at the bait. Looking back over the many years since that day, I am now convinced that the honey burn was the reason he did not come in.
Bears become well accustomed to the sights, scents and smells of the bait site. Within the first couple visits, they have it figured out. I like to call it the “bait package.” The package includes everything to do with the bait itself and the movements of the humans and animals—including but not limited to—the other bears using the bait.
They eventually get comfortable with the bait package, and the more comfortable they are the more likely they are to approach the bait during daylight hours. If anything seems off, such as a new smell or sight, the more cautious bears, especially more mature males, may just use that as a reason to back off and wait a while before coming in.
Having the benefit of another 15 years of experience since the day I used that honey burn, I can see that what I did was really throw that bear a curveball. He hadn’t smelled that particular scent in all the other times he had arrived at the site, so he just decided his desire to get the good food wasn’t worth the commitment.
Lending credibility to that belief is the evidence from the trail cameras. He didn’t come back for a few days and then only after dark.
Over the years I have been quite cautious about the scents around my bait sites. I often bait for family and friends, and I involve them in the baiting a few times so their scent becomes part of the bait package.
In what some might consider a move that’s overkill, I keep track of which types of lures I use at bait sites and try not to vary it too much. I open most all my baits with a mixture of cooking oil and Northwoods Gold Rush, an additive to the cooking oil that makes it smell like butterscotch. I’ll pick another spray scent for the bait and use it on the bushes all around the bait. For fall bear hunting, I like the fruit smells such as blueberry, cherry, raspberry and sweet smells such as Gold Mist, which smells just like Gold Rush.
As the baiting period goes on, I grab the same bear lure as I head into the bait site so I am not mixing things up too much. The trails become obvious over time, so I spray the bushes along the trails with the scent, which causes the bear to get it on their fur so they smell it all the time. It comes a part of their daily lives and gives them a feeling of comfort around the bait.
Older bears can be super cautious, so tossing a different smell at them from time to time can really put them on edge. Don’t give them any excuse to become edgy and possibly go nocturnal on you. Once they do, it’s very difficult to get them off the nighttime pattern. I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of bears who come more boldly to the site in the daylight when everything is more consistent.
Consistency in what time of the day you bait is important as well. Bears often smell your ground scent on the trail you use to approach the bait, and they know how old it is. If you normally bait, say, between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. the bears expect your ground scent to be five hours old when they arrive at 7:00 p.m., for example. Consistency gives them a feeling of safety. Don’t mess too much with your timing.
The same is true for the day you hunt. If they are accustomed to smelling five-hour-old scent but the day you hunt you come in at 5:00 p.m. and the bear comes at 7:00 p.m. as usual, suddenly your scent is much fresher. Any reason you can give them to exercise a little more caution might cause them to back off, and that’s never a good thing.
If you’ve bear hunted very long, you have noticed a bear that tends to circle around a bait site before committing. That’s not to say they will make an entire loop, but mature bears often walk a path along the downwind side of the bait site to check it out. They want to know if any other bears are at the site, they also want to know if the fresh food is there. And they are checking for anything out of the ordinary.
I’ve noticed that many of these bears are not just winding the location, but I think they are intentionally crossing my entry trail. I am convinced that they are checking the age of my ground scent I left while walking in. If there’s little to no variation in the normal pattern, that’s one more box they can check off that makes them feel safe coming to the bait. It fits into the normal bait package.
Of course this brings up the issue that one day, suddenly you are at the bait when you never were before. This is the hardest part of the variation in bait package to overcome. There are three critical things that must be done to improve your chances of that bear committing to the bait: using the wind to your advantage, scent control and movement.
I’ll bet you that movement has saved the lives of far more bears than being winded. They have much better vision than most people realize, and their eyes are optimized for picking up the slightest movement. It’s critical to stay still on the stand because you never know when a bear may be in the area observing. It’s rare to see a bear before he sees you if you are swatting mosquitoes, messing with your phone or eating a sandwich.
I do my best to choose treestand locations where I can use the wind to my advantage, and there are a few baits that I will only hunt in certain winds. I’ve had two stands at some baits for varying wind directions. But mainly I minimize my scent impact by using scent-killing products. I’m not an advocate of any strategy that accepts the elimination of human scent, but there is value in reducing it. Scent Killer spray helps with this, as do scent killing laundry detergents and antibacterial soaps, shampoos and deodorants. Keep yourself clean and as free from human scent as is possible. It’s not magic, but it can tip the odds in your favor when a mature bear is deciding whether or not the bait site looks and smells safe enough to approach.
When it comes to baiting patterns, scents and lures, and human odor, you might as well let the bears pattern you. They are going to have your habits pegged no matter what you do and consistency offers them comfort. You might as well use their tendencies to analyze every aspect of the bait location to your advantage.
Shot Placement for Black Bear Hunting
By Clay Newcomb
This article was in the May/June 2018 issue of Bear Hunting Magazine
After all the work of getting within shooting distance of a big bear this spring, you’ll need confidence in your ability to make a great shot. Bears are big, tough animals that are unforgiving when hit bad. Many new bear hunters carry with them shot placement and strategy derived from experience deer hunting. It’s similar, but different. Bear anatomy is slightly different, but more importantly, a bear’s body structure allows for some odd angles and considerations that the bear hunter must understand. Here are five keys to making a great shot this spring.
Go For A Double-Lung Hit (Heart shots are overrated)
Bears seem to always be moving, especially when you’re hunting them over bait. Perhaps it’s a predatory instinct in humans, but seeing our prey move makes us feel like we have to act quickly. The impulsiveness to rush the shot is probably the biggest mistake that a bear hunter can make. My favorite shot is a broadside or slightly quartering shot with the onside front shoulder forward or straight down. A broadside shot gives the most room for error and the greatest opportunity for the most lethal hit of all – a double lung shot. In my opinion, the “heart shot” is overrated. A double lung will often kill an animal quicker, it’s a larger target, and the organs are further away from big bones that stop penetration.
A bear has the body structure to put himself in all types of odd shapes. He can be sitting on his rump like a dog, or be in a “cupped” shape with his head and rump closer to you than the torso. He could be sprawled out lying on his belly. He could be standing up on two legs. All of these positions are much different than a deer. During the magic time when a bear is in shooting range, he’ll more often be in a bad-shooting position than he will be in a favorable one. You’ll need to be disciplined and wait for a broadside shot – especially the archers.
Hunting with firearms for bear is more forgiving. A high shoulder hit will drop a bear, but I’d still suggest a double lung hit. If you’ve got a big caliber gun, a frontal shot square in the sternum is deadly, but requires precision. If you’ve got the time, my advice is to wait for a broadside shot with firearm and bow.
This is the best diagram we've seen for truly understanding bear anatomy for black bear hunting. We did a neocropsy on this bear to really see where the organ were. Click this link for a video on shot placement: https://youtu.be/TQ-t6DdxChw
Bears are notoriously hard to blood trail. Long hair and fat seem to soak up blood that would usually be on the ground and used for trailing. Additionally, they often inhabit thick, dense brush making tracking conditions difficult. Whether you’re shooting a rifle or a bow, prioritize getting an entrance and exit wound. With a rifle, shoot a bullet that maximizes penetration over expansion (see side bar about bullets). When archery hunting, use a broadhead that maximizes penetration. Personally, I don’t suggest expandable broadheads for bear. However, the biggest issue will be shot placement and shot angle.
The best opportunity to get a pass-through shot is going to be when the bear is broadside. If he’s at a steep quartering angle you won’t get a pass through and you’ll be trailing a bear with single entry wound. If you’re hunting out of a treestand it will be a high wound, and will bleed very little. The bear will die quickly, but without a blood trail he might be hard to find! I almost didn’t recover the largest-skulled bear I’ve ever killed, even though he was less than 150 yards from where I shot him. A steep angled, quartering-away shot from a treestand left me with only an entry wound and no blood. Luckily, we stumbled upon the bear the next morning. If I’d waited for a broadside shot, I would likely recovered the bear within thirty minutes of the shot.
Middle of the Middle?
We published an article a few years ago titled “The Middle of the Middle.” Many Canadian outfitters have had great results instructing their clients with this descriptive phrase for shot placement. I can’t say that I disagree, but I would like to make a slight adjustment – “middle of the middle and then back towards the shoulder a few inches.” If you take the original phrase literally you’d be shooting towards the back edge of the lungs and directly at the liver. I like to aim bit closer to the shoulder without hugging it too tight. The reason for the popularity of this has to do with the greater margin of error. Also, it seems that a bear shot towards the front section of the “guts” usually dies fairly quickly. I’m not suggesting a gut shot, but it is better than a shoulder shot with archery equipment. With a rifle your margin for error is larger, but it’s still a good option for a gun.
I’ve personally done a necropsy on a bear and found the lungs to extend back to the second-to-last rib. A bear’s elongated frame translates to lungs that are slightly (and I mean slightly) further back than a deer. Many bear hunters have been indoctrinated by whitetail shot placement, and it doesn’t completely translate to bear. Aiming towards the middle-mass (from an up and down perspective) of the body cavity is important. In summary, I like to shoot about 4-5 inches back from the shoulder on a broadside bear. Bears are soft skinned and the rib bones are fairly light. The biggest threat to penetration is the front shoulder – stay away from it.
This diagram shows the middle-of-the-middle shooting philosphy. Click this link to see a video on shot placement on bear: https://youtu.be/hMuKIs4WUKM
Consider Hair and Fat: Don’t Shoot Too Low
“Low and tight” to the shoulder is a great shot on a deer. Hunters typically aim low when bowhunting deer because they drop at the sound of the shot. A bear doesn’t have the same “flight” response as a deer, so aiming extremely low isn’t necessary and can even be bad. Bears can often have a thick layer of fat on their belly, and they also have long hair. The bottom silhouette of a bear is deceptive. You’ll need to aim well above it to get into the chest cavity! I’ve witnessed multiple bears wounded because the hunter tried to “heart shoot” them like a whitetail. A deer has short hair and little fat. A bear really isn’t as big as he looks because of hair and fat. Again, this takes us back to aiming at the middle mass, not towards the periphery of the animal.
A low-hit bear will often bleed very well for a period of time, then the blood will begin to turn watery and eventually disappear. It’s easy to go on “auto-pilot” when a bear walks up. I once heard the phrase, “You won’t rise to the occasion, but you’ll default to your training.” You’ve got to intentionally train yourself where to aim on a bear.
Don’t Get “Blacked” Out
The Boone-and-Crockett-class black bear sashayed into the bait with confidence. He was only 11 yards away when I drew the bow and looked through the peep. I could see the glowing pin well, but my sight window was full of black fur! I had no idea where I was aiming. More than once while bowhunting bears at close range using riflescopes and archery sights, I’ve had this harrowing experience. The black color absorbs shadows making it difficult to distinguish lines and body parts. Through the sight window I couldn’t tell where I was aiming. The lighter fur of other game animals helps highlight the body with defining shadows – not so on a bruin.
What should you do? Be patient. Pull your eye away from the scope or peep and look at the bear with your naked eye, then look back through the aiming apparatus. After doing this a few times, you’ll get your bearings. Every time this happens I’m tempted to pull the trigger before being 100% sure where I’m aiming. It’s so close and it seems hard to miss. The only advice I have is to be patient and take an extra 10 seconds before shooting.
Bears are not hard animals to kill with a firearm or a bow. A well-hit bear won’t last long, however they are extremely unforgiving when hit marginally. In summary, only take broadside shots, prioritize getting two holes, aim about four to five inches back from the shoulder on a broadside bear, and don’t shoot too low. Finally, that bear isn’t as big as he looks. He’s got a nice layer of fat and fur coat that may be three to four inches long.
Aug 03 2018
By Tracy Breen
Bear season is right around the corner. If there is one thing every hunter enjoys, it is new gear. Below are a few must have items for the hunter who has everything but is always looking for something new.
MORRELL BIONIC BEAR
It’s no secret that choosing a spot to aim on bears can be difficult. The long hair can make finding the vitals on a bear in the heat of the moment difficult. Bowhunters can solve that problem by shooting at a 3D Bionic Bear Target. Morrell Targets has a lightweight 3D bear target that is perfect for bear hunters who want to fine tune their skills this summer. Learn more at www.morrelltargets.com.
Bears have a sweet tooth and are constantly on the prowl for food. One way to bring them in close is with Northwoods Powder. The powder comes in an 8-ounce bottle and is available in a variety of scents including Cherry Burst, Apple Addiction, Maple Burst, Blueberry Burst and Gold Dust. The powder attractant gives off an extremely strong odor and is reportedly 500 times stronger than sugar so bears love the stuff. Hunters can shake the powder onto their current bait to add an aroma that bears won’t be able to resist. Learn more at www.northwoodsbearproducts.net.
WILDERNESS ATHLETE ENERGY & FOCUS
Staying awake in the treestand or blind can be difficult when sitting for long hours. Hunters who want to stay alert and ready for action should check out Energy & Focus from Wilderness Athlete. This energy drink is packed with vitamins, contains no sugar and has very few calories. Hunters who want to stay awake without drinking a lot of calories should try Wilderness Athlete products. Learn more at www.wildernessathlete.com.
Bowhunters looking for an edge should check out the HuntWise App. This app gives you up-to-date weather information, the best time of day to hunt, a built-in social media platform and landownership boundaries complete with land owner contact information if they have a listed phone number. Hunters who are looking for a new place to hunt will appreciate how handy the HuntWise app is. Learn more at huntwise.com.
OUTDOORSMANS ATLAS TRAINER
Many bowhunters spend the summer getting in shape for the backcountry. The new Outdoorsmans Atlas Trainer pack frame makes that a little easier. The pack frame comes with a mounting bracket that allows the hunter to slide Olympic style weight plates to the pack frame so hunters can hike with weight that is safe and secure on the frame. Say goodbye to sandbags; this pack frame system will make training with a weighted down pack a breeze. Learn more at www.outdoorsmans.com.
WYNDSCENT GRENADE LAUNCHER
Fourth Arrow, makers of the original vapor WYNDSCENT unit, has raised the bar this year with their new Grenade launcher. Now you can attract bears with an automatically timed vapor scent dispersal with the ability to turn on or off with a remote from up to 40 yards away! Simply mount your WYNDSCENT Grenade or Wyndstick to the top of the
WYNDSCENT Grenade Launcher. After turning it on once a minute for a three second time frame, vapor will be emitted. A variety of cover and attractant scents are available for deer, bear, elk, and predators. They have a bear scent called Donut Shop that smells just like fresh donuts. Heated vapor scents travel further than traditional scents, making them a great option for bear hunting. Learn more at www.wyndscent.com.
GRIM REAPER CARNI-FOUR
One broadhead that is worth mentioning is the Grim Reaper Carni-Four. This broadhead comes equipped with four blades. Two of the blades offer a 1-1/2” cut and the other two blades produce a 1-1/4” size hole. Combined, that is a 2.75” linear cut. A hole that size will quickly bring a bear down and give the archer a little room for error. If the shot isn’t perfect, chances are the bear will quickly go down when hit with such a devastating broadhead. Learn more at www.grimreaperbroadheads.com.