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Black bear range and populations are expanding as is the popularity of what was once a hunt reserved for a select few. Bears are typically hunted utilizing one of three common techniques; over bait, with hounds, or spot and stalk. In my home state of Wisconsin baiting is the most common method.
Bait is placed for several weeks before the season. Items such as candy, bread, pastries, pie filling and fruit are placed in hollow logs or holes in the ground covered with a rock. As a precaution against the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, the rock(or other heavy object) is required to prevent access to the bait by deer. Animal products such as meat and fat are not permitted. There are also restrictions on bear baiting near public roads or trails.
At first glance, hunting over bait may seem unsportsmanlike, but it is common practice. Bears are nomadic and don’t pattern the same way deer will. To increase success, bait and stands are set in areas that offer heavy cover. Bears won’t frequent open areas during daylight hours.
Hunters often get excited when they find their bait cleaned out day after day. Veteran hunters know a clean bait pile is often the result of several smaller bears using the same bait area. If the bait is being used but left unfinished, it’s a good sign your bait log is being used by one large bear. A large bear will keep smaller animals out of his territory. With today's trail camera technology guesswork about the specific bears using your bait pile is a thing of the past.
Another common occurrence for bait hunters is a sudden drop in activity around the bait pile in the fall. After attracting bears during the summer it seems like they suddenly disappear. As autumn leaves begin to drop, berries ripen and acorns and hickory nuts hit the forest floor. Bears gorge on hardwood mast to pack on pounds for the winter hibernation. Placing your stand and bait in hardwood areas will help keep bears close during this time.
Size restrictions are in place in many states. In Wisconsin, the bear must measure at least 42 inches from the tip of the nose to tip of the tail. It is also illegal to kill a bear that is with cubs.
Bear hunting can be serious business. The are powerful animals and the methods for hunting them are unorthodox to many. Obtaining a tag may take years in many states. Accompany a more experienced bear hunter while waiting to draw a tag. Keeping the bait log full takes a lot of work and the hunter with a tag will appreciate any extra help. This experience can help the novice bear hunter be more prepared for their future hunt.
Ever wonder why the SAME black bear hunters consistently get a bear year after year? Accomplished bear hunter and guide, Phil Schweik knows why. It's because these successful hunters know how crucial -- indeed critical -- it is to start doing your scouting and baiting early in the year. Throwing out a bait pile or trekking a trail or two a couple of weeks before the season opens and hoping for the best will not get that black bear. Of course, every once in a while, a hunter here and there who waited until the last minute to scout and bait will get a bear, but not with any consistency.
In this article, we're going to discuss the regs that apply in Wisconsin. Check out your own state's bear hunting regs. No game warden in Minnesota will show you much sympathy if you cite a Wisconsin reg that doesn't apply in Minnesota -- whether you root for the Vikings or not!
First, start baiting and scouting as soon as spring "comes around the corner" -- usually in April, but it could be earlier depending on the seasonal change. In the spring, Black bears finish their winter hibernation. They're absolutely starving for food -- literally! They haven't eaten in months. You want to look for the absolute most tangled, swampy, thicket layers of "stuff" that you can find. It's the kind of cover that you don't think you can even walk through. It makes Harry Potter's forests look like a city park. That's what you want to find, because that's where the bears will locate. They choose these areas because they're not bothered in them.
Set up near and around these areas. Look for signs -- a trail, footprints, markings, scat - - whatever. And then seek out the worst possible dirty, gnarled spot, even if you haven't much, if any "sign." That's the general area you're going to want to bait. After you've narrowed an area down, look for a good access point considering wind direction (bears have an extremely sensitive sense of smell – whether it be bait or a human being) -- where the bears will move through. Find cover -- a downed tree, a turned-over stump, a depression in the ground, etc. In Wisconsin, the bait must be concealed, but it's essential that where you conceal bait must be in a "totally natural setting."
Don't saturate any ONE AREA with bait stations. Put one bait station in any one single area. If bears find too many bait stations, they won't come to only the one where you want to set up your stand (consider where you want to locate your stand before you bait!). By putting up one bait station in one area, the bears will be directed to that one spot – and where you also are set up with your stand.
Set up maybe six to eight bait stations in several different contiguous areas – which means you'll be doing a LOT OF SCOUTING! Walk through the whole target area, and don't whine. It's tough. It can be frustrating. But in the end, if you've done "your homework," you're going to get your bear -- and probably be able to choose from several!
Wisconsin allows ten gallons of bait in any one station. You don't need to use that much. Half of that is plenty. As the season progresses, you will note which bait stations produce the best results. Then what you do is narrow things down and concentrate on three stations. You'll then be able to hunt three different areas when the season arrives. If you keep your producing bait stations filled, the bears will concentrate on their favorite station and keep coming back throughout the pre-season. If you get the bears coming to a bait station starting in the spring, that station will continue to "hold" them through the actual season.
Take the time and make the effort. In the end it's the same: Hard work and dedication pays off... big-time!