Bears ain’t easy

Many folks, hunters and non-hunters alike, seem to think that
hunting bears over bait like we do here in Minnesota is easy. Some
even think it is cheating. It’s neither of the two. Hunting over
bait is the only method that will work to allow a harvest of bears
sufficient to keep the population in check.

The places bears call home here in Minnesota do not lend
themselves to spot and stalk hunting. When you can’t see more than
50 yards in most of the woods and swamps the bears call home, the
odds of spotting a bruin at a distance and then stalking close
enough for a shot (as is common practice in coastal Alaska and in
many of the Western states) are very, very slim.

Still-hunting, where you slip slowly and preferably silently
through the woods while looking for a bear might be a nice way to
spend a fall day, but your odds of actually seeing a bear are only
slighter better than they are of waking up in the morning and
discovering that the lottery ticket you bought on the way home from
work the night before has transformed you into an instant
millionaire. Ditto for hunting from a stand like we do for deer.
Deer are homebodies that can be somewhat depended upon to follow
certain trails. Bears are big-time roamers. Sometimes they use
trails, but they may pass down that trail only once a week. That’s
a long wait on stand. Nope, hunting over bait isn’t cheating, it is
simply the only feasible way, other than hunting with hounds, of
having a reasonable chance of seeing a bear.

So you place the baits and hope that each bait site attracts a
bear or two. Not all will of course. Some will attract only a small
bear. Others will attract a big bear, but smart old bears often
only eat at night. Then you sit and wait and swat skeeters and
wonder why the critter that makes all of the jelly donuts disappear
every night does not show himself. No, hunting over bait is not
easy. It certainly is not a slam-dunk.

I’ve sat on baits many days and never seen a single bear. Does
that sound easy? I’ve sat on baits and had a big bear circle and
circle the bait, never close enough to give me a shot, but always
out there. Big bears especially are rarely easy.

There is a big difference between hunting big bears and hunting
small or mid-size bears. A big bear has been around a long, long
time. Lots of bears live to be 10 or 15 years old. A few are even
older. Bears that make it that long have learned how to survive.
They make few mistakes. Unlike younger bears, they won’t let their
appetite override their sense of caution.

About the only time I have seen a big bear do something stupid
was when there was a sow in heat involved. Seems to me that under
those circumstances, it does not matter if you are a boar bear, a
buck deer, a bull elk or a male human, we all act about the same.
Of course during the fall, when the bear season is held here in
Minnesota, the bear mating season is long over, so bear hunters
don’t have that advantage working for them.

An immature bear is tolerant of our mistakes. A mature bear is
not. Many times I’ve had a small bear on the bait when I arrived to
hunt. Naturally the bear scampers off when I approach. But several
times the bear was back before I was even settled into my
treestand. A big bear won’t do that.

If a small bear sees you, hears you, or smells you, he might
just ignore you anyway. A big bear will not. When I hunt bears I
take the same precautions with my odor as I take when deer hunting.
I shower before the hunt with an odor free shampoo and soap, I use
odor free anti-perspirant, I wear a Scent-Lok suit (the new
Savannah series is very lightweight and perfect for warm weather
hunting) and I spray myself down with a good odor neutralizer. Even
with all of those precautions, I know that I have been picked off a
few times.

Bears have very good hearing. If a small bear hears you
shuffling around up in the stand, it might scamper off for a minute
or two, but it will be back. A big bear will leave.

When it comes to eyesight, the black bear is not gifted. But
they are not as blind as some hunters seem to think they are
either. Movement is a no-no with a big bear. He might not see well
enough to know what moved, but that will not matter to him. Like
black smoke, he will disappear.

For most hunters, a couple of hours in the evening on stand is
plenty. There is no doubt that evening is prime time. But I’ve seen
a lot of bears while hunting the first couple of hours in the
morning. And if the weather is not too hot, I will sit on stand
during mid-day as well. In the fall, the bears are up and feeding
much more during the day than normal. If they are in the
neighborhood, they might just pay your bait a visit. You will never
know if you are not there.

Mosquitoes, gnats and flies can drive you buggy (no pun
intended) while on bear stand. For skeeters, black flies and gnats
nothing I’ve ever used beats a Bug Out suit. They are available at
most stores that handle sporting goods. If you can’t find one,
check them out on the web at

And if deer flies are the problem and they always are during our
fall bear season you can neatly eliminate the pesky buggers by
placing a “Deer Fly Patch” on the back of your cap. Deer flies are
attracted to the exposed adhesive on the patch, land on it and
never fly again. Pretty darn slick. Deer fly patches are available
at many sporting goods stores, but if you can’t find them, call
toll-free 1-866-DEERFLY. These two items will make your bear
hunting much more enjoyable.

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