In its simplest form, hunting black bears can broken down into two basic parts: the baiting and the waiting. The harder you wok on the first usually has a direct effect on the outcome of the latter—but not always—especially when hunting on public land.
But in a way, the challenges presented by hunting on public land make the rewards that much sweeter and the sweat equity that much richer. My hunting partners, “Captain” Todd Cameron and the bait-eating Alan Hendrickx, were crucial in helping me maintain my sanity when loggers moved within 50 yards of one heavily used bait site. But so goes the life of a public-land bear hunter. Big bears one day, big equipment the next.
Bring On The Bait
When it comes to baiting, I subscribe to the “more is better” mantra, and I think Todd and Alan agree.
Minnesota law allows us two weeks of baiting before the September 1 season opener, and due to limited time, we baited only on Saturdays. The last thing we wanted was for a bear to run out of food on Thursday and wander off to the bait site of another hunter to find the chow it desired. So, we piled it high and gave the bears as many food options as they desired. And honestly, we carried enough food to feed the “pickiest” of bears three squares a day.
I find baiting to be as enjoyable as hunting, and hunting for truck-loads of bait for only a few dollars can be as challenging as hunting a trophy bruin. In short, finding bear bait is simple. Finding enough bear bait and not breaking the bank in the process is a completely different story.
Bait No. 1 (Southeast bait)
Todd killed a big bear—nearly 400 pounds—two years ago at this location. So we moved the bait site slightly and let the Stealth Cam roll. A good-sized bear began using the bait early on, but we never saw it during shooting hours. We worked especially hard on this bait—I took eight bee stings to my right arm while hanging stands—but it wasn’t meant to be. Great pictures from the trail camera; too bad we didn’t get any grip-and-grin photos of this bear!
We placed the camera on a Game Cam Sling Arm and tripod for complete bear protection and optimal placement. Based on the photos, this bear seemed more interested in the camera than the bait. Without the Swing Arm, I think we would’ve found little piece of the camera distributed in bear feces throughout the woods.
And beware … you never know what type of hooligan you’ll capture with the camera!
Bait No. 2 (Northwest bait)
We placed a Predator trail cam on this bait site—which was in an area we hadn’t previously hunted. And after a week of photos, it was clear this was the most active bait we had. I insisted we draw straws, but because of the stubbornness of Captain Todd, he insisted I hunt this site. I felt a bit guilty … at first!
The Predator camera is built within a bear-proof housing, and as a few of the photos show, it definitely came in handy.
Bait No 3. (Northeast bait)
This was another unchartered hunting area for us, so we placed the bait in front of a Cuddeback and hoped for the best. Despite good bear sign and promising habitat, we only had photos of raccoons after two bearless weeks, so we decided to vacate the area.
We took special care to place all bait sites at least two miles apart to try and keep a single bear from working multiple bait sites. I believe we were effective at achieving this, but photos were captured of the red-shirted hooligan working multiple sites.
Bait No. 4 (Southwest bait)
The photos we gathered from our Moultrie camera were amazing, and we had two big bears working the bait on a nightly basis. But three days before the hunting season began, loggers moved into the area. My spirits sank, but the bears seemed to not be bothered. I guess public land bears are used to high amounts of human activity—but it was taking me a bit longer to accept those facts.
This camera captured it all: monster black bears, a Boone and Crockett raccoon—and even a few photos of Captain’s most photogenic side.
It was windy and excessively hot—nearly 80 degrees—on Sept. 1, but Todd and I saddled-up and sneaked into the woods anyway. Two weeks of working and baiting only to skip the opener because of tough weather? I don’t think so.
There was a mature bear working my bait (Northwest) nightly at about an hour before dark, and the same thing was happening at the Southwest bait where Todd was sitting.
I figured the heat would make the bears late for dinner—which I assumed would be well after dark and after legal shooting hours—but with a few minutes of legal shooting light remaining, a bear was suddenly standing before me. I knew it was a decent-sized bear—honestly, I couldn’t tell if it weighed 200 or 300 pounds—but I immediately knew it was the biggest bear using the bait (lots of photos to prove it). It was pure black from tail to shout, and it had very short legs: It looked as though it should stand 5-6 inches taller.
It showed up so quickly I forgot to get nervous, and my heart soared as I watched the green fletching bury through the boiler room.
The retrieval of the bear was anticlimactic—which I absolutely love. Surprises are not good when trialing an arrow-hit bear in the dark. The only surprise came after we had recovered the bear: It was a big, old sow. I estimated the bear to weigh about 300 pounds, and a sow that large on public land is a rare treasure.
The retrieval was all uphill—about 150 yards worth—and I was able to drag the bear about 30 yards on pure adrenaline before I had to let the quad and winch take over.
It was 11:30 p.m. by the time we had the bear on the trailer; most sane people had already been in bed for a few hours. But a dead bear in 70-degree weather doesn’t last long before the meat spoils.
We’d used meat scraps from the New York Mills Locker Plant for bait, and Whitman Briard insisted we call him when we shot a bear—anytime before midnight—and he would take care or our bear processing. Whitman was still up at 11:45 p.m. waiting for our call. Todd and I had been hunting and waiting and tracking and dragging for nearly 10 hours, and Whitman was an absolute Godsend. The last thing we wanted to do at that hour was skin and quarter a bear.
Whitman weighed (244 pounds field-dressed) and skinned the bear at 1 a.m. as though it was high noon. Todd and I could barely keep our eyes open.
I decided to leave Todd and return to work two days later—a decision I still regret. Todd crawled into his stand on Sept. 3 only a few minutes after the loggers left for the day, and he harvested a great bear well before dark.
A single shot from his .30-06 dropped the bear, making a short and sweet recovery. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good I guess.
Todd has since purchased a digital camera, so he won’t have that “bear in the headlights” look on his hero shots anymore!
So I guess I’ve learned my lesson: When hunting bears on public land, do as the bears do. I consider blears to be extremely elusive when it comes to dealing with people, and for 95 percent of North American’s black bear population, I still believe that to be true. But some bears have been forced to live in close-quarters with people—and have done so quite well. It’s a humbling feeling to walk into the woods and never know exactly what’s hiding in the shadows.
Trail Cam Photos – Bait No. 1
Trail Cam Photos – Bait No. 2
Trail Cam Photos – Bait No. 3
Trail Cam Photos – Bait No. 4
Grip And Grin Photos