| If you’ve been lounging around basking in the glory of summer lately (such as it’s been), you may be surprised to find that the 2009 Maine black bear hunting season is only a month away, and that means you can start setting out baits at the end of July which is only four days off!
Our bear season (one of the longest such seasons in the U.S.) opens under the general rule (without the use of bait or dogs) Aug. 31 and closes Nov. 28 this year. During this time hunters may wander around in the woods looking for bears, set up stand sites near corn, apples, cherry trees, beeches, oaks or other naturally occurring foods, use calls or any other technique that doesn’t include baiting or hound hunting.
Hunting with artificial bait is allowed from Aug. 31 through Sept. 26, although baits may be placed 30 days prior to the season opener to give bears time to find and use bait sites.
Hunting with the use of bait is defined as hunting from an observation stand, blind or other location that overlooks any bait or food except standing crops and foods that have been left as a result of normal agricultural operations or natural occurrence. “Bear Bait” means any animal or plant, or derivative of an animal or plant, used to attract bear.
Bait may not be used to hunt or trap black bear unless: The bait is placed at least 50 yards from any travel way that is accessible by a conventional 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle; the stand, blind or bait area is plainly labeled with a 2-inch by 4-inch tag with the name and address of the baiter; the bait is placed more than 500 yards from any solid waste disposal site or campground; the bait is placed more than 500 yards from an occupied dwelling, unless written permission is granted by the owner or leaseholder; the bait is placed not more than 30 days before the opening day of the season and not after Oct. 31.
All baited areas must be cleaned up by Nov. 10 as defined by the state litter laws.
Hunting with dogs my all-time favorite way to hunt bears opens Sept. 14 and closes Oct. 30.
Make no mistake; bear hunting is not easy no matter how you do it. There are miles of cornfields, hundreds or orchards and acres of grain fields in our area that attract bears in fall, and you can only be in one place at one time. Even when using baits, there is a lot that goes on between placing a bait and taking that first shot at a bear. Baits must be fresh and attractive to bears (sweets, breads, dog food, molasses, honey, barbecue sauce and scents are among the basic attractants), they must be replenished at least every few days and you don’t want to hunt a bait site too frequently or the animals will either abandon it or become nocturnal.
“Easy” as baiting sounds, not every bait hunter shoots a bear. A variety of conditions control the success (or lack of it) at a given bait site. I’ve waited over baits and had nothing come in, or have had just sows and cubs, or just cubs, or just small bears . . . the combinations of “wrong” are endless.
In general, most big bears (the old boars) won’t show up till near dark. You may have mere seconds to decide if that’s the bear you want and to make a good shot, and many times the curtain closes on another day without filling a tag.
Productive as placed baits are, I much prefer doing some scouting and finding where bears have been targeting corn, apples, cherry trees, beechnuts or acorns. I enjoy looking for bear sign (tracks, scratched trees, broken branches, etc.) and then finding a place to sit where the incoming bear won’t see or hear me. For pure excitement, you can’t beat a ripe cornfield at dusk. You can hear the bears coming in to feed, you can hear them thrashing around in the corn just out of sight and, many times, you may hear several bears in one field and it’s getting darker every minute!
At some point you realize that you can’t see any bears but you can hear them, and then you realize that they can hear YOU when it’s time to leave. There is nothing more thrilling than walking out of a cornfield in the dark knowing there are several bears within a stone’s throw and they are listening as you go. If that doesn’t raise the hackles on the back of your neck, nothing will!
It’s safe to say that most bears taken over bait are shot in the evening. The animals spend most of the day lounging around, moving toward food sources only during the last minutes of daylight. Younger bears tend to come in first and earliest, while older, bigger bears wait till dusk. The black bear hierarchy is well defined, and when the big bears move in the little ones scatter. Over the course of a night all the bait may be eaten (especially when it’s served up in buckets and barrels!), but it may be the work of several bears throughout the night.
The advantage of baiting is that the incoming bear is focused on food, which gives the hunter time to evaluate the animal. Few hunters want to shoot a cub or yearling so they mark a tree, barrel or pole to give them a comparison point for determining the size of a the bear. In general, a bear whose back is even with or higher than a 55-gallon drum is a “shooter.” Or, if the bear’s back is higher than 30 inches, he’s a good one. I like to go by the “bucket rule.” If the bear’s head won’t fit into a 5-gallon pail, he’s a trophy!
There are a few days left of summer, but another hunting season is fast upon us. Save your donuts and pastries for a better use the bears will love you for it!