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I thought it serendipitous the other day to find the track of a black bear in the dirt among the blueberry bushes. It’s only logical that the bruins themselves should remind me that there is less than a month to go before Maine’s 2012 bear hunting season begins. With only a few short months to fatten themselves before they head into their winter dens, the animals will be busy gorging on wild foods (and hunter’s pastries) for as long as the larder is open.
The fun begins Aug. 27 for bait hunters, whose season lasts through Sept. 22. Baits may be placed starting 30 days before the season opens (to give bears time to decide if they prefer donuts, dog food, candy or a combination of all three). This means we are already two days into the fun part of the hunt, which mostly involves lugging buckets of secretly prepared goodies into secluded sites where, we hope, a bevy of bears will find it, like it and keep coming to it till the season opens. Let’s see, one 5-gallon bucket full of sweets every day for 30 days . . . the math is astounding considering that most hunters consider five bait stations the minimum for odds-on hunting, and most professional guides may put 100 or more baits out each year. Now we are talking tons of bait that has to be procured, transported, sorted, placed into buckets, hauled to the bait site and poured into another bucket or barrel . . . lots of work involved in hunting bears the “easy” way!
The average person might still think that offering hungry bears a pile of free donuts is not very sporting, but there are no guarantees. In fact, last year I hunted over bait with three different guides in Maine and Quebec and, counting the 14 hunters in one came, 26 in another and five in another we spent a total of 270 hunter-days braving heat, cold, bugs, wind and rain and not one of us saw a bear! Hmmm . . . where are those people who keep saying that “baiting bears is too easy?”
There is only one reason bears will come to a bait – hunger – but there are many reasons why they will not. Abundant natural foods (mountain ash was the primary culprit last year), bears not visiting the baits during daylight hours, bad weather, ill winds (blowing to the bait instead of away from it) and dozens of other maladies affect hunter success and, last year, success was not terribly rampant. I did see a small bear on one hunt that was able to walk in and out of a toppled barrel without touching (nothing more than a fat cub) and I saw a gigantic bruin that wandered by one time but never offered a shot. Otherwise it was sit and wait, watch and wonder, hope for the best and take what comes – which was nothing.
The recent sighting of a bear crossing the road in my area has caused a stir among the neighbors and talk of putting out baits is rampant, but those who think that all they have to do is set up one bait site and shoot a bear on it have a lot to learn – and spend!
A bear hunting permit for the baiting season will cost $27 for residents, $74 for non-residents (not including the agent’s fee). Permits are also required to bait on Maine’s Public Reserved Lands and landowner permission is required to set up bait sites on private lands. Expect additional fees if you plan to bait on certain private lands and paper company lands. Always find and acquire landowner permission before setting out bear baits.
Did I mention that it requires a lot of work and expense to establish bait sites for bears, replenish baits regularly and find enough bait to keep the animals interested throughout the season? Add to that the cost of blinds and tree stands, bait buckets and barrels and, when it’s all said and done the chore of cleaning up all bait sites when the season ends. Remember that all baits, barrels, buckets and other containers (as defined by the state’s litter laws) must be removed by Oct. 31.
Obviously, hunting bears over bait is not as simple, cheap or easy as it may initially sound. Throw in some diurnal bears (those that only come to the bait after dark), abundant natural foods that bears normally prefer over baits, bad weather and a myriad of other wrenches tossed into the works and it’s easy to see that this is not just another Yogi Bear Jellystone Park picnic.
And yet a track in the dirt, a random sighting of a bear crossing the road and the next thing you know an August bear hunt is on the agenda. If hunting bears over bait piques your interest (it is, after all, the most productive method for taking a bear in Maine), log onto the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Web site (www.mefishwildlife.com) and study up on permit and license fees, regulations and tagging instructions in effect for the 2012 bear-hunting season which, technically, is already under way.
Like most sporting undertakings, bear baiting is a tad more complicated than it appears. But, just this morning I had a fine breakfast of eggs, home-made toast and bear hot sausage, reminding me just how enjoyable a successful bear hunt can be. Bear meat has always had a great reputation as being tender and tasty, and if my feedback from last week’s column is any indication it is at least as delicious as a plateful of summertime bullheads!
July may seem a bit early to be thinking about hunting season but while writing this week’s column I happened to wander into the garden for a look at the cucumbers, broccoli and peppers and what do you know – there were deer tracks and signs of whitetails nibbling down every row. It just never ends!
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