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This is the final week of the 2012 bear baiting season and so far reports from the first weeks’ hunters have not been very positive. I just spoke with a group of eight hunters returning from the Shin Pond area who saw, collectively, one small bear in a week of hunting. Considering the math (six days times eight hunters equals 48 hunts) the trip was nothing short of dismal.
Last year I was in a camp near Russell Pond where 14 hunters saw only one bear. I photographed a yearling that was able to walk inside the bait barrel without touching. He spent about three hours fooling around with the barrel and its contents but wandered away well before dark and nothing else showed up except a snowshoe hare.
Having hunted black bears in Maine since I saw my first one in LaGrange back in 1962, I have to say that the present trend in baiting seems counter-productive compared to the techniques we used “back in the day.” I’ve always been old-school when it comes to hunting and one glaring difference I’ve seen over the years is that bear hunters (and guides) seem to focus all their attention on the evening portion of the hunt. I have yet to go on a bait hunt where everyone in camp doesn’t sleep late, lounge around in camp all morning, eat a big lunch at noon, and take a nap for a few hours and then head for the stands around 3 p.m. It’s common “knowledge” these days that the bears won’t come to the bait till late afternoon or near dusk, but I think precious hours of hunting time are being wasted waiting for mid-afternoon to arrive.
In many cases the hunters arrive at their bait sites late in the afternoon to find that the site has been hit by a bear. Everyone automatically assumes that the animal came in after dark. This is where I start wondering. As is often the case when faced with any adversary, it’s folly to underestimate one’s opponent, and bear hunters are no different. We’ve programmed ourselves to think that the bears feed only in late evening or at night when in fact at this time of year they eat as much and as often as they can – night or day.
I have seen, hunted and shot bears at all times of the day in fall including dawn, late morning, noon and mid-afternoon – they’re everywhere and they are hungry, working hard to put on calories before they begin to enter their winter dens (some as early as mid-October).
What strikes me is that those 48-man days of hunting are only half the hours those hunters could be spending at their stands, and I am willing to bet that the per-camp harvest would increase at least 25 percent of all of the hunters went on stand at dawn and stayed till dark. Deer hunters do it – why not bear hunters? I’m also willing to bet that a percentage of those baits sites are being visited by bears somewhere between dawn and 3 p.m. It makes sense if you are a bear – it’s quiet in the woods, the bait is plentiful and fresh and you’ve learned that there won’t be any human activity till later in the day.
I know the gripe from hunters will be that being on stand from dawn till dark makes for a very long day, and that is true – it can be boring if you are not the type who can sit for hours with nothing going on – but do you want a bear or not?
Rather than be among the 90 percent of the afternoon hunters who won’t see a bear all week, I’d prefer to be on stand at dawn and stay put till dark just because there is a chance an “early” bruin may show up. Fortunately, I have the capacity to zone out and not think about the ticking clock for many hours at a time, so sitting all day is no big challenge for me. I do it when I’m duck hunting, squirrel hunting, deer hunting and trolling for salmon. What’s so hard about sitting all day and waiting for a bear to come in?
If you are on stand 25 or 30 yards from the bait you are more likely to see a bear than you would be sitting around camp playing cribbage or telling stories. If you are paying to hunt and want a bear badly enough, spend your time where it will do the most good – in a stand or blind staring at that bait pile.
Bring extra water and snacks as well as something to divert your attention as you while away the hours (a fat book is always a good idea, or do crosswords or word searches). Remember that in any bear camp you can try a different stand each day. Your guides should know which baits are being hit before 3 p.m. and, if they bait early and late in the day, can tell you that a bear hit a particular bait sometime between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. That is the stand you want because you know that sometime between sunrise and noontime that bear was at the bait. If he turns out to be a yearling or a sow with cubs, simply ask the guide to suggest another active site. Most guides have dozens of active sites, far more than they have hunters to sit at them, and if you let your guide know that you are willing to sit all day for a shot at a bear, he will do his best to accommodate you.
It doesn’t take nerves of steel to sit for 14 hours a day, just a strong will and a desire to bag a bear. Believe me, even if you do sit all day every day the week will go by quickly, and just like that your hunt will be over for another year.
I am not going to say that every hunter who sits all day is going to bag a record-class bear, but it makes sense that if you double your time on stand your odds for success will go up accordingly. Try it every other day, two days per week or even once per week, but find a way to spend more time in the woods. That’s where the bears are and that’s where you should be, too!
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