Bob Robb-baited black bear: I shot this dandy bear over bait in south central Alaska. Swirling winds make following a rigorous scent control program essential!
It?s spring, when the thoughts of many bowhunters turn to hunting black bears. And for many of us, that means hunting over baits.
Bait hunting is not the slam dunk many would have you believe. Black bears can be quite cautious around a bait station, something very true when you are hunting with guides who tend to over-pressure certain bait stands. Thus, bowhunters must be extremely conscious of both their scent and sitting in stands where bears can easily pick them up visually. Failure to guard against being smelled or seen is a guarantee of a week of endless frustration.
The common myth is that bears have poor eyesight, so you do not need to be worried about being seen. Balderdash. Most baits are hunted by bowhunters and those using crossbows at close range, and at these distances bears can and will see you if you are careless. If they see you, they usually will simply melt back into the forest, never to be seen again. There are three things you can do.
Hide In Plain Sight:
First, where legal wear drab or camouflage clothing, not blaze orange. Match your camouflage pattern to the surrounding foliage, and don?t forget to cover your shiny face and hands ? which can often be accomplished by wearing a mosquito head net and light gloves. In Saskatchewan, where full blaze orange or all-white jumpsuits are the law, do your best when in the stand to cover up as much or your body as you can with surrounding brush, limbs, leaves, or portable camouflage netting.
Second, set your stands in cover so they do not stick out like a sore thumb. Ground blinds need to be built so they blend into the existing terrain, using natural branches and brush and disturbing as little natural cover as possible. Tree stands must be set in trees with lots of leaves, like evergreens or leafed-out aspen or poplar. Try and keep other dark trees in the background to help break up your outline. In both cases, set stands where they will be in the evening shade, not the direct sunlight.
Third, keep movement on stand to a minimum. Black bears, and especially mature boars, are very cautious when they approach a bait site ? especially one that has been used a lot during that season. They hold back in the shadows, watching, smelling, and listening from trouble. Doing the hully-gully in a treestand, making noise like shuffling your feet, ripping the zippers of your pack open and shut, banging metal, or coughing are excellent ways to go bearless.
Smell No Evil :
Never, ever forget the fact that black bears live in a world of smell. Their noses are extremely keen, and they use them both to find food and to avoid danger. You must minimize human odor at the bait site for consistent success.
Once I get my bait built and stand hung, I try and wear rubber gloves when baiting. I do not want to leave an inordinate amount of my smell around the bait. I also wear either knee-high rubber boots or a pair of standard hunting boots featuring the Gore-Tex Scent-Lok membrane, a breathable membrane that blocks 100 percent of human odor.
Just as importantly, I spray myself down with an odor-eliminating spray before walking in, and make sure I wear the same outerwear I will wear on stand. Why? Because while I am trying to reduce the amount of human odor around the bait, I know I cannot possibly eliminate it all. When a bear smells a human at my bait, I want him to smell me, and associate my smell with food. If I have a friend who will be hunting my bait, I get a piece of his clothing and bring it with me to hang near the bait. I also make sure I hang a clean rag in a tree near the bait and spray it with the brand of mosquito repellent I use. In many areas in spring, sitting over a bait without any bug dope on is about as smart as sitting in a cave full of vampire bats. Again, I want the bear to associate this smell with food.
What if you are on a guided hunting trip, where a guide or outfitter has done all the baiting? In this case, I want the same guide who has been setting the bait out all spring to be the one to keep feeding my bait station if at all possible. As the spring unfolds, a bear will soon associate the smell of this guy or gal with food, greatly minimizing its skittishness when a human being walks to and from the barrel. I ask them to please hang a rag soaked with whatever bug dope they recommend at the bait site as they begin baiting it, and this is the same brand I?ll use when hunting. The idea here is twofold ? try and minimize human odor the bear is not used to and does not associate with food while letting him smell the baiter, knowing he will associate this smell with food and not be alarmed by it.
Taking it to the next level, remove all the smelly lubricants from your bow or firearm. Wash your slings, wrist watch band, day pack, and other odor traps in unscented soap with a healthy scoop of baking soda added for good measure. Store everything in a scent-free plastic bag or tub, putting it on just before entering the woods.
Does this work? I think it helps tremendously. Many times I have been able to set up a bait station, sit on stand, and observe bears every shift. Then I will have a friend go and sit there, and they see nothing. The only difference is they are bringing a new smell to the party.
The key is to set up your stands, then hunt out of them, as if you were hunting the wariest whitetail buck. Just like when hunting a mature buck, if an old boar is your goal, take nothing for granted. Your chances for success will increase exponentially.