After only a few hours of googling, ” bear baiting for dummies ” I finally felt like I was ready to start baiting in some bears. I had never bear hunted before but I had gone a couple of times with a friend to bait his sites when I was a kid. That was the extension of my bear hunting resume. There wasn’t much to my resume but I knew by the time the year was over, I would be able to add a whole lot more. The Spring season had already begun by the time I registered my bait sites but I wasn’t going to let that deter me. I had my spirits, confidence and elevation high! The first few times of hiking in a mile off the road to my bait sites with 50 pound packs full of rotten meat, I had quite a bit of pep in my step. I kept thinking how awesome it was going to be to be able to say I just started baiting this year and basically taught myself all I know. Of course I would be telling this story while showing everyone the picture of the 8 foot, 500 pound color phase bear I shot 20 yards with my bow. At least that’s how I was picturing it in my head. The thought of all the wonderful, possible outcomes is what kept me going as I was walking back and forth with huge pack frames full of rotten meat and as I was pulling maggots out of my hair. The whole bear baiting process is definitely not a glamorous one but I thought it would be something new and exciting to try and I was anxious to see all of my hard work pay off.
The first couple of times of taking the bait in, I would basically run to the sites to check to see if anything had been in there eating on either of my baits. A few days after I had started baiting, I noticed that my bait had been messed with. I tried looking for bear paw prints to see what size of bear he was and any other clues that would tell me how big of a bear I had coming in. I took the SD card out of my trail camera and sprinted back to my truck. I was out of breath, smelled like death and was covered in sweat but I just knew that it was all about to be worth it when I put that sweet little SD card into my camera to see what had been eating on my bait. I pushed the card in and took a few deep breaths as I waited for my camera to turn on. I couldn’t wait to see what it was, visions of different bears were flashing through my head like flash cards. I glanced down at my camera and my heart dropped like a bad breakup. I had 58 pictures. 58 pictures of a magpie and his loud, obnoxious squirrel friend eating my bait. I sat there with my kicked in the gut feeling for a while, wondering what I was doing wrong. I had talked to some of my other friends who had bait sites in the area and their sites were being hit by actual bears. I felt defeated. The high I was on had blown away in the Mountain wind after I saw those pictures.
My boss Stacy from the show I work for, His & Hers Outdoors came out the first week of June which was only a couple weeks after I started baiting to try to hunt bears with me. Our initial plan was to sit in the brush blinds I had made at each bait site and film each other taking a bear with our bows. When there had been absolutely no bear activity at either of my sites, we resorted to spot and stalk hunting. We spent a week covering that Mountain. It felt like we had left no rock unturned but yet we were had not seen any bear sign anywhere that we had gone. I knew one spot that there were bears for sure but the snow still had not melted enough to get there. Believe me, we tried and I ended up getting us stuck in a snow drift for a few hours. This was the first time I had ever met Stacy and I wasn’t making a very good impression. No bears anywhere and I got us stuck in a snow drift. Definitely not the impression I was hoping to make on my new boss! By the time the week was over, we were both just exhausted. We had been getting up early, covering every bit of the Mountain that we could during the day and then getting to bed late. Doing that over and over is fine as long as you’re getting into some sort of sign or are seeing something but when you are not seeing a dang thing, it gets to be very exhausting.
The season came to a close and I had 7 days to get my bait barrels out of my sites. I had read that it was better to leave them in as long as you can so that the bears get accustomed to there being food there and then they will start coming in a lot sooner the next go round. I left mine there until the very last day. I figured I needed all the help I could get. I walked in very heavy footed. I was bummed that I had not seen a bear and there was no bears going to my bait sites that I had worked so hard on. When I arrived at the first bait site, I was astonished. The barrel had been moved and without even getting all the way up to it, I could see that the bait was gone. I felt a very large grin cover my face. I quickly gathered up all of my stuff and booked it out of there. I got to my truck in record time and knew this time that there had been bears at the site. I once again took my SD card out of my trailcam and put it in my camera. I had 117 pictures. This time they were almost all of BEARS! They had started coming in basically the same day the season closed. But at this time, I didn’t care. I felt accomplished! I had done it, I had taken the time to learn and taken the time to really dedicate myself to it and it paid off in the end. I had multiple bears coming in to my bait site. I couldn’t wait to check on the other site. I drove up the road and then made the mile trek into my next site. As I was walking up on my second one, I was once again astonished. The barrel had been completely flipped around and drug out all the way until it was at the end of the large chain I had on it. There was nothing at all left in the barrel. I happily packed everything out and threw it all in my truck. Only hours before I had felt so low on the whole situation. I thought I had really messed it up and waisted all that time and money on absolutely nothing. Now my spirits were soaring sky high! I realized I was doing everything right, I had just been too impatient and had started baiting too late. I knew exactly what I was going to do for the Fall season.
It seemed like it had taken years for the Fall season to begin. The first day you were allowed to go set baits out, I was there. I had gotten up early and by 11 am both of my sites were set up and ready to go. It took only two days before the bears started coming in regularly to the bait sites and I was making sure to keep them constantly stocked with rotten meat and Boarmasters additives. They were eating it up faster than I could get it in there. The afternoon before opening day of the actual hunting season, I went in to check the bait levels and restock if needed. When I approached my first bait, it was almost empty. I added some more meat to it and then as I was turning around to leave I noticed a huge tuft of blonde hair on one of the trees that was on the trail the bears were taking to come to the bait. I couldn’t believe it, was I actually going to get an opportunity at a blonde bear?! The thought was consuming me and all the possibilities were running through my head. I don’t think I slept at all that night. We had come up with the game plan to do some spot and stalk deer hunting opening morning since it’s too hard to try to get into the bait spots in the morning while the bears are actively feeding. The last thing I wanted to do was spook all the bears out of my sites and then end up eating my tag. I crawled out of bed super early that morning ready to start my opening day. I had my mind set on trying to shoot a deer in the morning and hopefully then a bear at night. What an amazing opening day that would be right?!
The sunrise was a gorgeous hue of light pink and blue. I developed a feeling that this was going to be the day. Then after driving around for hours and scouting different areas for deer, I had almost given up. I had seen a few decent bucks but nothing that I was interested in shooting. We pointed the truck back to camp and started heading that way. I got that agonizing feeling of defeat again, I had my hopes so high on taking a nice mule deer buck on opening morning. I wasn’t ready to give up and go back to camp yet but it was time to start getting everything put together for the evening hunt. Just as the last little bit of hope slipped out of me, I looked up and was startled. Not too far from us something ran across the road and down into the trees. It took me a second but I finally realized what it was. It was a bear! Now this is where my adrenaline started flowing through my veins and I became a totally different person. I like to think of my adrenaline jacked up self as one of my alter egos. She’s much blonder than I and doesn’t think things through. That’s exactly what I did at this moment. I switched into Rambo mode or maybe Chuck Norris mode. I grabbed my bow, ONE arrow and my rangefinder and then what did I do? I took off running after the bear. Yes, I actually took off in a dead run straight after the bear. Who does that?! Apparently, my alter ego does. The normal me usually doesn’t leave the truck with out my handgun on my side for a just in case and about 8 days supply of food. It was like a game of cat and mouse. It was hard to see in the dense forest and every sound I heard I thought was the bear. Then it finally happened. I came face to face with this gorgeous black bear. We were only 40 yards apart. She had a big white patch over her chest and was stunning. This was the first bear I had ever seen this close up. I drew my bow back, steadied my adrenaline pumped self, waited for a perfect broadside shot and pulled my release. I watched as my arrow made a perfect pass through on her. She ran off and seconds later I heard her do the death moan that bears do when they are dying. This was the first time that I had ever heard the death moan and I don’t know if it was my “girly” side or just the emotions of everything that had gone on but I teared up. It is something that you have to experience to really get the full feeling of, there are no words that can even come close to describing exactly how I was feeling at that moment. I walked up to my bear and still couldn’t believe what had just happened and just how dumb I had been. One arrow.
Written by Jennifer Bickel
Prostaff His & Hers Outdoors