Early Black Bear Baiting and Scouting

by Naomi K. Shapiro

Black Bear Eating Apples From A Bait Pile - Image caught on trail cam and uploaded by site member.Ever wonder why the SAME black bear hunters consistently get a bear year after year? Accomplished bear hunter and guide, Phil Schweik knows why. It's because these successful hunters know how crucial -- indeed critical -- it is to start doing your scouting and baiting early in the year. Throwing out a bait pile or trekking a trail or two a couple of weeks before the season opens and hoping for the best will not get that black bear. Of course, every once in a while, a hunter here and there who waited until the last minute to scout and bait will get a bear, but not with any consistency.

In this article, we're going to discuss the regs that apply in Wisconsin. Check out your own state's bear hunting regs. No game warden in Minnesota will show you much sympathy if you cite a Wisconsin reg that doesn't apply in Minnesota -- whether you root for the Viking's or not!

First, start baiting and scouting as soon as spring "comes around the corner" -- usually in April, but it could be earlier depending on the seasonal change. In the spring, Black bears finish their winter hibernation. They're absolutely starving for food -- literally! They haven't eaten in months. You want to look for the absolute most tangled, swampy, thicket layers of "stuff" that you can find. It's the kind of cover that you don't think you can even walk through. It makes Harry Potter's forests look like a city park. That's what you want to find, because that's where the bears will locate. They choose these areas because they're not bothered in them.

Set up near and around these areas. Look for signs -- a trail, footprints, markings, scat - - whatever. And then seek out the worst possible dirty, gnarled spot, even if you haven't much, if any "sign." That's the general area you're going to want to bait. After you've narrowed an area down, look for a good access point considering wind direction (bears have an extremely sensitive sense of smell – whether it be bait or a human being) -- where the bears will move through. Find cover -- a downed tree, a turned-over stump, a depression in the ground, etc. In Wisconsin, the bait must be concealed, but it's essential that where you conceal bait must be in a "totally natural setting."

Don't saturate any ONE AREA with bait stations. Put one bait station in any one single area. If bears find too many bait stations, they won't come to only the one where you want to set up your stand (consider where you want to locate your stand before you bait!). By putting up one bait station in one area, the bears will be directed to that one spot – and where you also are set up with your stand.

Set up maybe six to eight bait stations in several different contiguous areas – which means you'll be doing a LOT OF SCOUTING! Walk through the whole target area, and don't whine. It's tough. It can be frustrating. But in the end, if you've done "your homework," you're going to get your bear -- and probably be able to choose from several!

Wisconsin allows ten gallons of bait in any one station. You don't need to use that much. Half of that is plenty. As the season progresses, you will note which bait stations produce the best results. Then what you do is narrow things down and concentrate on three stations. You'll then be able to hunt three different areas when the season arrives. If you keep your producing bait stations filled, the bears will concentrate on their favorite station and keep coming back throughout the pre-season. If you get the bears coming to a bait station starting in the spring, that station will continue to "hold" them through the actual season.

Take the time and make the effort. In the end it's the same: Hard work and dedication pays off... big-time!

(Phil Schweik of Hooksetters Guide Services contributed to this article).

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Meet Naomi Shapiro Minimize

Outdoor writer and hunter Naomi ShapiroNaomi K. Shapiro and Stuart Spitz write about hunting, fishing, nature, outdoors and travel for a variety of media. They lived on a lake in the middle of the Chequamegon National Forest in Northern Wisconsin for fifteen years (where the elk were reintroduced; a number of wolf packs exist; and that has the largest-per-acre black bear population in North America).