After following along with Top Priority Hunting’s 2018 bear hunting season on YouTube this spring, we (Joel, Ryan, and myself) decided running a bear bait could be a great way to get out this spring, stretch the legs, do some scouting for fall, and perhaps even take a bear or two. We had no idea how much excitement this bear season would hold. Here is a recap of our season.
Pick a General Location. We knew a few areas that held bears from our experience hunting, and we listened up whenever there was a good bear hunting podcast. Brian Barney with Eastman’s Elevated put a couple great ones late winter that helped us decide on a location–close to grass, close to or near rocky areas where a den might be, and not too low in the elevation (as the snow would continually melt through the season and impact bear activity).
Start Gathering Supplies. We used a combination of molasses oats and old bread as the base for our bait. We also tried out a variety of scents and flavorings, including Moutlrie’s and Boar Masters among others. We also contacted a few local eateries about getting their old grease and picked up some chocolate sauce containers on the cheap from Costco. One truck load from the bread shop took care of our bread needs for about $20. As for the barrel, a friend helped us weld a chain to the barrel and cut a small hole in the side to limit the amount the bears could get to at a time.
Set the Bait and Camera. We mulled over a few specific locations, but ultimately went a little higher up the mountain to set the barrel. We rode four wheelers a mile or two in and then hiked the last half mile or so straight up. It wasn’t so bad the first time. But the second, third, fourth, etc. time doing that hike with heavy packs full of bear bait got old fast. (Note to self for next time.) We picked a flat spot near a grassy park, dammed off the back of the barrel to force bears to enter from the direction of our stands and camera, and hacked off some limbs for the tree stands.
Feed the Bears. The next few weeks were a waiting game. Since it was a new bait site, it took a while for the bears to start hitting it. We had it set up on April 17 or so, and didn’t have our first bear until May 7, I believe. But once the bears started to come in, it didn’t take long for a lot of different bears to start hitting the bait. Between the three of us, we made sure to restock the bait about once a week, sometimes twice a week. We arm twisted whatever buddies we could get to come help us carry the bait up the steep hill to the site. Most of the bear action was at night, but early morning and later evening hours also started to produce some bear activity.
The Hunt. We initially hunted the bait from the tree stands we set up. Unfortunately, we had assumed thermals would get the wind in our favor nicely for an evening hunt, without thoroughly vetting the directionals that time of day. Unfortunately, there was a fairly constant directional blowing up the draw. The bears were coming in above the stand, so any chance at sitting the stand and taking a bear were nixed early on. However, we shifted strategy a bit by coming in around and high, above the bait, and watching from a distance before stalking in. This produced some good encounters.
Joel’s Shot. The first encounter that produced a shot occurred in late May. Joel went in with archery tackle, hung out above the bait, the snuck in when he saw activity. He was able to sneak in to about 40 yards, and made what we thought was a pretty good shot on a bear. But unfortunately he was not able to recover the bear. We saw it show up a few days later on the trail camera and were not able to locate a carcass as the season went on.
Tayler’s Bear. I went up again a few days later, rifle in hand. I’d never taken a bear and didn’t have much more time to hunt. I wanted to get it done. So I sat up above the bait about 200 yards away with a good wind and waited. For about three or four hours. Finally, I heard the chains of the bait rattle. A couple blonde color phase black bears (they were regulars) showed up. I had already decided if the bigger of the two showed up, I would make an effort to take him. The trees around the bait were thick, and I didn’t have a clear shot, so I started slowly sneaking in. It took about five minutes, but I crept through the trees to about 60 yards before I had a good opening. I sat, rested the Tikka 6.5 Creedmore on my knee and waited for the right shot. The bigger of the two blondies walked back into view near the bait and sat down, facing immediately away from me. He slowly started to quarter to the left. I waited until he quartered enough to give me a good shot at the lungs on his opposite side–he did so a few second later, and I squeezed the trigger. He jumped, yowled and headed down hill out of view. The other bear lumbered off in confusion and stopped about forty yards to my right. I told him to move along and he obliged. After calling Ryan, my wife, and my dad, giving the bear a bit to bleed out and die, I hiked down to the bait. There was good blood. I peeked over the ledge and could see my bear piled up. Success! He was a younger boar with a beautiful blonde coat!
Blake’s Shot. Ryan’s younger brother Blake had been staying with us this summer, moving pipe for a local rancher. He hasn’t shown a lot of interest in hunting, but when he came up, he decided to give a bear hunt a go. So we signed him up for Idaho’s mentored hunter passport and Ryan and Joel took Blake to the bait. (Blake had also helped me haul in bait on one prior occasion, so he had some skin in the game.) On back to back nights Blake had a shot at that smaller blonde bear and unfortunately wasn’t able to connect. It was a good lesson for him that hunting doesn’t always come easy, and it’s important to invest time on the front end to practice shooting more and make sure you’re comfortable behind the trigger.
Summary. We made about 20 collective trips in to our bait with 50-70 pound packs. We probably saw about 25 different bears on camera, including two or three really quality boars. These big males rarely hit the bait during shooting hours, but it was fun to watch them through trail camera pictures. Ultimately we were able to come away with one really cool blonde bear and a ton of memories and lessons for next year. We feel bear hunting is an important part of conservation and were glad to do our part this year. Not only is bear meat good eating, but controlling the bear population is important to our elk and deer populations.