Bear School: How to Hunt a Trophy Bear (Part 3) by Bill Vaznis

Part Three: Black Bear Behavior

Behavior of other bears at the site can be another indication a dominant bruin is working a particular bait. For example, a yearling bruin may eat nervously or very early in the evening, and then bolt at the slightest noise.  I once watched a yearling bear announce his arrival at a bait site by snapping branches and then huffing, puffing and popping his jaws.  “A little like a teenager whistling in the dark,” I thought to myself later.  I guess he didn’t want to run into any “big” surprises at the dinner table!

Indeed, one of the biggest mistakes neophytes make is shooting the first bear that comes to the bait. There is a social hierarchy among bears, and no place is this more evident than around a bait site.  Sows, yearlings and young boars often feed first with the big boars feeding last in the waning light.  

A subordinate boar will generally announce his arrival by purposely snapping a twig as a warning to any bears already on the bait. Subordinate bruins will generally melt back into the forest in anticipation of his arrival. The snapping of a twig also serves as a safety valve for him. The last thing he wants is to do is surprise a more mature boar at the feeding site. He knows from past experience that he is no match for the dominant bruin. 

*   *   *

Here are three bait sites for you to ponder. Which one would you choose, and how would you hunt it?

The first tree stand is situated along a seasonal stream that drains a three year old burn.  The bait has been placed just inside the alders where the stream bisects a long meadow lush with the season’s first grasses.  Your outfitter tells you the bait is being devoured nightly, and he is sure you’ll see a bear the first night you sit in the stand.  There is no well-defined trail coming into the bait, but the grass has been knocked down all around the site, and bait has been scattered all about in a wide circle.  In fact, it is such a mess the site looks like it has been hit by a tornado.

A trail camera strung adjacent to a bear trail can indicate the number and coat color of visiting bruins.

A trail camera strung adjacent to a bear trail can indicate the number and coat color of visiting bruins.

The second tree stand is on a peninsula that juts out into a remote wilderness lake.  There’s not much ground cover near the bait, but the outfitter assures you there’s a trophy bear in the vicinity.  An experienced bear hunter the previous week watched a big black circle the bait on two occasions, but the bear refused to expose himself during legal shooting hours.  Although the hunter was able to sneak out of his tree stand each evening without spooking the bear, the outfitter blames that hunter for not getting a shot because he was too fidgety in the stand.

The third bait is situated at the foot of a narrow ridge that rises out of a large, impenetrable swamp.  The spruce/fir trees are so thick here that little daylight ever reaches the forest floor.  It’s a scary place, even in the middle of the day. According to the outfitter, the tree stand is a long walk off the tote road, so you won’t be picked up until well after dark.  Make sure you wear a head net, plenty of insect repellent and a carry a spare flash light, he says.  The bait is only being hit once or twice a week, but almost all the bait is taken on each visit.  There are no well-defined trails leading to or from the bait.

Come back Monday, September 21st to learn your score.

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