Maine’s bear season begins Aug. 31 for hunters posting over man-placed baits, still hunting, sighting a bear and then stalking, or hiding by natural bait and game trails. The first tactic runs to Sept. 26 – a four-week hunt. For want of a better term, the “fair-chase” season runs to Nov. 28 – 13 weeks. Dogs are legal from Sept. 14 to Oct. 30 – seven weeks.

Folks with bear dogs can also bait in their time frame to provide canines a starting point for picking up bruin scent, but after Sept. 26, hunters cannot shoot bear over bait unless a dog has chased it first.

Black bear provide an exciting hunt for a wary game animal that also offers danger, enough to get a hunter’s attention as darkness falls in bear country – although bicycling on Augusta’s busy streets strikes me as far more risky.

Here’s a quick anecdote about bear-hunting excitement. The incident occurred with the first bear I ever shot: The hunt began on a sunny Saturday with gusting, swirling wind. I was baiting east of Sugarloaf and had bears coming to my baits, but shifting breezes can blow a hunter’s scent in all directions and frighten approaching bears.

So that day I opted to still hunt on a mountainside where raspberry cane had reclaimed an old clear-cut. Bear signs were everywhere – stool that looked like raspberry jam, broken cane, etc. Fertile soil there grew tall raspberry bushes, and the stiff wind rustled the waist- to chest-high plants, as well as beech and red maple edging the clear-cut, making it difficult to hear.

A bear concealed in canes stood up 20 yards from me so instinct took over. With no thought at all, I shot it in the eye with a 7mm Remington Magnum, creating an interesting dilemma. The raspberry-bush canopy concealed the bear, and I had no clue as to whether I had hit the eye or not.

That year, 1986, a bear hunter had shot a bear in the head a few days before and rolled it over for evisceration. At that instant the bruin jumped up, mauled the man and ran off, and the theory follows: This man’s projectile must have hit the skull at an acute angle and ricocheted off, knocking the bear out for a minute or two without leaving a nervating injury.

With that incident in mind, I crept toward the downed bear and ducked under cane, hoping to see it better. The bruin lay on its chest and stomach about eight feet away, but brush partially concealed the head and body. I could make out the front shoulder and shot again, and the discharge under the foliage canopy deafened me for an hour or more. While skinning the bear that night with two friends, I noted my second shot had missed. Old dead-eye Ken had managed to flub the second shot.

Folks who hunt or bait bear have stories, and in my humble opinion, only other bear hunters can truly appreciate these incidents:

For instance, while bow hunting in New Brunswick once, I had a huge bear walk from a thicket to my ladder stand, offering a frontal shot, an iffy angle. At the ladder, the burly bruin stood on its hind legs and put his front feet on a rung, definitely commanding my attention but still offering no good shot. Finally, he quickly turned and walked straight away out of sight – still an impossible angle for a bow shot.

While watching the bear approach, I had used a technique many bow hunters employ. I narrowed my eyes and looked slightly left of his eyes without staring directly into them. Yes, game animals and people can feel eyes boring into theirs, so wise hunters avoid staring.

Another time when younger and much more stupid, I was bow hunting over a bear bait. Before walking to the stand, I had sprayed oil of anise on the rubber bottom of my boots. An hour later, leaves rustled softly in the distance as a big bear walked toward me, following my trail while sniffing anise. The closer he got, the louder the snuffing sound. That bear followed the anise straight to my stand, offered no proper shot and stared at me from 10 feet away before bolting off, leaving me with a beating heart and typical hunter’s mantra: “I’ll get ’em tomorrow.”

That’s the beauty of bear hunting over bait. Hunters don’t get a shot with each sighting but they will see bear most years. And the encounters will create lifetime memories, and at times bear will generate so much fear that it’s difficult for a red-blooded redneck to admit it to his or her friends.

Years ago near Jackman, guide Randy Richard and I walked into a bear-bait site to replenish the food pile and stink bait, and couldn’t miss where a bear had “bulldozed” the ground big time. Neither of us said a word, and with nervous faces silently looked toward a dark, nearby thicket. We each noticed the other peering with dread at the undergrowth, making us laugh at one another. Perhaps that’s part of what bear hunting is about – confronting a childhood bogeyman hiding in a woodland thicket.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at:

[email protected]

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