All different forms of pursuing wild game have their unique and particular charms, and that’s certainly true for hunting bears over bait. It’s tougher than you might think, and extremely difficult to describe to someone who has never done it, but I’ll try.

First, it’s by no means easy, which might seem counterintuitive to the uninitiated. You put a barrel of donuts in the woods, climb up in a tree and wait; how tough can that be? To begin, you have to choose the right location to set your bait. Choose the wrong place, which includes any place a bear might not otherwise be inclined to go, and they simply won’t come, no matter how good your bait or how much you put out. Any form of human disturbance, competition from other hunters and lack of access also factor in and probably put the odds of selecting the right spot optimistically around 20%. That means 80% of bear hunters will fail at this.

Find the right place, put out the right bait and they might come – operative word being might. People often ask me what the odds are and I say, “50-50.” They’ll either come or they won’t. If they do, there’s maybe 3-to-1 odds they will only come at night. I’m not sure how to do the math, but we’re already at 33% of 50% of 20%.

If and when they do come, they’re hardly naive. They are black ghosts of the forest. Even on the calmest, quietest evening when you can literally hear the sound of crickets walking on the forest floor, you won’t hear a bear coming unless they want you to. They may spend hours circling a bait site, checking for any trace of human scent, and may stop and remain motionless for long periods looking, listening and smelling for danger. At the first hint they melt back into the forest and you’re never aware the bear was there.

Every once in a while the pieces fall into place. You pick the right place, you have been meticulous with your scent control, quiet as a mouse and still as a statue and out steps a bear. What happens next often depends on the hunter’s level of experience. When I was guiding I would tell hunters, “The first time you see a live bear, you’re going to lose your … stuff.” It doesn’t matter how much experience they have, bears can turn silverback woodsmen into gelatin. Mess up now, move a muscle, breath too loudly and the game is over, for the night, maybe the week and possibly the season. Still think it’s easy?

All of the above is a rather cursory and optimistic view of hunting bears over bait. The people who are consistently successful, and there aren’t many, understand that it is the intricacies that matter most. And that doesn’t factor in the hours and miles spent scouting to find the right place and returning on a weekly or even daily basis to re-bait, for a month before the season.

Hunting bears over bait sometimes gets an undeserved bad rap. When I was a kid, and I know I’m dating myself, we used to get these little knick-knacks with an idiomatic admonition that you should walk a mile in someone’s moccasins before judging them. If nothing else, you’ll learn how to walk quietly, like a bear.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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