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If you are a Minnesota resident and enjoy the challenge of big-game hunting, we probably don’t have to tell you that applications for the fall black bear season have officially opened up! When it comes to hunting big bruins or even little Boo-Boos you need to consider a lot of different elements that are truly unique to the species. You cannot hunt them like a whitetail or turkey or elk. They have peculiar behavior, anatomy, diet, and depending on where you live, acceptable hunting styles can vary as well.
For those of us in Minnesota looking to set the stage for success this upcoming bear hunting season, there are a lot of things we can do to prepare. Knowing the right type of bait for where you live, being mindful of other animals in the area, and understanding bear anatomy are all important factors. Here are some important and sometimes overlooked components of preparing for bear hunting. These hold true regardless which region of the country you’re hunting.
When it comes to baiting for bears not many people put much strategic thought into it. For many people, the general rule of thumb is to get as much bait as possible for as cheap as possible. I would not dispute that logic, but I would add an additional point to it: assess what other animals might be eating your bait and whether or not you want them making an appearance during your hunt.
To the first point, you really cannot get too much bait in preparation for bear hunting, that’s assuming you have bears in the area you intend to hunt. One or two adult black bears of moderate size (roughly 200 lbs or larger) can easily decimate a 100 – 200 lbs of bait in a matter of days. If there is hunting competition in your area, keeping an active bait site can become pivotal to your success. If your bait runs out, a bear may vacate that site never to return that season. Once a bear’s attention is captured, it’s best to maintain it and avoid competing with other nearby bait sites altogether. That can typically be accomplished by ensuring the site is freshened up frequently enough that it never completely disappears.
As far as getting cheap bait, I would not contend that idea either. Most of the bear bait I have successfully used in previous seasons is expired grocery store food bought in bulk at vastly discounted prices (relative to if it had not expired and was still consumable for humans).
Finally, the most important thing to address in your choice of bear bait is what will it attract aside from bears? If you are in an area where wolves are present, you will want to avoid meat and other related items (fryer grease, fat, tallow, other game carcasses, etc). All these aforementioned food types fall within the diet of a wolf and they can at times dominate your bait. Bears and wolves do not mingle well, and if a pack of wolves are parked on your bait a solitary bear may wait for them to leave. These could be precious daylight hunting hours, and the last thing you want is your bear to only hit your bait site at night. No tags will get filled that way.
Look at less common things like fruit-based items (pie filling, jelly donut filling, fruit snacks); grains (corn, wheat, trail mix); and/or natural food sources (plums, apples, pumpkins). These food choices should not attract competing wolves and be more driven towards a bear’s burgeoning appetite before hibernation. You might have an abundance of birds, squirrels, and even a raccoon or pine marten, but that shouldn’t deter your target, and often serves as some interesting entertainment until he arrives.
When it comes to shot placement, most of us are familiar with where to place our well-aimed shot on a whitetail deer. Viewing a deer perfectly broadside, you follow their front leg up into their shoulder and shoot for that pocket. At ground level, this will likely get you a heart or heart/double-lung shot resulting in a quick, humane kill. If you replicate the same shot placement on a bear, you might miss those pivotal vitals entirely. A bear’s heart and lungs are set further back than a deer’s. A better placed shot on a bear (broadside, ground level) would be to follow the leg up to the shoulder pocket and then aim 4” – 5” further back. This placement will result in that much desired heart or heart/double-lung shot.
Some simple additional tips that no bear hunter should overlook involve a bit of your gear and strategy. When you choose your firearm for bear hunting, whether it is a big-bore handgun, rifle, shotgun, or even a muzzleloader, sight in your firearm for the distance you will be shooting. Bear hunting is often a very controlled situation. You are over a bait, in possibly a shaded-in woods, and at times your shooting lanes can be very finite. If you know you will be sitting 20 yards from your bait and that is your furthest shot, sight your firearm in for that distance. A 100 yard zero could make you miss a shot at 5 – 15 yards so it’s best to sight in your firearm for your specific hunting situation.
This might go without saying in the 21st century, but we are going to say it anyway, let technology be your friend. Use all kinds of trail cameras. I like to have at least one at every bait site. Cover the basics like making sure the battery never goes dead, the memory card never reaches capacity, and survey your hunting population. If one bait is decimated by huge bears, but it is only at night, odds are you will not get a shot during daylight hours. Conversely, if you have a second bait site with much less action, but it is always during legal hunting hours, your odds of successfully getting a bear in the truck are much better.
Also, be willing to change where you hunt. A prime example happened to me last year where my most promising bait site before the season opened did not provide the action I thought it would during the season. Loggers came into my area and resoundingly ruined any chance I had of seeing a bear. I reluctantly freshened up what I thought was a less desirable bait site I had set out earlier and immediately filled my tag. The allure of a huge bear from pre-season photos and my stubbornness to not leave my original bait site almost lead to me not filling my tag. Through more clairvoyant, sage advice from seasoned hunters, a regrouped plan of attack, and a willingness to change sites, I punched my tag after all.
Many of the same basic principles that apply to other big-game species extend over to bear hunting as well. Even though black bears can look fat and lazy, they are kings of their domain. They have a great sense of smell. Even though your bait might stink like 10 different varieties of funk you should be excluded from that list. Monitor your scent control strategy with common sense. Wear clean, unscented hunting clothes for your hunt.
Also, do not be goofing on your phone or daydreaming because you think I’ll hear the bear coming because you will not. The soft pads of their feet and their high-alert for danger around this “suddenly appeared huge pile of food” is going to have them cautious.
Finally, if you are hunting with a firearm, choose the largest caliber you can confidently shoot and carry into the woods. The reason being is you are hunting a huge animal. Moreover, they have an ever-growing, thick layer of fat they are building up for their impending hibernation. If you hit a big, fat bear and do not see it go down, he/she may not leave a blood trail to follow. The fatty layer underneath their hide can act almost as a self-healing hole. You may have made a perfect shot and they will bleed out internally and perish 100 yards away, but the entry and exit hole from your shot might not leave you much to track. That is why the smackdown of a bigger caliber could be helpful in rolling up your bear within eyesight, or at least provide a higher likelihood of something to track.
Overall, if you have never hunted black bear before it can be tremendously fun. For many it brings a whole new dimension into your hunting skill set and the meat is absolutely delicious. Have you previously hunted black bear or other bear species in the US or Canada? Let us know what you think in the Comments below! We always appreciate your feedback. Happy hunting!