"THE HUNT part 1" Bear Hunting 2007
|General Hunting - Preparation|
By Linda Burch
I thought for this year’s bear hunting I would do something different… a series of informational articles about what the hunt is really about. First let me say, I have been on fully guided bear hunts a couple of times in my life, just to see if I was doing things right with my own efforts. I would more call a guided bear hunt “killing” than hunting however, since someone else does all the work. If one looks up the word HUNT in the dictionary, you would have to agree. The guided hunts were fun, but doing my own bait is the real deal and I have loved every minute of it from the first year I struggled dragging a deer drag sled full of bait through the woods before I had ATV trails or even a cabin.
With bear hunting, 99% of the hunt is the preparation and we are blessed to get the 1% which is the harvest. Also, that preparation is almost year round, not just a few weeks ahead of time. The accumulation and storage of bait is a formidable task, as is the baiting itself. This won’t be your typical “on line hunt,” as in, a day by day accounting. Bear hunting in Minnesota is done mostly by baiting and the baiting season opens (August 15th) about two weeks before the actual opener (Sep. 1st this year). Because I work during the week, I need to put out 150 pounds or more of bait each time, to last 5-6 days before I can bait again. I will usually bait four times before opener.
Bear hunting is a solo sport, for the most part too. This is partially because those of us who are fanatics do not want to introduce more than our own scent to wary bears at a bait site because that means higher odds of seeing an animal during legal hunting hours. But we bear hunters team up help each other too, both for preparation and for dragging if one of us is successful. It makes more sense for each of us to use our connections to get bait items, and then split up the bait. And, unless a bear is 100 pounds, dragging one out of a thick swamp (which is where they often run after they are shot) is hard for even the strongest man. That is not only because of the weight of the animal and the thick habitat areas in which bears reside, but by September bears often have 2-6 inches of subcutaneous body fat which makes handling a carcass akin to lassoing Jell-O. It is always wise to line up draggers (and skinners and processors) well ahead of time.
This year’s bait menu had a different twist. I had the honor of winning several ribbons at the county fair and went with a non-hunting girlfriend the last day to see if I won and bring my entries home. When we arrived, they were getting ready to throw out all the baked goods that had been entered in the fair… cookies, breads, rolls, you name it. “Can I have those?” I asked the fair attendant with my girlfriend observing and wondering what I was up to. “Oh no," the lady said “it’s a health issue, we can’t give the old baked goods to you."
“But,” I countered, “I don’t want to eat them. I want to use them for bear bait.” Her jaw dropped. I handed her my Womenhunters business card. She looked at me, and at the card, and grinned. “Go ahead, take all you want.” We rustled up some plastic bags and emptied nearly every bakery case in that area and hauled it to my truck.. My girlfriend Patti thought it was quite the adventure to help me get bear bait.
Besides the baked goods, I had accumulated 55 gallon barrels of cherries, granola mix and fruit loops. I also had bulk gummy bears, shell corn, black oil sunflower seeds, used oil from a Chinese diner, sweet corn, left over frozen venison and bacon grease that my Mom saved up for me. I also had 25 gallons of strawberry roll filling and had saved up leftover food stuffs for a couple of months in my freezer.
The logs at my bait site were still usable from last year, and I had set my tree stand up with my PMI Leafy System back in early June. I like to bait between 10am and noon, so there is plenty of time for the woods to settle down, and for bears to feel secure coming out when it’s still light. Bears like to feed at night because of the summer heat, and they often sleep in cool swamp edges during the day. The object is to make an enticingly fragrant bait setup that will lure them out before dusk.
The bait logs weigh from 40 to over 100 pounds each. Hoisting them around to make a ‘bait crib’ is quite a job, especially for one woman alone. I have gotten a lot of great ideas from Dr. Ken Nordberg’s book “Do it yourself Black Bear Baiting and Hunting.” The bait crib consists of big logs cut at 4 and 6-7 foot lengths, and stacked in such a fashion that a large quantity of bait can be securely stowed and only a bear can get at the bait. Raccoons, skunks and other scavengers can clean a bait out in no time, which is why we use cover logs. In Minnesota, barrels at the site for bait are not legal, and it is also illegal to leave anything other than natural materials at the bait area. A hunter can have a bacon burn while hunting, but it can’t be left unattended.
Today’s baiting took two hours as I got used to my setup. The ATV trail in is very bumpy and twisty, and the bait site is so remote I have to walk in the last fifty yards. That means, I have to hand carry all that bait in, which takes about ten trips. A five gallon bucket of strawberry filling alone weighs forty pounds. I am totally exhausted by the time it’s all arranged and done.
This year I have my 17-1/2 foot Tracker fishing boat at my cabin, and after sweating bullets in a buggy woods, I thought a little fishing time on Mille Lacs Lake would be an apt reward. I am four miles from the lake, but due to draught it is down to only a foot deep at the landing I use, so I had to wrestle with the boat to get it into and out of the water. By days end I was so totally exhausted I fell into bed like a load of bricks.
In five days I will be back to check my bait to see if it was hit. I have seen three bears running across roads in my area in the last few weeks, and I have had bears raiding my deer feeder right in camp in broad daylight, morning and evening. I had photographed bear tracks all over my land. I am hopeful for success again this year. Last year I was blessed with arrowing a 340 pound bear the second day of season. I don’t expect that to happen again, but a girl can only hope!
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