I stood there pondering the empty bear bait crib in my scent free leafy suit and face mask, when suddenly a light bulb went on over my head. The bait crib consisted of about a dozen very heavy logs, arranged to completely enclose and cover 16 cubic feet of bait contents, thus keeping the renegade raccoons from gobbling up the goodies before the bears got there. Now the logs were tossed hither and thither and re-baiting would take at least an hour. Bears do wreak havoc when they feed. I had finished my morning deer hunt on the north 40 without seeing any deer and decided to sneak down to my bear bait station, using the noise of the trees tossing in the wind as cover. With an arrow nocked, I crept down the bait trail like a cat burglar, careful not to crunch any twigs or leaves, on the off chance that bears might still be around. Upon arriving, there was the empty bait... licked clean. Dang. Two red squirrels hopped up on the logs three feet from me, and just sat there looking at me as if to say "What's for breakfast, Ma?" I had no proof of my sudden realization, since I had just taken the film out of my Infrared Game Camera, and would not be getting it developed until I got back home. But it seemed quite clear. "DUH! They're playing with me," I said out loud, somewhat bemused, but more ticked off than anything.
I gingerly picked up my stink shirt from the bait pit, the only vestige of what had been the night before, over a ninety pounds of bear bait. I always hang one of my sweaty shirts at the bait in an attempt to deter my midnight marauders from remaining nocturnal and to get them used to my smell for when I do hunt. I guess I smell good to them because it sure did not keep them away. It not only didn't work, but the bears had chomped and played with the shirt till it smelled so bad it made me wince. It reeked of bear spit and "dirty man smell". I picked up the shirt with a bungie cord hook, gathered up my gear, and stomped off back to camp.
"I give up," I said out loud again. "Stupid bears!" The words no sooner escaped my lips than I was struck that it was not their stupidity, but their ingenuity that was foiling my efforts. They were systematically resting in the swamp nearby waiting for the noise or perhaps even the sight of my departure at last legal shooting light, whereupon they hit the bait, sometimes within twenty minutes of my leaving. Grrr. In defeat, I decided not to hunt that evening. I made a late morning stop at the bait station on my way home, ceremoniously tossing what was left of a large watermelon onto the bait logs, where it splattered into a dozen pieces.
I had hunted in Manitoba two weeks before with Big Grass Outfitters and arrowed my first bear ever. He was a little squirt but after getting skunked by bears for four years, I was so grateful to actually arrow that chocolate color phase bear that I decided to have him done in a full body mount. At least I had proven I could harvest a bear, so the pressure was off. I returned to Minnesota with the born again confidence of a predator - and was ready to hunt. My friend Dale had baited for me in my absence in exchange for my baiting for him while he antelope hunted in South Dakota. My baits were getting cleaned out regularly. My IR cams even had bears present during daylight hours, so I was one ready chick. It was party time.
But the party had taken a new turn. It was getting expensive to keep feeding these piggy bears their midnight snacks. In addition, it was backbreaking labor to take all that stuff to the bait station every 3-4 days and put all the logs back together by myself. If they were coming in within minutes of my leaving, perhaps I should just leave my stand early and sneak back in? However, I could not possibly get back and into my tree stand without getting busted. I then had an "Epiphanous Moment", one where we as hunters suddenly hatch an ingenious plan in our heads that we are certain will work. To date, my ingenious plans often don't work, but my Epiphanous Moments are no less sublime. I needed to "Hunt Outside The Box". In this case, my plan was so very clever I could hardly stand myself. I would "pretend" to leave my stand 45 minutes before legal shooting light instead of at dusk, and then sneak back in. BUT, I would set up a Double Bull ground blind days before and I would silently slip back to the bait area and into the blind undetected. This plan meant I would be at ground level ten yards away from hyperphasic bears who liked to eat my clothes. My primary bait visitors were a large sow, three two-year-old bears and a huge boar. This same sow had reportedly snapped her teeth at another hunter in the area and was only driven off by gunshots fired over her head. So it would also require that I carry a handgun with enough firepower to stop any potential attack in case I, or my ground blind, looked appetizing.
Two days later, I decided on a whim to take the morning off work and drive the two hours up to my shack to bait and put up the ground blind since all I had left before was that watermelon. The IR Camera photos proved what I had guessed: the bears were nearby and coming in 15-30 minutes after I left my stand. The stage was set and I was ready to go.
Two days later I left on Thursday for my usual weekend hunt. I decided at the last minute not to even get into my tree stand, but to simply sneak in quietly and sit in the ground blind. The bait was completely empty again after only two days. I quietly emptied out a small bag of bait goodies and put out a bacon burn as well. I settled into the blind with bow, pen and paper and did some writing as I waited for the magic hour of day's end to arrive. The wind had been brisk and the woods noisy, so my approach had gone undetected even by the squirrels. As dusk neared, the wind died down and the woods were quiet. A perfect night for bears to come in. I had 30 minutes of legal shooting time left and figured my plan was a bust when suddenly I heard that familiar swishing of grass and brush nearby. Three small bears dashed to the bait area as I got my bow ready for a shot. They began pawing the logs, tossing them all over. I hesitated to go full draw however, because I was hoping a larger bear would follow after the smaller ones. I carefully peeked out the portholes of the blind and sure enough, a very large bear was slowly circling the bait area about 20 yards into the woods. I made sure my .357 magnum was handy since the bait was so close and the bear trail was only 6 yards away. The large bear tentatively came to the edge of the clearing and since a bowshot was not possible through the brush, I was tempted to pick up my handgun for an easy shot.
For one quick moment the bear stepped into the clearing ten feet from me and sniffed my stink shirt, quartering toward me. He seemed so huge at such a close range that the hair on the back of my neck stood up. He then turned abruptly and sniffed my bacon burn, now quartering toward me the other direction. The bear looked nervous and quickly ducked back into the woods, slowly circling the bait clearing again. I had five minutes of legal light left at this point and it was getting hard to see. One of the smaller bears stood atop the bait log logs in a perfect quartering away silhouette, so I let my arrow fly. He yipped and ran headlong into the woods while his two companions both skittered up nearby trees. Within 30 seconds, I could hear a series of death moans. I decided to stay in the ground blind another 20 minutes in case the larger bear was still around. It was going to be in the 40's that night so I decided to leave the bear overnight and phoned for help to track in the morning. At 7 AM, my friend and local bear guide Randy Larson came by and we found the bear about 80 yards from the bait. I made a pass though shot and found the arrow pieces near the bait. He was a smaller bear at just over 100 pounds, but after four years of hunting hard, I was very proud of him.
For those four years, I had done everything by the book with bear hunting. I had read all the books, listened to all the advice, gone to DNR Bear Clinics and talked to many experienced bear hunters who had harvested animals. However, only experience can teach you that hunting any critter is situational. You have to think what they think, pattern them and then try to outsmart them with a plan that might not be in a book. This type of thinking is not second nature for me. I like things to be predictable and I like formulas with anticipated results. With this year's bear hunt, I learned how to "Hunt Outside The Box" for the first time. I figured out what the bears were up to and figured a way to work around it by doing something unpredictable. Some people said I was crazy to sit in a ground blind so close to bears and others asked if I was afraid. I prefer the word "clever" over "crazy" and with a side arm, I certainly was not afraid. I could have shot the larger bear with the handgun, but decided to pass because I wanted to take a bear with my bow. And when I think about it, I was actually hunting "Inside the Box".... My T5 Double Bull, that is. The bears had patterned me in my tree stand and the ground blind was why I finally had success this year. I loaned another of my Double Bull blinds to Randy so he could try the strategy while hunting with his son. My buddy Dale said, "Good things come to those who wait". How true, and how sweet it is.
Linda's Five Star Rating for Equipment used in this article
(Note: these are recommendations, not endorsements)
Scent Blocker Plus 3D Leafy Lite Suit, hat and gloves from Robinson Outdoors
Double Bull T5 Ground Blind
Could not have gotten these clever bear to some in during legal light without my DB blind.
Bear Scents brand bear lures
I used Cherry and Hickory Smoked to harvest my bear
Wildlife Research scent killer on boots and clothes
Impact Archery Fiber Optic Site
I could see pins in the last 5 minutes of legal light, in a ground blind in thick woods. Amazing.
OxCart ATV tow-behind cart - by Equinox of Canada
Made hauling monster logs and thousands of pounds of bait a snap
Leaf River Infrared Game Camera in Camo
Yamaha Kodiak ATV in Camo
© September 2003