Spring Bears, Be Aware

I had packed my bear barrel, gear, bait, and tools miles in all uphill, in hopes of making an offer the local bear populace couldn’t refuse. Due to the lack of roads and trails, it all had to be packed in on back the hard way — 5,000 ft. upwards to 10,000 ft. above sea level in unseasonably warm weather. The heat from the sun was punishing and the lack of a breeze made it worse. With each step, I cautiously looked over my boots and pants for ticks. Flicking them off one by one before they could get dig in.

After hours of walking, climbing, clearing brush, and securing my barrel to a tree, I finally dumped my offering to the bears. Everyone who bear hunts has their own tips and tricks in regards to baiting. Over the years of having to pack gear and bait in, I quickly realized I needed to have a bait source that was lightweight. It also needed to fill my barrel to an adequate level without crippling my wallet. My solution; family-sized bags of generic cereal. Bears love sweet stuff and the sugar in the cereal gives it more of an addicting quality.

Bear Country

It is an excellent setup, nonetheless, there was a negative to my registered site location. The vegetation combined with terrain features would not offer me a close shot, so I had to create shooting lanes and sit a couple of hundred yards off.  The hot weather and intense labor were kicking my butt! Dehydration and fatigue began to set in, thus resulting in my feet flailing before each footstep settled as I made my descent down the mountain. I retreated to my make-shift camp to hunker down for the remainder of the evening. Although physically exhausted, I was too excited to sleep as I repeatedly visualized how the hunt may play out.

As morning set in on the first day of actual hunting, I found myself sitting comfortably at the bottom of the mountain glassing up toward my barrel. Overnight the site appeared to have guests, therefore I spent the majority of the day with my face glued to optics. Eventually, I relocated to a pre-established shooting position exactly 204 yards from the bait barrel. I had already seen multiple bears cruise by which allotted shooting opportunities. However, rather than punching my tag early, I elected to enjoy the show.

A bear on the bait

Overall, I had roughly six different bears visiting my site. I watched as a smaller chocolate-phase bear tried over and over to climb inside the barrel. When it departed, a small cinnamon bear came in to do the same. A solo lanky-legged sow with a cinnamon coat also made a brief appearance. She had a mature look to her and may have had cubs stashed elsewhere, though they never showed themselves. Once she had her fill and departed, a mature cinnamon boar claimed the site. This specific cinnamon was a troublemaker with no shortage of personality. He liked to cause chaos on the site and would fight with my barrel for hours, trying to shake it loose or break the tree it was secured to. He even seemed to have a passion for beating up my trail cameras and taking them down. Despite not punching my tag, it was an entertaining day learning about these bears.

The second day of the hunt was fairly similar to the first. A small chocolate-colored bear tiptoed in and out of the bait site throughout the day. It appeared to be the same one from the previous day. Sneaking in for a quick bite and disappearing only to reemerge later trying to avoid the larger bears in the area. The chocolate did this until the rowdy cinnamon boar from the prior day returned. At first, I was content to just observe his shenanigans, but I had to shout him off because he had a mouth full of my trail camera. Thankfully, he wondered off.

About an hour after chasing off the ornery cinnamon, a larger dark mass scurried across the front of my barrel. The mass did a quick peek inside of the barrel and disappear. Its pass was enough to provide this boar with a good whiff of the barrel’s contents. He couldn’t refuse the sweet-smelling cereal and came back. Through the spotting scope, I could instantly tell he was a boar by his muscular bodybuilder shape. His belly hung low to the ground and his shoulders looked hulking in comparison to his rear half.  I took my eye from the spotting scope and positioned myself behind my rifle. I focused on my breathing in wait for the perfect shot. I rested the crosshairs on his front shoulder as he quartered toward me. Slowly, I squeezed the trigger and the bear instantly folded in place as the sunset behind me.

The harvested bear

Originally, I planned to field-dress the bear to cool it down for the next morning pack out. The drop in late-night temperatures would allow this without fear of overnight spoiling. When I finished and prepared to make my descent, the bushes around me erupted as another bear came in. I shouted at it and fired a shot in the nighttime sky to ensure it would not return. In the meantime, I reached out to a close friend of mine who was hunting nearby for last-minute pack-out help. He had joined me in camp the day prior. I knew if I didn’t get the downed bear out that night, another bear would claim it.

Following a quick turn-around at the truck to meet my friend, we made our way up the mountain. We could hear bears lurking all around us in the darkness while we prepared the tagged bruin for final processing. We could feel their eyes locked on us the whole time. It was a long, tedious night ending around 1:30 am. With the meat safely on ice, it was nice sleeping part of the morning away before I checked the harvested bear in with local Game and Fish personnel.

Bear country can be a dangerous place, especially when baiting is legal. Bears are smart, powerful animals with character. The more you know about their behaviors, the more successful and safer you will be in bear country. When hunting bears, be prepared for anything!

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