Aside from one disaster trip to Quebec years ago, my entire bear hunting experience involves all do-it-yourself endeavors. In Minnesota where I live, we have an area of the state that is a No Quota Zone, meaning while it's not the best bear country we've got, the tags are over the counter and unlimited.
This is where I've mostly hunted, and because of that, I'm used to dealing with low bear populations and high hunter numbers. While a lot of people who don't know any better like to say that bear baiting is cheating and that it's far too easy, that has not been my experience. It's a ton of work and rarely results in a decent boar coming in during daylight hours.
It's not an impossible task, however. And you can tip the odds in your favor by choosing the best bait possible.
If you're hunting in the mountains of Idaho or deep in the Alaskan bush, you might be able to get away with cheap dog food or popcorn. If you're hunting near a bunch of other bear hunters and there happens to be a lot of natural food available, that's not going to cut it. You'll feed some raccoons for sure, but as far as drawing in bears and setting them up in a pattern, you'll need to do better.
Knowing this, most of us think doughnuts are the way to go â€“ or at least some kind of bread-based bait. I've never met a Yogi that will turn down a fresh Long John, but I've seen them give up on doughnuts after the first rain when bread-based baits turn into a soggy â€“ and occasionally moldy â€“ mess.
Good bait has to be weather-resistant, and it should also be sized so that any bears looking to fill their bellies have to invest some time at your site. If they can carry a five-pound wad of bread away into the brush to eat it, they will. That defeats the purpose of baiting, so avoid it.
You'll also want bait that offers the right mix of sweet and essential. By that, I mean that sugary carbs are good, but so is offering the bear something they need health-wise.
My go-to choice for most of my bear baiting involves sourcing some expired trail mix and then sprucing it up. I've never seen bears get hooked on a bait quicker than trail mix, and I have to believe that while it contains some candy, it also offers them an assortment of nuts, which is a great way for them to bulk up when they need it most.
This is what I'm baiting with in Wisconsin right now, and I'm hoping it will compete well against the bowhunters just down the road who are also running sites. I also hope it can win out against the apples, wild plums, and acorns that are out in massive quantities right now.
Not only am I running trail mix, but I've also added some extras. I managed to get my hands on 80 pounds of licorice that came in two giant blocks. It's tedious to peel off individual licorice sticks, but it's necessary. I don't want to put a chunk of licorice out there and have a bear carry it off, and because there is a limit to the amount of bait you can use in Wisconsin, I don't want all of my bait to consist of one thing.
So I've been peeling and tearing apart a congealed licorice chunk and mixing that into my trail mix for an added bonus. Usually I use some type of frosting or peanut butter to enhance the bait site as well. But with the baiting limits, I didn't want to burn up my allotment on cake frosting because it has been my experience that mostly the cubs and younger bears seem interested in it.
Better Bait Sources
The place where I buy most of my bait is an actual bear bait store. They've got a huge pole shed devoted to receiving pallets of expired foods and selling them to bear hunters. Their secret is they can accept semi-sized deliveries, meaning that not just anyone could call up Walmart and ask to buy their expired goodies one box at a time.
There are other sources for bear baits, and what I've found over the years is you've just got to keep your eyes open and be willing to ask. Smaller grocery stores, bakeries, wholesale shops, and a host of other places might either give or sell you some good stuff. Just like keeping an eye out for new hunting ground, if you're going to go the DIY route for bears, you've got to always be on the lookout for quality bait sources.
Better bait isn't the magic bullet to ensuring bear hunting success, but it does give you an advantage over your hunting competition and can help you compete against natural foods sources. It's also the best way to get the most return for you money, time, and inevitable sweat equity you'll pour into a DIY hunt, so choose wisely.