Bear Hunting Season 2016

Bear hunting season, my favorite of all the seasons we use to put meat on the table, has started. This isn’t going to become a hunting blog anymore than it’s solely a gardening blog, fishing blog or foraging blog. Hunting is one of the first methods homesteaders used to put meat on the table way back when. It isn’t nearly as common for modern-day homesteaders to hunt but some of us still do. I promise, this won’t become unbalanced overall.

Hunting opens August 29 but the work began a week ago. We set up three bait sites on July 30. Bait 1 is in its third year and is the bait where I harvested my first and only bear. The game camera dates are off by a month due to a temporary brain cramp I haven’t adjusted. On August 1 a sow and cub came in early in the morning. The sow came first and was followed two and a half minutes later by a cub.

Can you even eat bear meat?

You can! Bear meat is similar to 100% pastured beef but a little darker and more flavorful. When harvested, field dressed and butchered well the meat isn’t gamey. Bear Stew and Bear Chops are a couple of our favorite dishes.

Is this Fair Chase?

Is baiting bears fair chase? Fair question. There isn’t any spot and stalk involved in baiting when it comes to deer or bear, the two most baited big game animals I’m familiar with. There isn’t any fair chase in this method. But is it necessary? Yes, here in Maine it is. Our bear population is too high, a problem for humans as well as the bears. Baiting produces more harvested bears than hounding, snaring and by-chance numbers combined. Biologists would like us to harvest 5,400 bears during bear hunting season but we’re harvesting less than 50%. We’re going to reach social carrying capacity soon.

Is Bear Baiting Necessary?

I’ve already answered the question. Did you recognize what I said? “The sow came first and was followed two and a half minutes later by a cub.” Maine is about 90% forested. Unless you’re in a new logging harvest or a plantation your view is harshly limited in distance. You can’t see the forest for the trees, literally. If a sow wanders through without a reason to stop and give me a good look at her, I might make a quick decision on her size and take her. It’s very hard to tell a sow from a boar. Bait gives hunters time to make an accurate assessment, and time for the cub(s) to show up. Sows with cubs are off limits for me and Steve. It’s not illegal to harvest either but for us it’s a choice we’ve made based on our personal ethics.

Bear baiting is oddly questioned often but baiting deer is common in many states (not in Maine) and nobody bats an eye. It’s really not that different than putting food in a trough in front of cows, pigs and chickens. Livestock has no choice.  The difference? Bears can walk away, and I’ll show you that in a moment.

The bears weren’t the first out to breakfast.
skunk, bear baiting, fair chase, maine bear hunt
black bear sow, bear baiting, bear hunting season
bear hunting season, sow's head
bear hunting season, bait 1

These bears walked away without eating from the barrel. They have a choice.

What’s This?

This critter wandered through. It’s not a bear, raccoon, skunk, hare or porcupine. Beaver? What do you think? This is the only picture on the camera.

bear hunting season, unidentified animal

Over on bait 2, things are hopping. This is the second year at this site. We moved the barrel about 100 feet because a bear knew I was sitting behind the blind last year. It showed up on the camera five to 15 minutes after I left every evening it came to the site. I need a better place to sit this year.
bear hunting season, snowshoe hareI named this bear Dibs, as in “I call dibs!” The names I give bears during the season help me keep them straight when I’m talking about them and probably will you too. Dibs showed up on July 3 and stayed only a minute before he left. He didn’t approach the bait.
bear hunting season, first bear at bait

Note the logs in the barrel. They haven’t been moved. Dibs came back on August 3.  You can offer up bait but you can’t make them eat. There are a lot of raspberries right now and the blackberries are going to be the biggest crop I’ve seen in 32 years (I remember because I was hugely pregnant while picking).
bear hunting season, bait site 2, Maine
This time Dibs is hungry and figures out how to get to the food, but he scares himself (herself? I don’t know.) when he tips over the barrel. He came back two minutes later. He’s tipped it over two more times and reacted the same way.
bear hunting season, dibs spills the barrel

We’re off to a good start this bear hunting season. Site 3 will be a separate entry. There’s a bear I’d like to harvest at bait 2 but a lot can happen in the three weeks until the hunting season opens. He might disappear or more bears might appear, like last year’s bear.

Last Year’s Bear

Last year’s bear has entered this year’s bear hunting season. He came in late at night on August 5 and again very early on the sixth. This is Smarty. I had to pull up last year’s pictures to make comparisons to be sure it’s him. This clearly is a boar as evidenced by the anatomy on some of the pictures. There are pictures of him clacking his teeth at whatever it is he’s looking at in this photo. He continued to look in that direction between bites. There was probably another bear nearby.
bear hunting season, black bear, bait 2
One more thing. I know this is long. Thanks for sticking with me. Note the times on the pics below. When I went back today I beeped the horn as I pulled up and repeated “hey bear” as I walked through the woods. Dibs came back 90 minutes after we left and spent a while sniffing around to figure out what scared him before he went to the barrel.


bear hunting season, steve on cameraIf this wasn’t already too long I’d show you great pics of a bear sleeping and a skunk… It’s bear hunting season, lots to talk about. I’m sure they’ll pop into a post soon.

The next update tells you about some of the many bears coming to Site 2.