Love it, hate it or indifferent on the topic, bear baiting deserves a candid conversation on the pros and the cons of this long debated practice. Bear baiting, in a way, stands alone in the sea of hunting practices as it is the only legal big game species to bait in some of the western states. Not every state allows baiting for bears and no western states allow baiting for deer or any other big game species. Some states make the exception for bears. Out east, legal baiting for bears is also on a state by state basis and baiting deer is also a prevalent practice in many southern and eastern states. Taking these facts into consideration allows us to explain some of the dramatic differences in opinions on the matter but there are other reasons why some would choose to bait if possible and others would not. Let’s take a look at some of the different thoughts on baiting bears.
All legal forms of hunting have their roots in effective conservation and wildlife management practices. The state organizations responsible for handling our precious wildlife are tasked with the important job of setting goals for population numbers and determining the best hunting practices for keeping game numbers within the proper parameters. Many methods can be used to accomplish this and states have to take into consideration the terrain, area predator populations, hunter populations, hunter success rates, general survival rates among the juvenile wildlife populations when they determine what will be legal and what will not be legal methods of taking game. If baiting bears is legal in one area it is because the experts have deemed that an effective management strategy and the hunter is merely a tool in the hands of conservation specialists to accomplish the mission of balance in the woods. No matter what your personal reason for hitting the woods and no matter what weapon you wield and what method you employ, when you strip away the personal preference from it, all hunters are simply tools used by the state to manage wildlife. If you hold a tag in your hand the state has given you the task of filling that tag and taking that animal out of the population by whatever legal means necessary to ensure the appropriate balance in nature. It is common to try and make our style better or more ethical or more important or more difficult than the hunter next to us but in reality it doesn’t help conservation or accomplish the goal of the tag in a better way if you punch your bear tag at a bear baiting site or you punch your bear tag 20 miles back in the wilderness. Getting to the heart of the purpose of hunting can help eliminate divisive ideologies in the hunting population.
I have heard hunters against bear baiting say that it is the “Lazy” way to hunt bears. I have yet to find a hunter that says this and has also tried baiting bears. Almost everyone who participates in bear baiting quickly realizes that baiting bears in not a practice lazy people will participate in willingly. Baiting bears is a lot of hard work. You must be consistent and invest a lot of time, energy and resources into finding a good location, building, maintaining and monitoring a bait site. Even though you spend all this time and energy you are not baiting idiots. Bears are difficult to find in the wild and it’s because they are smart. Having a bait site doesn’t change that fact, if anything it heightens their alertness and makes them even more wary. It is impossible to keep human scent completely out of a bait site so any bear that decides to come there is already alerted and looking for the source of the human scent. This truth creates the largest difficulty in taking a mature bear on a bait site, the reality that mature bears will often only enter a bait site under the protective cover of darkness. Bears are wiley and bear baiting only serves to prove that fact.
In states where bear baiting is prohibited, hunters have to put in more footwork to find bears and often they utilize the same weaknesses of the bear as those in bear baiting states, their love of specific food sources. Bears in the spring are looking for new grass shoots, skunk cabbage etc. and bears in the fall love berries, apples and any sweet fruit. Naturally, as intelligent hunters, we will utilize this knowledge to increase our chances of seeing a bear. We are looking for them over a much broader landscape so the chances of seeing one are less likely than sitting over an active bait site. This makes hunting them much less successful. I believe it is more difficult because the odds are decreased but I cannot agree that it is more difficult physically or requires more of an investment of time and energy. It is simply not as successful of a method because the bears are in a much lower concentration of numbers. This fact plays into the mathematical game that conservation managers must play in order to produce the desired results at the end of hunting season. Having more tags available to spot and stalk hunters but fewer successful harvests has its own advantages and disadvantages. Having fewer tags available but a higher success rate in baiting areas also has its pros and cons. Utilizing these variables to produce the proper successful percentages taken of young and old, male and female bears in a variety of different terrains and scenarios, is why I have such respect for the science and the people behind our state fish and wildlife agencies. The work they do is technical and so very important to the future of our hunting lifestyles and the precious game species we revere.
Sometimes I hear hunters say that shooting an animal over bait is unethical because you are luring them in with something as opposed to finding them in a natural environment. I can understand the thought process behind this argument and I believe that this is often the reason some states choose not to utilize bear baiting as a resource for wildlife management. In my own experience I tend to view it as no different than using a watering hole, a wallow, a farmers field or an old apple orchard to increase my chances of seeing a deer, elk or bear. The only difference between using a watering hole and using a bait site is the fact that I didn’t have to do any work to make a watering hole appealing to my quarry whereas in baiting I have to put in a lot of time and effort to make that site a welcome and appealing environment. If I don’t show up to the watering hole for two weeks that will only increase my chances of finding wildlife there as they will feel very safe in that location. If I don’t visit my bait site in two weeks I will lose the interest of any bears in the area because that location is not a consistent source of food for them and they will seek food elsewhere.
I asked Sali Sabean of Ursa Major Outfitters, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, offering guided bear and deer hunts along with fishing, kayaking & hiking adventures, to share her experience with bear baiting and the effects that it has in her region of Nova Scotia and how it aids in conservation efforts in the region. Here is what she had to share, “Here in Nova Scotia we have a large population of black bears. We are in fact over populated. I know in some provinces it is prohibited to bait for animals but we feel it’s only beneficial to the population! We currently are running 8 sites for bear. Of these 8 sites there are 6-8 bears per site. That’s approximately 64 mouths that are being fed and fattened for the hibernation period. Of those 64 bears we will harvest about 4-6 bears. By using bait sites and trail cameras, it gives you an educated approach of what is in your hunting area. Are they young bears? Are they old and dry? Knowing what’s coming into your sites allows you to harvest the most suitable bears of the surrounding population keeping it healthy and ultimately encouraging the conservation of the species.”
When it comes down to it, bear baiting is a lot of work, a useful tool in wildlife management and an opportunity to take a good bear if you are willing to stick with it. These facts will not change the minds of many hunters who choose to never participate in any baiting practices but that is ok. We need hunters who cover the whole gamut of game management opportunities to properly protect our populations. We all play a role and all methods can also play a role when used in a legal and practical manner. I encourage you to keep an open mind when it comes to hunting and wildlife management and appreciate the many ways we can proudly accomplish the filling of our tags together and look hopefully into the future of hunting for our children and grandchildren.
If you would like more information about Sali Sabean and Ursa Major Outfitters you can find a link to their website here.