From my perch high up in a poplar tree, I patiently gazed in the direction of my bait barrel. A movement to the left caught my attention and within seconds I spotted the outline of a black bear. The animal was standing in heavy underbrush and it was difficult to see how big the bear was. The bear cautiously moved along and within minutes it was less than 20 yards from the tree I was sitting in. By the time it got that close, I had determined it was a mature, well furred bear with a jet black hide and muzzle.
Since it was only the second day of my hunt, I decided to take my chances and passed up the blackie. In exchange, I was able to watch the black bear as it went about its business. The bear dumped the bait barrel, fed for while, napped a bit, then stood up and contently fed on newly sprouted grass shoots and tree buds near my tree stand. The bear eventually grazed away from my bait site and disappeared into the thick underbrush.
The next afternoon, I was back on the same stand. Approximately an hour after settling into the stand, I could hear something moving on the hillside directly behind me. After what seemed like an eternity I finally spotted a black colored bear to my right. This bear was extremely cautious and kept its distance. For several minutes, it licked its nose and sniffed the air, while my heart pounded and my legs trembled with anticipation.
Finally, the bear was content that all was safe and made a direct path for the bait barrel. As soon as it arrived, it knocked the barrel over and started picking at meat scraps. Although this bear was similar in size and color to the bear from the previous evening, I knew it was a different bear because this one had a brown muzzle.
Whiling watching the bear feeding perfectly broadside to me, I decided that I shouldn't push my luck again and decided to take this bruin. Ever so slowly, I raised my rifle, released the safety and centered my cross hairs on the bear's front shoulder.
When I pulled the trigger, the bear lurched forward and crashed into the underbrush behind the bait barrel. For a few seconds, I could hear the bear crashing through the trees. Then all went quiet, except for my heavy breathing and pounding heart.
From what I had seen and heard, I was very confident that a dead bear was waiting for me. However, I sat and waited for as long as I could (maybe 20 minutes) before climbing out of my tree stand and walking towards the spot where the bear was last seen. When I arrived, there was strong evidence of a solid hit. After a short tracking job, I recovered a prime spring farmland black bear.
With all this talk of bears and bear hunting, you're probably wondering where I was hunting. Well, to be honest with you, I was hunting in central Saskatchewan, but I wasn't in the forest region where most bear hunting is done. Instead, I was a good 30 - 40 miles away from the forest on private farmland. Yes that is correct, I said private farmland.
Bears are very secretive. They prefer to live in areas where they are not disturbed. Farmland in central Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and other areas in North America is blessed with large tracts of woods and heavily treed valleys and waterways. In the fall months, bears will leave the forest and follow such cover in search of oats and berries. Since these bears very seldom get bothered, they often remain and feed in these areas until it's time to den up for the winter. Instead of heading back to the forest for the winter, many of these bears will den in these undisturbed agricultural areas. Then with the arrival of spring, they hungrily emerge from their dens and start to feed on developing vegetation.
With such prime living conditions, many of these bears end up spending their entire lives in these pockets of habitat and never return to the forest. As a result, many other bears are born and raised in agricultural areas and have probably never set foot in the forest.
Bears living in such areas rarely venture out of the secure cover of the woods. However, some farmers get the occasional glimpse of a bear or two while they are out working in the fields, fixing fences or checking cattle. Occasionally a bear may appear in a farmyard and cause havoc to the livestock and buildings. Other than that, agricultural bears are rarely ever seen out in the open and if they didn't leave footprints, most people would never even know there were bears around.
Situations like this make for excellent hunting opportunities. Since most people never see a bear, they assume there are no bears around. As a result, very few hunters even attempt to hunt these bears. However, the smart hunter who has done his homework can quickly find areas where bears live and have an exclusive bear hunting area.
Locating Potential Farmland and Securing Permission
When looking for an area to hunt farmland bears, it's a good idea to start looking at topographical maps and aerial photographs of the overall region you plan to hunt. Look for areas that hold water. Creeks and drainage ditches surrounded by heavy thickets are great areas. As well, don't overlook rough and rugged land features. Take a few minutes to look at maps and photos and you'll be amazed at the features these tools reveal.
Once you've found several potential bear spots, its time to get a municipality map or a county map and determine who owns the particular land you are interested in hunting. Some hunters simply like to phone the landowners and ask for permission. As for myself, I prefer to talk to the landowner face to face long before the start of the hunting season. This way, the landowner can think about the idea and can see for himself who will be hunting on his land. As well, this approach usually gives me the opportunity to take a walk through the speculative hunting grounds to look for bear tracks, bear trails, feeding areas, scat, claw marked trees and possibly even a bear. This results in me getting a "feel" for what the hunting territory is all about and allows me to devise a baiting plan.
In many instances the landowner may think that you are nuts for wanting to hunt bears in their area. This is because they rarely ever see any bears on their land. However, if you explain to the landowner that you would like to get away from the hunter-crowded forest areas and are only interested in shooting one bear, they will better understand why you would like to hunt bears on their property. Don't let these skeptical landowners discourage you. Just remember that farmland bears are very secretive and as such many go unseen!
Listen to the Landowners
In the course of your travels, you'll find that not all farmers are naive about bears being on their land. Most farmers and ranchers seem to know every inch of their land and are very eager to point a hunter in the right direction. When you find a farmer that knows about bears on his land, take the time to listen to his advice. You may learn more in a half hour conversation with that farmer than you might learn in several seasons of bear hunting in that area. One of the landowners where we hunt has been very helpful to us. He even likes to take time out of his busy schedule to help us place out our baits, so that we get them in the right spot. Amazingly, each spot he has shown us has produced bears or bear sightings.
From my experiences, it seems like most farmers do not like bears, but do have a real liking for bear hunters. As a result, most landowners will welcome bear hunters with open arms. Many will even allow you to store your bait barrels and equipment on their property during the off-season. The only set back is that some farmers want you to shoot any and every bear that you see. Right from the start, I tell the landowner that I'm a sportsman and will only shoot one bear a season. As well, I tell them that I prefer to hold out for larger mature boars or off colored bears. By using a direct approach right from the start, I haven't encountered any problems when telling any landowners that I turned down a bear on their property.
Baiting Farmland Bears
When setting out baits on farmland, remember that farmland bears are no push overs. They live in such areas because they prefer seclusion. In order to be successful at hunting such creatures, you must use extreme care and caution not to alert bears when setting out your baits. This means taking into consideration which direction the prevailing wind comes from and trying to set up your tree stands downwind of the baits. Even though there probably won't be anyone else making use of the area you plan to hunt, try to place your baits in the most remote and inaccessible areas of the property you are hunting. If you do this, you will discover that bears are quite apt to show themselves at all times of the day. In fact, I have seen bears around the baits between 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM, which is quite uncommon in many of the forest areas I hunt.
Another point I'd like to make is that when placing out your baits, replenishing them or hunting over top of them, it is important that you wear gloves at all times. By so doing, you eliminate unnecessary human scent, which aids in keeping bears less suspicious. Long rubber gloves work great for handling bait and bait barrels. Clean leather gloves work great for when you are approaching or leaving the bait site, setting up tree stands or climbing up and down the tree your stand is located in. You will find that if you haven't touched anything near the bait site with your bare hands, bears will be less apt to detect you or follow your scent trail to your tree stand.
Quality vs Quantity
It should come as no surprise to you that farm areas will have far less bears than forest regions. However, once you hunt bears on farmland, you will quickly see that there is far less competition from other hunters. If a bait is placed on farmland, it is probably the only bait in the area. This means that any bears in the area will easily find it and continually check the bait site. This is unlike forest regions, where other hunters may have baits a half mile or less from yours and there is the possibility of several baits being within close proximity of each other. Under these circumstances, bears may never even find your baits. Even if bears do find your baits, I have found that bears in heavily baited areas seem to travel to and from the different bait sites like hungry customers at a smorgasbord and will avoid any bait sites where they may have the slightest hint that a hunter is waiting for them. As well, the actions of other hunters in the area may scare the bears into becoming nocturnal or worse yet, one of them may shoot the bear you are after.
Now that I've shared one of my bear hunting secrets, I hope that you take advantage of this information and look into the possibility of setting up bear baits on farmland near the forested areas where you hunt bears. Good luck and safe hunting!