Bear Hunting Without Bait 101

Photo courtesy of Sereena Thompson

Hunting black bear without bait can be one of the most challenging and intimidating pursuits you’ll ever encounter. There’s no denying I’ve encountered some blood-chilling moments over the years.

While laying bait for your prey would definitely make the hunt easier, it may not always be legal. Baiting laws vary from state to state and if broken can result in severe penalties. Besides, difficult things are worth trying. Right?

Here are some tips for hunting black bear, without the need for bait.

1. Never underestimate the power of technology.

Online tools such as BaseMap and Google Earth are great for scouting virtually from your home. They can help you to locate potential places to hunt, water sources, food, nearby roads, land accessibility, and cover.

Personally, before heading into bear country, I “e-scout” for drainages and heavy foliage areas that might be hiding bears. I mark all these potential spots on my hunting app so that when I head out into the brush, I have great places to start searching.

Photo courtesy of Sereena Thompson

2. Use the wind to your advantage.

Just like in deer and elk hunting, playing the wind is the key to success when hunting black bear. Once you spot a bear, be sure that the wind in your favor. If the wind is in your favor, your chances for success go up exponentially.

When you spot a bear, be aware of thermals. Learning about thermals will help you tremendously when stalking prey. Thermals are air currents that rise and fall with changes in temperature throughout the day. Because thermals will carry your scent with them, make sure you are in the right spot for the thermals to carry your scent away from your prey. This will vary depending on the time of day. Sometimes you may have to wait an hour or two before you can actually begin to stalk the bear. Be patient. In the morning, once the sun warms the ground, the ground warmth causes the air to rise and the thermals to flow up hill, just like fog. In the evening, once the air cools, thermals will flow downhill. Use thermals and wind to your advantage when hunting black bear.

Photo courtesy of Sereena Thompson

3. Follow the food.

No surprises here. Whether it’s clovers, berries, acorns, or ungulate fawns, black bears tend to follow the food. In the fall, you’ll have more success following heavy acorn levels, while in the spring, you should look for dense clovers and skunk cabbages. Weather and elevation play a critical role, as well, in the available food sources for any given year. While you can find bears in at all altitudes, they are more densely populated in areas with abundant food.

The hotter the weather, the less likely you will find bears roaming out in the open. In warmer weather, dark timber is a great place to start your bear hunt. Bears will work the edges between dark timber and open country for food. Following timbered fingers and dark cool gulches will lead to higher success rates in finding your prey.

In the morning, before thermals rise, I hike to higher ground where I can look for surrounding drainages. This allows me to get an idea of what’s in each drainage point and at what elevations the bears are concentrated. You will find more bears glassing than beating the brush. Some days glassing is all I do.

Everyone hunts animals for different reasons. Personally, I hunt bears for the all-natural food source they provide as well as predator control. Depending on which state you live in, the use of baiting as a hunting tactic for bears may or may not be allowed. Be sure to check your state rules before engaging in any hunting activity.

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