Ambushing a bear where baiting is prohibited is challenging. This is particularly true in the Eastern United States where you can’t glass bears across a canyon and execute a stalk.
If you have a pack of hounds, you’re good-to-go, but otherwise, it’s a tough slog. In fact, many bears are simply taken incidentally by deer hunters because it’s so difficult to specifically target them. But if you want to seek out a bear with belly fur that drags the ground–without using bait or dogs–here’s one potential tactic that has worked for me: steer it.
While they do plenty of feeding on berries, acorns and wildflowers in thick woods, bears also target agricultural crops. (Just ask farmers in bear country!) Oats, corn, alfalfa, clover, barley, and rye fields are favorites. They also feed in food plots. The catch is, they often arrive after dark and dine the night away under moonlight. That makes waiting at the fields themselves unreliable.
The best way to ambush them is to waylay them on their way towards that food. But figuring which route they’ll use can be tricky…unless you create a travel lane for them.
The fact is, bears are lazy. Watch them feed and they often do it while lying down. If you gently alter their environment to offer an easy walking path, they’ll take it.
Here are five ways to manipulate the habitat that will funnel bears past you in good shooting range. These projects should only be done on your own property or where you have permission from the owner. Bears may use the new routes immediately or it may take them a few weeks to get used to the changes and start walking the trails you’ve created for them.
Of course, some knowledge of the local bear population’s movement patterns is a prerequisite. You have to know in general where they bed and their major feed fields, so you can cut trails in the location and direction they want to travel. And make sure the trail lies upwind of your likely stand or blind positions!
Here are five ways to manipulate the habitat to increase your odds of success.
1. Lower or Raise a Strand of Fence Wire
This is one of the simplest alterations of all. While bears can climb fences, if there’s a low spot where the wire is down and they can step across, they’ll head for it. Similarly, if a bottom strand or two is missing and they can waddle under, they’ll use that spot.
With permission, when no livestock is in the area, push down the top few wires and fasten them to the lowest strand with soft wire. Alternately, raise the bottom strand or two.
Bears will soon discover the easy way to cross and use that spot. Pick a downwind location from this “funnel” you’ve created in good shooting range and hang your stand.
2. Clear a Trail Through a Thicket
Dense, jumbled areas and overgrown briar patches are typical habitat for bears. But busting through such areas isn’t something they relish. Carve a trail and chances are good they’ll follow it.
This work may require a chain saw, bush hog, or just a weed eater. Hand pruning shears or machetes also work well. Don’t carve a super-highway through the brush. Bears don’t need that wide of a trail and might become suspicious. Instead, simply clear a wide enough path for one person (or a fat bear) to walk through.
3. Roundup a Path
Instead of weed eating or bush hogging, you can also create trails using herbicides such as glyphosate. Spray the area where you want to make the path. When the vegetation dies, simply walk over it in rubber boots or drive over it in a four-wheeler to trample down a nice, bear-friendly trail.
You can make this trail even more appealing by spraying attractant scents after you’ve beaten down the vegetation. Even states that don’t allow baiting usually allow scents. You can actually employ this trick with any of the bear steering tactics we’re covering.
4. Plant a Food Path
Pick an area where food is fairly scarce, but bears tend to travel through as they leave bedding areas heading for major feed sites late in the day. Turn the soil or at least rake away leaves and debris, then sow a narrow strip of fast-growing seed such as brassicas, wheat, rye, oats, annual clovers, Austrian winter peas, or fall mixtures from wildlife seed companies.
With a bit of rain, these will come up quickly. Within weeks you’ll have a trail of lush, green food popping up. Bears will walk the “food trail” as they head towards larger major evening feeding areas—bringing them right past your stand while there’s still good shooting light.
5. Build Brush Barriers
Saw down trash trees and hinge-cut others to block certain routes you don’t want your quarry to follow, because it would lead them away from your stand location. This is a simple way to encourage bears to take the route you want them to.
The brush piles you create will also make excellent habitat for small game and nesting turkeys. Not only is this a strategic move for ambushing a bruin, it’s also great habitat improvement that benefits other wildlife.
Don’t just wait in a random spot and hope a bear wanders by. Be proactive. Funnel him down a trail upwind of your stand or blind with a few of these bear-steering tactics.
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