Baiting Black Bears: The Sweet Smell Of Success

Written by contributor Bill Kurtz.

For some reason, the word escapes me. It’s the word that describes the moment when you smell something and it triggers your memory and you’re suddenly taken back to the time when you first smelled it. That’s me, every time I open up a barrel of bear bait at the end of July to start my annual ritual of baiting bears for the upcoming season. The aroma of donuts, granola, gummi bears and the many varieties of cereals and chips that fill the numerous 55 gallon drums sitting outside my garage every summer, takes me back 20 years to my buddies house. Having never hunted bear before, he was showing me what kinds of stuff his dad used to bait bears with. I told myself then and there that someday, I was going to hunt bears. It’s nice that some things in life don’t change; especially the smell of bear bait! Yeah I know, my wife thinks I’m crazy too!


Whenever bears are involved it is important to use their strong sense of smell against them. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways with a variety of methods and attractants.

The aforementioned goodies give off delicious odors that draw in bruins to our hunters at our bear camp in northern Wisconsin. These odors can be detected by a bear’s nose up to a quarter mile away or more if the wind is right. Bear, like deer, depend on their nose to survive. The two biggest uses are to smell out danger and to find food. Therefore, it makes perfectly good sense to use the second one to our advantage. Not only does the scent of food draw bears to your desired hunting location, it’s also the key to keeping them in the area, revisiting, and not wandering off for greener pastures; so to speak.


Known for highly effective whitetail attractants, Tink’s now offers a new bear scent that is sure to bring in that big bruin for the perfect bow shot. Pictured here is their new bear product for 2013.

One of the things I do after I pick a great area for bears is I keep changing up the “vittles” every time I bait. Also, I use food scent spray to blanket the low hanging branches, leaves and ground around the bait itself. Bears, like humans, get sick of the same old thing. I love pizza and can smell it as soon as I get out of the car in the parking lot of my favorite lunch counter. BUT, I can’t eat it every day. I need variety. Well guess what, bears do to. After a week or so of smelling pie filling on the bait, they will know what to expect. As a result, they will eventually get in no hurry to head for the bait. This behavior will eventually lead to night time feeding. However, if you change the food up and periodically spray the area with different fragrances, it will keep the bears curious and they will want to investigate that new, unfamiliar, yet delicious odor around your bait station.


It is important to add variety to any bait pile. This means changing foods as well as scents to keep bear curiosity peaked.

I try to mix it up every time I bait. One day it will be bacon scent, the next will be raspberry, then jelly donuts, black licorice and sometimes liquid smoke might finish off the week. Most of these scents come in both spray and gel form from several companies that can be found online and in a lot of sporting goods stores.  Personally, I prefer using the gel to start up the bait at the beginning of the season to get the local bears in the area curios. Using a stick, I’ll simply smear the gel on trees surrounding the bait. The gel will last several weeks and is very strong; which helps push the smell through the woods when your bait might not have much of an odor like popcorn or (some) cereals.  Next, I use the spray scent on tree branches and the leaves overhead so the wind can make contact and carry it long distances. The spray also aids in covering up your own body odor as you walk in and out of your bait station during baiting season, especially if you’re baiting during the hot, muggy days of August; which will leave most hunters sweating while doing their baiting chores.


Attractant gels and sprays that are placed high enough for wind currents to reach will greatly enhance the effective range of any bait station, thus, increasing the odds of success.

I will also spray the ground around the bait itself. By doing this, the bears will step in this scent and walk away with it on their feet, thus creating a trail for other bears to following back to the bait if they happen to be traveling thru the area. This technique works well as I’m always seeing new bears throughout the baiting season that weren’t there in the beginning. Whatever you do, do not spray it on your feet as bears will back track you to your vehicle. The older, smarter ones will sometimes even turn nocturnal as a result. Also, do not spray the tree your hunting in or a ground blind if you are on the ground because you can bet your favorite bow that a bold youngster will climb up your tree or inside your blind. As a guide, I’m often asked why I don’t were gloves when handling logs and brush around the bait. My response sometimes causes my clients to raise their eyebrows in dis-belief. I tell them that bears, especially older ones aren’t stupid. They can smell that a human was there every time the bait pit or hollow log magically gets filled with food. So, what I’m actually doing is conditioning the bears….somewhat. You see, by spraying the area down with food scent just before I leave, I’m telling the bears “yeah a human was here, but he’s not here now”, because my odor is not as strong as if my smelly body was still there.  In addition, I also believe the amount of scent a well showered and de-scented hunter is actually giving off is about the same amount of scent that I leave at a bait sight after I’m done refreshing it. The spray also helps mask the odor somewhat of a hunter that might not be as scent free as I would like. It will not cover up cigarette smoke, tobacco chew or gasoline and oil products; no food spray will. So, I make sure my hands and clothes are free from these odors at all times while baiting.


Don’t forget to spray overhanging vegetation and also the ground in and around the bait sight.

Food scents will not cover up the mistakes of a sloppy hunter who does not take scent control serious. However, they do make baits more attractive and help keep the smells interesting to the bears so they come and investigate more often. That fact that they help knock down human odor is a bonus. Give these scent and techniques a try on your next bear adventure and you will surely enjoy the sweet smell of success.

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