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How to Set Up a Bear Bait Barrel

There’s a common misconception that bear hunting over bait is a simple task, free of the work and worry of scouting or labor intensive efforts. Ask a bear hunter that’s done it and they’ll tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. Running bear bait in the spring or fall tends to be nothing short of brutal labor. It’s not for the weak. Aside from the serious grunt work of hauling bait up the mountain on your back, the toughest part of the task can be finding that perfect honey-hole that you can consistently kill bears from year after year. A few of my good friends and I started running bear baits a decade or so ago when my family lived out west. Over the years, through much trial and error, we learned a few things on what to do, as well as what not to do, when it came to the subject, how to set up a bear bait barrel. My buddy, Dave Oligee, of Simmons Sharks, is absolutely eat up with hunting black bear over bait. I picked his brain for his strategy on how to set up a bear bait barrel. Here’s what he had to say…

hauling bear bait barrel

The toughest part of baiting bears is often making that first run up the mountain to get the bait barrel and bait in place.

The Skinny on How to Set Up a Bear Bait Barrel

Here’s a look at 5 concepts to consider when running your bear bait this spring. These are some general practices that have proven effective, but can also be tailored to best meet your needs depending on your bait site.

Don’t underestimate the importance of barrel placement – Don’t be fooled into thinking you can blindly place your barrel at random and have an active bait site 3 days later. Sure, you might get lucky with this tactic, but more times than not, you’ll be wasting your time. “Barrel placement is really important,” says Oligee. “Bears spend about 75% of their life within a half mile of water. No water – no bears. Use topo maps to locate water sources and creek drainages for likely travel routes for bears. Also, keep in mind that depending on where you hunt, your bear bait barrel may be required to be a certain distance from creeks, rivers, or other water sources.

Run ridges when setting up your bait barrel – Ridges are ideal bear bait locations due to the way wind and bear travel works together. “I like narrow, dark ridges that come down to water,” says Oligee. “Set up where you can get scent rolling off and going up drainages on both sides of your bait.”

Use stink to start your bear bait barrel – Stinky baits work well when you’re first starting up your bait site for the year, or running a new location. Unfortunately, the worse it smells, the better it seams to work. That’s why you see so many outfitters on TV using rotting beaver carcasses or other old meat. Rotten meat or carp (fish) works really well because of the stink they put off. Hang these stinky baits up high so their scent can disperse well, grabbing the attention of bears for miles.


Dave Oligee with a bear he killed over bait with his longbow.

Go with the sweet stuff when you set up a bear bait barrel – We use to hit up all the local bakeries for their old goods to use as bear bait. It became a game to see who could stock pile the biggest and best bear bait from the local merchants. The bottom line, sweets work incredibly well. “I like to use sweet baits as soon as bears come out of the den,” says Oligee. “Donuts, pastries, and muffins…sweets always seem to be pretty fool-proof bear bait. There will be a time as the season gets underway when meats tend to be magic, and we’ll pour on the meat pretty heavy at this time, but sweets are a good bet at any time.”

How to build a bear bait barrel – “Your barrel configuration can be one of the most important things you do when it comes to conserving bait,” says Oligee. “Too many guys use barrels with wide openings that bear can easily rake the bait out of for every scavenger in town. You will blow through way too much bait like this. Holes in barrels need to be less than eight inches, with bars welded across the hole to keep bears from raking all your bait out on the ground. I like my barrels anchored vertically as well. This particular setup has helped our baits last 1/3 longer than with wide openings in the barrel.

bear-bait-barrel with bear

This is the bear bait barrel setup that Dave relies on each season.

Use the steps mentioned above to maximize your bear bait barrel success this season. The name of the game is to find a spot that allows bears to access your bait site easily and comfortably. Use scouting tools like onX  to locate and navigate potential bear bait sites and save lots of legwork. When you know how and where to effectively set up a bear bait barrel, you’ll be in the hot seat for one of the funnest hunts of the spring season.

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