Wolf Bait, Bear Bait, and What’s on the Menu

A few weeks back I speculated that wolf hunting, whatever you might think of the whole business, could turn out to be more difficult here in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan than it’s been out in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.  But I wondered if it might be easier for hunters using bait. I even made a couple lame jokes about the idea. “I wonder…,” I wrote, “what kind of bait?  Roadkill deer, which may become harder to find the week before wolf season?  Dead sheep?  A live goat tied to a stake, as was once used when hunting tigers in India?”

Just after that I talked with someone from the DNR, who reminded me that none of those baits would be legal.  Just so you know.  In Wisconsin, at least, hunting wolves over bait won’t be anything like what most people would imagine.  Nearly everyone who’s seriously planning to do it knows exactly how it’s done.  They’re getting ready now, and in a way they’ve been preparing for years.  For all the rest of us, here’s the scoop.

To slightly oversimplify, wolf hunters can follow either the bear rules or the deer rules.  In Wisconsin, “deer rules” means a maximum bait amount of two gallons at any one site.  (For most deer hunters who bait, that means two gallons of corn.)  “Bear rules” means a maximum of five gallons, but the bait must be covered with large rocks or logs that prevent deer from reaching it.  (This has the added benefit of preventing raccoons or other animals from eating all the bait before a bear arrives.)

In either case, meat and meat byproducts are not allowed.  Also forbidden are substances that would be poison, either intentionally or accidentally.  Not being a dog owner, I had no idea.  But apparently chocolate and raisins are bad for canids.  Not allowed.  Other substances may soon be added to the list.  The artificial sweetener Xylitol, for example, can be deadly for dogs.  So for dogs and wolves alike, sugar-free gum is to be avoided.

Wolf hunters will be allowed to watch over a gut pile from a deer that’s been legally harvested by them or someone else.  But other than that, no meat.  So why, you’re wondering, would wolves, being the carnivores they are, even be interested in vegetarian bait?  The answer is surprising, and it has to do mainly with bear bait sites.

Some bear hunters sit in a treestand and watch over bait, while others chase bears with hounds until they’re treed.  But even most hound hunters maintain bait sites as a place for their hounds to pick up a scent and start the chase.  Out on public land here in the north woods, these bait sites are everywhere.  They draw bears, but they also lure in all sorts of other wildlife.  Some species come for the bait, and others for the hunting.  Some are carnivores, but some are omnivores—in a few cases, newly converted omnivores.  Apparently trailcams have caught a number of embarrassed wolves wolfing down stale donuts meant for bears.

These bait sites, often maintained in the same location for years, have become signposts, busy intersections, and food web focal points.  Although they’re only replenished on a regular basis for three or four months of the year, they remain an important crossroads for twelve months of the year.  Everyone stops by, if only to see who else has stopped by.  Fishers and other animals that are highly territorial make an exception for bait sites.  After all, there’s plenty for everyone.  If you were going to sit in a treestand and wait for a wolf to saunter by, one of the very best places to do that would be at a bear bait site.

From an ecological standpoint, bear bait is also interesting because it represents such a huge artificial pulse of energy, one that’s significant even at a landscape level.  It doesn’t take much imagination to think of ways this could potentially distort the ecological balance. Here’s just one:  Many bears are now having twins and triplets, something that was almost unheard of twenty years ago.  Bears are a leading predator of fawns; the WI DNR estimates they take over twice as many deer as coyotes do, and nearly three times as many as wolves.  Bear hunters often blame wolves for taking “their” deer, but…

How much bait are bear hunters actualy putting out there on the landscape?  It’s hard to say.  But just a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation based on hunter numbers and typical baiting amounts and frequencies adds up to…  a lot.  Imagine whole convoys of semi-trailers driving north with full loads of stale donuts, pie filling, and fryer grease.  Enough so that some entrepreneurs make serious money buying expired bake goods or fillings and then reselling them to bear hunters by the truck load.

So if no meat or meat byproducts are allowed, then just what exactly is on the menu?  To see for yourself, all it takes is a quick online search for words like “bear bait for sale.”  Here’s a very partial list of what you’ll find at dealers’ websites:

Apple topping, wonder glaze white icing, peach topping (cubed peaches), custard (runny), pure white sugar, apple filling pouches, fruit snacks, liquid smoke, fryer grease, lemon filling, orange & glossy frosting, weatherproof candies, licorice, cherry pie filling, cream cheese frosting, caramel bun smear, strawberry cream, Bavarian and strawberry cream, peanut butter, cookie dough, whole mixed cookies, cream filled sugar wafers, pretzels, boysenberry fruit filling, sticky granola, dry granola, sugar cones, brown sugar, Andes candies, marshmallow ripple, butterscotch ripple, butter creme, circus peanuts, cashews, almonds, craisins, sunflower seeds, blueberry pie filling, raspberry pie filling, Cinnabon cinnamon sugar, dates, dried appricots and peaches, and strawberry preserves.

One bait dealer notes that “Delivery is available for 4,000 pounds or more up to 18,000 pounds.”

Yum!

© 2012 Al Cambronne

About alcambronne

I write about nature and the environment. My latest book is DEERLAND: America's Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness.
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10 Responses to Wolf Bait, Bear Bait, and What’s on the Menu

  1. Erik Jensen says:

    The problem with not using bait is that bears, similar to the wolf case, are very hard to see in Midwestern landscapes. Hence, baiting is necessary, although I hate the idea of it.

    I have changed my mind about bears, I used to think they were too sentient of a being to kill, at least for me. However, as I mentioned on Tovar’s blog aways back, on our CO elk hunt, after about five-six days of hunting hard and only “seeing” one elk (we spooked it and it was GONE), and seeing lots of bears and eating dried backpack food, I really wanted to kill a bear for fresh meat. Plus, they are about as sentient as pigs, and we eat them all the time, or at least I do.

    The main thing holding me back is baiting and the time of year. TOO WARM. Baiting in MN starts on Aug 17th, when there are still loads of bugs and it’s hot. The season starts on Sept 1st. Sometimes it’s in the eighties then. Shooting an animal with thick fur on a day like that doesn’t sound fun, esp when you throw in the fact of insects in these boggy landscapes.

    I did just read about using a fawn in distress call to lure bears in, and usually it works later in the season, like in October. It’s not a priority, but it’s possible I might do that.

    • alcambronne says:

      Erik — I agree. In warm weather, it’s hard enough to cool a deer down fast enough for food safety purposes. A bear would be even tougher. Good luck with the fawn call. I’ve also heard that if you know what you’re doing and stake out the right cornfield, you might have a good chance. But for that to work really well, we’d have to move the season up to mid-august–when it’s even warmer. Not likely.

  2. Al, very good article. But I will have a LOT to say about this, in an upcoming O’fieldstream blog. Not about wolf hunting; which I think may be necessary to cull the numbers, but by no means are wolves any more ‘evil’ than say, coyotes, badgers, mountain lions, fox, hawks, eagles… or humans. Predators kill and eat. Too many of them and they become a problem. Culling may be necessary.

    OUCH! WE are in there, too … aren’t we? “. \

    Uhhhh .. what I WILL BE writing about is the question of what harm is being done by ‘dumping all this artificial crap’ into the environment… and … What could be the results of having the wildlife – from keystone predators, to keystone bacteria, eating/consuming/converting it?

    We have a real ecological can of worms being unleashed upon us .. and we have NO IDEA of the implications. Yes. It’s time to sweat a bit about this. Because, it may seem ‘small stuff now’… if the fears prove to be only partially correct – it will elevate to Big Stuff, really fast.

    ‘Til later – keep on keeping us thinking.

    O’fieldstream

    • alcambronne says:

      I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts on that. As Erik noted, it’s not easy to get a bear by any other method. There’s hounds, but some find that inhumane. And dogs are a big investment of time, energy, and money. You’d have to really be into the dogs and all that entails, even more than the hunting. But still, once you consider the amount of bait that’s being put out there, it does raise certain questions. That’s also true, by the way, with feeding and baiting deer. The amounts involved there are even larger.

  3. somsai says:

    Interesting how laws and traditions vary place to place. You’ve named about 18 game violations in as many paragraphs, I try to bite my tongue over the hunting practices in other places though. No doubt we do things a little differently too.

    The part that caught my interest however was the mention of feeding bears and upsetting the “ecological balance”. There is no balance. Artificially feeding bears will result in higher bear populations which I’d assume bear hunters would like. Though the period of fawn vulnerability is short bears are very successful during that time. Just wait until you have a significant cougar population, they eat a couple deer a month at least. Wolves also eat throughout the year. At least cats spread themselves out over the woods, self limiting by territory.

    I’ve re read Leopold’s chapter on predators a few times. Management is key. Deer hunters and bear hunters will have to come to some sort of an understanding. And Wolves?

    I’m probably going to take up predator hunting for management reasons alone. Our laws make things more difficult though. No dogs for bear, no bait for any big game. Browse and grass much thinner.

  4. Brad M says:

    We have started baiting on a few properties where the owners are having problems with them so this is the first year anyone has tried baiting or hunting them.It has been very warm here in MN all though we did get one hit we are sure was a bear but everything else we think is coons and skunks. What should we be looking for to show signs that we are in the right area. What temps will get the bears more active. All info would be appreciated.

    • alcambronne says:

      Brad — I’m not actually a bear hunter myself, so I can’t give you a lot of expert advice. (I’d encourage anyone else to chip in if they have good advice for Brad.) I don’t know about bears being less active when it’s hot, but I’d think they’d still be coming to bait, even if it’s during the night. And they wander a pretty wide area, so they’re probably still around. One suggestion: to keep out the other, smaller animals, I think a lot of people dig a bait pit and cover it–sort of like in that second photo. Bears will move the logs aside to get at the bait.

  5. Brad M says:

    We have covered the pit with logs as I stated pretty sure a bear hit one of the 4, But the rest are just dig unders. That was 10 days ago now just rodents it seems. Trying some new bait sense. Hoping to draw them in will check again tomorrow.
    Thanks

  6. mike arko says:

    I am looking for a couple of tons of bear bait if anyone has any for sale
    info@mikesoutfiter.com

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