I just returned from a week in the remote wilds of Maine hunting bruins. Bear camp has become a new annual September ritual, with this being my third year. This season was spent with the fine folks and guides at Eagle Mountain Guide Service located in the center of the prime bear habitat of Washington County. This area of the state is comprised of dense spruce thickets, cedar swamps and thousands of acres of blueberry barrens. This unique geography creates a prime habitat of quality feeding and bedding areas for growing big bruins.
During the course of my stay, several bears were harvested ranging from a "good eatin" 100 to a monster 370 pound animal that required 6 men to stretcher out of the woods. One client even observed 10 different bear on his bait during the course of the week. He managed a shot on the final night with his single shot TC in 30-'06 firing hornary sst rounds in 180 grain. Unfortunately, after hours of tracking, by both guides and dogs over a course of two seperate days, it was unfortunately not recovered. Personally, I enjoyed watching a 120 and 200+ pound bear visit my bait site but was not offered an ethical shot opportunity on either animal.
My week was spent spending early mornings coyote hunting over endless tracks of blueberry barrens and afternoons and late evening assisting the guides with pulling off hides, butchering, packaging and icing meat, and assisting with the baiting process. All in all a wonderful learning experience.
Another highlight of my trip was the shooting of 5 different iron sighted and scoped hand cannons that several of the sportsmen had brought with them. With a range starting with the diminutative .357 (kidding) and ending with magnums just shy of .500 I was quickly educated in proper form and handling of these powerful wheel guns.
What did I learn?
Shot placement is key! Due to the close range shooting on a bear hunt rifles should be set to be dead on at 25 yards. For most rifle hunters typically shooting dead on at 100 yards this means you will be shooting several inches low. When this relatively small deviation is compounded by an excited shooter, a shot believed to be in the cross hairs can quickly move from critical to wounding. Practice elevated shots at close range before your hunt as bear in the thick maine woods typically do not allow hunters a second shot opportunity. Sportsmen can also increase their chances by studying placement charts and watching bears being shot with good placement on video.
All bait sites are not created equal. If possible hunters being guided should clearly communicate to their service the size of the bear they are targeting. Are you looking for a smaller bear for the dinner table or a Boone and Crocket animal. The more information you provide, the better capable the guides will be in setting you up with getting a shot opportunity on the animal you wish to harvest. If open to the prospect, mail your guide service a trail camera and have them capture your bear digitally and e-mail you the photos. Some highly technical guide services will even have their own cameras and run this service anyway.
Low light conditions that occur when hunting bait sites in heavily forested areas become unhuntable up to 45 minutes before the end of legal shooting due to the loss of day light. This means your cross hairs will disappear, making an ethical shot impossible, way before you need to legally leave the woods. Quality optics, battery illumination and night vision all can work to assist hunters in dealing with the darkening conditions.
Scent control should be practiced through persistence and consistence. Be sure to practive excellent personal hygeine through the entire course of your week. This task becomes increasingly more complicated when hunting from remote hunting locations. Several companies sell handy no scent body wipes that can be used to eliminate body odors. When combined with no scent baking soda based deodorants and scent eliminating sprays sportsmen can gain a slight advantage in significantly challanging a bears sensitive nose.