Simple Fact: The more effort you put into masking your scent, the bigger the Black Bears coming into your target zone will be.
All experienced Black Bear Outfitters have their little tricks to make their bear hunters hunt more enjoyable and also help with their success. If you are new to bear hunting you should know what you are up against. Every hunter wants a big trophy bear and this article should bring you a little closer to that goal, but remember, to thoroughly follow the advice of your outfitter, if you’ve chosen one, and, above all else: DO NOT DEVIATE from the routine they have already established.
Black Bear hunting to the outfitter is about luring bears to a target zone for their hunting guests by baiting with food the bears like such as high-carbohydrate foods. Bread, pasta and other high starch content foods are rare in nature but it’s what the bears want most so they can quickly store fat for the winter. It’s also about setting up stands at strategic spots where big bears have been scouted. Black Bear hunting for the hunter is all about stealth, with the two biggest factors being sound and most of all, smell.
Black Bear’s Sense of Smell: Olfactory Receptors
The Black Bear has the best sense on smell of any land walking mammal on Earth. It’s really hard for a human to comprehend how well a bear can smell as we basically have to stick our nose in the pot to smell the sauce. Comparing the amount of Olfactory Receptors between a human and a Black Bear is mind boggling.
Olfactory Receptors are microscopic bulbs on the end of nerves in a mammal’s nose. The more you have the better your sense of smell is.
6,000,000 Olfactory Receptors (6 million)
- Blood Hounds:
1,800,000,000 Olfactory Receptors (1.8 billion)
- Black Bear:
12,600,000,000,000 Olfactory Receptors (12.6 Trillion)
A Black Bear can smell 2100 times better than a human. In addition the Jacobson’s organ in their mouth can taste the air, adding to their brains perception. A mature Black Bear can smell your breakfast from 20 miles away if the wind is right. Big mature bears can smell better than smaller younger bears as their noses are larger and more developed. Bears also know what unnatural smells are and associate them with a human presence. This can explain why Black Bear hunters that are not fanatical about the way they smell rarely see big trophy bears. There are procedures you can do to minimize unnatural smells to keep the bears concentrating on the bait that the outfitter has put out for them. It is wise to check with your outfitter before applying anything new to the bait station that they normally don’t use.
1) Before your bear hunting trip; pick a couple of sets of clothes that you will only wear at the tree stand while hunting. Wash your clothes with scent-free detergent and when done, run them though the wash twice again with no detergent so they are well rinsed. This will ensure your clothes are scent free. If you live in the city and have chlorinated city water then go to a pet store and buy a small bottle of Aquarium Water Conditioner and add ½ oz. to the last rinse cycle you do with your clothes. The water conditioner will neutralize the chlorine in the water and keep the chlorine smell out of your clothes. Remember, they can smell 2100 times better than you so don’t feel silly getting fanatical. Then pack the clothes in a plastic bag to keep them scent free. If you consistently use fabric softener in your clothes dryer it’s best to hang your clothes up to dry because residual clothes softener might go on your clothes. If you are a smoker, do not smoke while wearing your hunting clothes.
Before we go to the next points you should be aware that Black Bears love the smell of mint. If you go on a camping trip in any of Ontario’s provincial parks the wardens will tell you not to keep mint toothpaste or mint gum in your tent because the bears will smell it and go after it. The bears craving for mint can be used to your advantage.
2) Think Mint: Go to one of those hippy tree-hugger heath stores and buy mint soap. The morning before the hunt take a shower using the mint soap. Brush your teeth with mint toothpaste. Chew mint gum while in the tree stand and if you really want to go all the way, have a glass of mint tea before the hunt and even keep a few bags of mint tea in your pockets. This will help cover up any scent.
3) Smoking: If you are a smoker and you smoke in the tree stand you are basically wasting your time if you expect a big trophy bear to come within sight. Wind direction can give you a little luck but it’s not something you should count on. It’s best to wear a nicotine patch while in the tree stand and if you need to; chew mint gum to keep your mind off smoking. Remember to brush your teeth and wash your hands and stop smoking before you put your scent free hunting clothes on. This would also apply to cigars and chewing tobacco as well.
Black Bear Hearing:
The shape of Black Bear’s ears is mainly responsible for their great hearing. When detecting sound based on volume a bear’s hearing is about four times that of a human. However, a bear can hear a much broader frequency range; both higher and lower frequencies. Rubbing of cloth or twisting of your tree stand can produce sounds that the bear can hear and the hunter cannot. Big old male bears develop a crowned head and their ears move out to the sides giving them stereoscopic hearing, which allows them to pinpoint the origin of the sounds they hear. This is another reason why big old bears are harder to get.
With this in mind try to stay absolutely still. If you have to move; move very slowly. Take some nose drops before the hunt and if you have a cold or allergies. If your throat is dry and itchy bring some mint flavored lozenges with you. You can also oil the joints of your tree stand to make them a little quieter.
Black Bear Sight:
During the day a Black Bear basically has the same site as a human but older bears tend to be near sighted. As a result they cannot focus on things from a long distance. When one of an animal’s senses becomes diminished their brain rewires itself to compensate by making other senses more acute. This is known as neural placidity. As a bear gets older they become near sighted so the brain compensates by being more sensitive to color differentiation. If the bear sees colors it thinks are unnatural and he sees those colors move the game is up. Bears cannot see the same range of colors as a human. Hunter orange looks gray to them. But they can see dull reds and yellows as well into the blue/green cool color spectrum. This is why there are many different forms of camouflage clothing.
Picking the right Camouflage:
You need to talk to the outfitter when you book your hunt and ask what kind of plants will be at the tree stands. If the hunt is taking place in the southern range of Ontario’s bear hunting country during the fall you may have a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, thus you will need a camouflage that represents pine needles, pine bark and colored fall foliage. If you are father north in an area with only pine trees you will need a camouflage that represents pine bark and pine needles, which means dark brown and green. You need to blend into the scenery so their bear cannot see any unnatural color pattern.
Black Bears are nocturnal. They have a reflective layer in the back of the eye called the tarpetum lucidum. Just because you can’t see them does not mean they cannot see you. Since dusk is the hottest bear hunting time it’s also when you should concentrate the most on being quiet and motionless.
In most cases, big ears mean a smaller bear. A small ear is usually a bigger bear. Once a bear reaches three years old (approx. 100 lbs.), the bear starts to grow into its ears. The ears and eyes don’t grow as much as they do in the first three years. Sometimes if a bear has a hard year with food, the ears will look bigger because the bear is thinner. Read our article: How to Size a Black Bear
When a sow is with cubs, 90% of the time the cubs are in the lead. The cubs will make more noise than a single bear. Most of the time, adult bears make little or no noise.
You can’t shoot a sow with cubs in the Ontario spring hunt, and in the fall we continue this policy on our BMA – DO NOT SHOOT SOWS with cubs.. So make 100% sure you know what you are shooting at. Take a really good look around to make sure there are no cubs. A sow’s ears are usually closer together, as a male bear’s cranium grows wider on top and the ears look farther apart. They also look smaller, which is really an illusion.
These tips and techniques are just a guide line for some things to consider and think about. Ultimately the outfitter is the person you need to discuss the different factors with. Bear hunting can be quite different in different regions.
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