These are common mistakes people make at bear baiting sites

By Chris Sargent

The constant whining from a cloud of mosquitos was wearing on me. For the second afternoon in a row, they tried their best to find a way through my bug net as I sat motionless, camouflaged and tucked tightly into a brush pile just off the edge of an old woods road.

It was the second day of bear season, and I knew if I remained patient, he’d return to the bait eventually. Several hours went by before I finally heard him coming. My heart pounded, and I didn’t move a muscle as he passed by me at less than 10 yards. 

The plan was to let him get to the bait, then take him on his way out. I heard him work the site over for several minutes before he came lumbering back up the trail toward me without a care in the world. And just as he reached for the door handle, I stepped out from behind his truck.

Photo courtesy of Chris Sargent
WALL MOUNT — This beautiful mature boar was killed by Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Chris Sargent at his favorite bait site, which he secures permission to hunt each year from the generous landowner.

“Maine Game Warden! Hold it right there!”

It was clear that being caught completely off guard deep in the woods was a startling experience for the hunter, but that was my intent. The element of surprise meant he wouldn’t have time to come up with much of a story. But it didn’t stop him from stringing together a very lively, expletive-filled response. 

I always tried my best as a warden not to beat around the bush, especially when the issue at hand was crystal clear to both of us. Being friendly, honest, up front and direct with people seemed to work far better in most situations than peppering them with questions like some sort of hot-shot interrogator.

The bear hunter knew why I was there: his bait site was illegal. 

Not only was the site unlabeled, but I strongly suspected he did not have landowner permission to place the bait, and likely didn’t even know who owned the land. I’d located the site a week or so earlier, and had visited it three times, hoping to find it properly labeled before the hunting season opened.  

The hunter briefly attempted to explain away the labeling issue, but ultimately admitted the violation. He also said he did not have landowner permission, nor did he know who owned the property. 

I handed him a summons, instructed him to remove the bait in the next few days, then we shook hands and parted ways.

I checked dozens of bear baits each year as a game warden. While most of them were perfectly legal, the number of violations was surprising. Since bear baiting can start for the season this month, it’s a good time for a rules checkup.

The laws and rules surrounding placement of a bear bait site are simple and straightforward.

Permission must be obtained from the landowner or an agent of the landowner; the site must be at least 50 yards from a travel way accessible by a conventional two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle; the bait location must be a minimum of 500 yards away from a site permitted for the disposal of solid waste, a campground or an occupied dwelling unless permission is granted by the owner or lessee; and the stand, blind or bait area must be clearly labeled with a 2-inch by 4-inch tag with the name and address of the baiter. 

There are further regulations that speak to site cleanup, littering, disturbing another’s bait site and the like.

The most common violations I encountered involved bait sites that had been established for years, decades or even generations. Hunters operated on the belief that permission must have been granted at some point in the past, so there was no need to concern themselves with re-seeking it each year. 

The problem with that is it’s very common for land, especially larger tracts, to change hands over the years, and the current owner may not be willing to grant permission. Also, over time, a new residence, camp or campground may have been built within 500 yards of the bait, rendering it in violation unless permission to keep it there is obtained. 

Less common, but of greatest concern, were hunters who flagrantly disregarded all regulations by placing a bait site wherever they wanted, or continued to hunt an illegal site with no regard for landowners, other hunters or laws in general. I tried my best to make those violators my priority.

Bear bait can be legally placed this year on July 27. That’s less than a month away. Now is the time to check in with property owners to renew permission at established sites, secure permission for new locations, ensure they comply with all regulations and get them ready for the season. 

Maine black bear hunting is a treasured tradition, and we enjoy some of the finest, most generous hunting opportunities found anywhere in the country. Follow the rules, be ethical, be respectful, do it right and you’ll have a great season. 

But if you choose not to, instead of a bear hiding in the bushes at your bait site, you just might get a bug-bitten warden, the surprise of your life and a shiny new summons to appear in court.

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