Issue of the Week: Bear Baiting

Image courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation.

Where there is bear hunting, there is controversy. One of the more controversial subjects is whether bear baiting is ethical.

Bear baiting is the act of placing food such as tuna fish, corn, old baked goods, or items coated in sweet liquids, such as honey or syrup, at a “bait site” in order to lure bears.  Hunters are often perched in tree stands close to the bait site so they can assess the size and gender of bears before harvesting.

Many anti-hunting groups strongly oppose the idea of bear baiting and label it, inhumane and unfair. They believe that enticing a bear to wander closer to the hunter is against the very definition of a hunt. They also argue that it adds to the number of “problem bears” because, those bears who are not harvested at the site, learn to eat human food and then look for it elsewhere in neighborhoods and campsites.

“I firmly believe that baiting creates ‘nuisance’ bears,” Colorado Division of Wildlife bear biologist, Tom Beck said. “Black bears are naturally wary, instinctively avoiding close contact with humans. But a large amount of tasty food, easily obtained, defeats this wariness. By baiting, we create lazy bears who have been rewarded, not punished, for overcoming their fear of humans.”

While some states acknowledge this argument and have outlawed bear baiting, other states and wildlife managers believe bear baiting is a useful hunting and management strategy.  Some conservation groups argue that bear baiting creates harvest opportunities for bears in certain areas where other methods of hunting are not very effective. They also state that baiting is used for other conservation purposes besides hunting.

A study by the Maine Environmental Policy Institute, Black Bears: A Situation Analysis on Baiting and Hounding, explains that wildlife control officers might also bait bears to capture a reputed ‘nuisance animal’ and relocate, aversively condition, or euthanize the animal.

The report states:  “As wildlife agencies set target bear populations, collect biological data on state populations, mitigate human-bear conflicts, and provide recreational opportunities for hunters, they need to determine the most effective, efficient, and feasible manner with which to achieve management goals. Baiting and hounding have shown to be two viable management tools.”


Hunters have also weighed in on the issue. They argue that baiting draws bears closer to hunters, which results in more accurate shots taken from shorter distances. Some believe that the steeper angle of shots taken from tree stands improves blood trails and allows the bear to be tracked more easily, ensuring that every bear is recovered.

The stigma associated with bear baiting has given rise to various legislative and administrative efforts throughout the United States and legal parameters are still being drawn.  Some states ban the practice, while others allow it but offer or require bear baiting courses in order to properly educate hunters on the most ethical baiting strategies.  Hunters are the frontrunners of conservation and understand that ethical harvesting methods should be at the core of every pursuit. Bear populations are currently on the rise.  It rests on individual states to conduct accurate population surveys and set necessary guidelines to effectively manage the species.

As bear populations increase, the bear baiting public debate will surface over and over again.  Where the practice is allowed, it is up to the individual hunter to decide. The best approach for deciding whether to use bait, including to aid in conservation, is to get educated on the facts, local laws and best science-based management plans, and act accordingly.

Twice a week, SCI Foundation informs readers about conservation initiatives happening worldwide and updates them on SCI Foundation’s news, projects and events. Tuesdays are dedicated to an Issue of the Week and Thursday’s Weekly Updates will provide an inside look into research and our other science-based conservation efforts. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more SCI Foundation news.

2 Replies to “Issue of the Week: Bear Baiting”

  1. If he’s to be quoted in this article, I would ask wildlife biologist Beck to provide any empirical data or published peer reviewed studies that show a conclusive link between legal and regulated bear baiting activities and the creation of nusiance bears. The fact is that bears are site conditioned through the placement of bait in a particular place. That’s the premise behind baiting. When the food or scent lure are removed from that place, the bear(s) may visit the same site repeatedly but will not indefinitely select for a particular food product post-exposure. In other words, just because a hunter used jelly doughnuts for bait does not mean the bear will race into a developed subdivision or the local grocery store seeking more jelly doughnuts once the bait has been removed from the hunt area. There is no proof of that and quite the contrary, many bears at bait sites are harvested meaning they have an even lesser chance of becoming a nusiance to anyone. The same people who find bear baiting repugnent for whatever reason are generally the same people who fish with bait, decoy and call predators, call ungulates during the rut, decoy ducks

  2. Follow up comment – it’s also a great way to get a kid his or her first clean kill shot at a bear. We have enough problems with anti-hunters working non-stop to crush our hunting rights and privilages so we conservationists, wildlife professionals and hunters need to support all legal, fair chase methods even if we do not engage in them ourselves. Thank you.

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