Hunters and bear enthusiasts flooded the Kenai River Center Tuesday as an Alaska Department of Fish and Game bear baiting clinic bagged more than 60 participants.
Anyone wanting to bait black bears on the Kenai Peninsula is required to attend a bear baiting clinic, but not everyone interested in bear baiting necessarily wants to to kill a bear.
Some of the bait clinic’s participants want trophy skulls, hides and meat, but others just want to take pictures and watch, said Larry Lewis, a Fish and Game wildlife technician and a baiting clinic instructor.
“You don’t have to kill a bear, you can go out there, feed mosquitoes and take pictures,” he said.
Although Soldotna hunter Zack Lloyd plans to hunt bears when he sets up his station, he said bear baiting stations also provide an opportunity to share wildlife experiences with others.
“It’s easier to show kids what bears are all about (from a bait station),” he said.
For hunters who are baiting primarily for trophies, however, attracting enough bears to be selective requires careful preparation and lots of patience.
“If hunters are being selective for bigger bears for trophies and hides they have to do their homework,” Lewis said. “It’s an art form.”
He said tree stands should be tested in advance to work out the squeaks and creeks that could scare bears away and to ensure they are stable and safe.
Lewis also said hunters should always wear a harness.
“If that sucker flips over, you don’t want to be laying on there alone on the ground next to your bait,” he said to a room full of chuckles.
Lewis also warned participants to be careful to bait and hunt the right animals.
It’s illegal to bait brown bears on the peninsula and illegal to kill black bears with cubs.
Hunters should patiently watch bears that visit their stations before they shoot, to make sure they do not have cubs.
It might not be immediately obvious that a bear has cubs, since they sometimes temporarily hide them in distant brush, Lewis said.
To avoid shooting a bear with cubs, hunters should watch for signs of motherhood such as prominent teats.
Although much of the clinic was spent discussing regulations, safety and how to successfully attract bears, bear baiting always stirs controversy, and a class on it would be incomplete without a discussion on ethics, Lewis said.
“Ethics are a very sticky deal, but we definitely talk about it,” he said.
However, Lewis said bear baiters can improve public perceptions about bear hunting and compared responsible bear baiting to other long accepted hunting techniques, such as bird hunting over a group of decoys and calling ducks.
During the clinic, Lewis urged hunters to maintain good behavior while hunting bears if they want to see the practice continue to remain legal.
“Hunting privileges will be won or lost at the ballot box,” he said. “(And) ethics play a big role in how hunters are perceived by the public, by nonhunters and by the other hunters.”
He reminded participants that just because something is legal does not mean it’s ethical. He encouraged hunters to take on responsibilities that go beyond legal requirements.
Although the law does not require a hunter to salvage meat, for example, Lewis said harvesting it reduces waste. Hunters who do not want the meat can donate it to charity.
Lewis also urged hunters to practice good marksmanship to reduce animal suffering and the risk of wounding an animal without killing it.
Ideal shots include a shot through both shoulders or a shot through the heart and lungs, he said.
To ensure they know where to aim, hunters should study bear anatomy in advance of setting up their station, he said.
He also suggests experienced hunters use their stations to teach others how to properly bait and hunt.
“Show them how much patience and persistence it takes,” he said.
Penny and Len Malmquist, who attended Tuesday’s clinic, said they are not sure whether they plan to hunt any bears. But if they do, they plan to using a station, they said.
“I’m an archer, so it would be a lot harder without bait,” Len said.
Although they would be happy to keep a bear hide and skull, the couple is more interested in hunting for meat.
“I don’t think that we have ever hunted anything that we didn’t totally consume,” Penny said.
The Malmquists said they enjoy viewing and photographing wildlife and might set up a station just for that.
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