Hunting season. The uninitiated, or even mainstream gun hunters might think it’s still a ways off.

Bowhunters and nuisance goose hunters might say it’s just around the corner. But for a small but dedicated cadre of the hunting community, the season has already been open for nearly a month.

The process actually began long before that, as it does with most types of hunting for the more dedicated practitioners. It might have started with poring over topo maps – or more likely Google Earth – for potential hunting locations. Next is seeking the landowner’s identity, followed by their permission, a process that could take minutes, days or even weeks. With that done, it’s time for some boots-on-the-ground scouting to hone down specific stand sites.

Before we go any further, however, we need to go back, way back. In order to establish a bait site for bear hunting, you need bait. I don’t bait anymore; I just don’t have the time. But when I did, I found a source of expired sweets that otherwise would have simply gone to the landfill to nourish local rats and other vermin and needlessly take up open space.

A truckload of Yodels, HoHos and Ding Dongs might seem like a lot, but by the time we got done shucking all the wrappers, the pile would have dwindled significantly. First came opening the cardboard boxes, each with 10 to 12 frosted cakes wrapped individually or in pairs. Then came shucking the wrappers. We’d always check the expiration date carefully, and if it was close, we might pilfer a Funny Bone or a Yankee Doodle just to maintain our sustenance. That done, the bait barrels were capped off and the wrappers and cartons folded and packed for recycling. After a month or so of collecting and shucking, we might have just enough to bait our sites for a week’s worth of hunting.

A month before hunting season, it was time to load up the barrels and head for the woods. Depending on how many sites we had and how far apart they were, it might take a day or two to get all the barrels out, one for each site. I always preferred to put my baits as far off roads and ATV trails as possible, but schlepping 50 gallons of sweets through bug-infested glacial boulder fields in the dog days of summer is a fairly labor intensive task, even with the two-wheel cart one of my hunting buddies fashioned for us.

Once the bait is set, trail cameras are put up on each site and the waiting begins. I would try to wait a week or so before the first camera check, but it’s tough as anticipation runs high. “Will the bears find our sweets?” More often than not, the first week or two pass with little or no attention, except maybe at the traditional sites. Then one day it happens. You download photos from your camera and up pops a somewhat blurry photo of a dark, amorphous shape with two illuminated eyes. It’s a bear!

It’s only coming at night, but it’s a bear. That alone is a pretty rewarding feeling. You’ve somehow managed to lure one of the wariest creatures in the forest into revealing its identity.

And so it goes. The process is repeated throughout the month of August as bear hunters visit their bait sites to see if they’ve attracted any attention. I used to figure if I could get some kind of activity on at least 50 percent of my sites, I was doing well. Regular activity was even better, but less common. Bears cover a lot of ground in their daily wanderings and may not visit the same bait site for several days, or more precisely, nights. In all my years of running baits with cameras, I calculated 85 to 90 percent of the bear activity was at night, outside of hunting hours.

Just the same, we would go out when the season opened and sit on stands as hours turned to days. Night after night we would return to camp and swap stories. “The bugs were voracious,” one hunter might complain. “I’ve got to saw off that broken limb,” another would begin. “It stabbed me in the back all night.” Then one night, someone would come in with a sly smile. “I saw a bear. It was a sow with cubs, but I saw a bear.”

And if the stars lined up, the gray gods of hunting smiled, and one of our party was lucky enough to tag a bear, we would all consider it a successful week and a good start to another hunting season.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

bhunt[email protected]