Mama bears can be quite aggressive toward other bears looking to eat at the same bait station, even fighting off larger bears that are trying to steal an easy meal from her cubs. Sows with yearling cubs, on the other hand, will physically deter their young from following them into a bait site. They do this to permanently separate from their cubs so they can breed again that spring. I once saw what I thought was a pair of smaller boars playfully fighting, but after closer observation, I realized it was a sow swatting at her cub—a cub she’d spent the previous 18 months raising. I could sense the cub’s confusion through its actions and cries. Such a scene may tug at the heart, but it also means the sow will be sought after by larger dominant boars as she comes into estrus.
Although not targeted by hunters in the spring, sows can also offer useful information. If you observe a sow rejecting her yearling cub, keep hunting over that bait throughout the rut, since she’ll be attractive to boars. Conversely, bait stations controlled by sows with young cubs aren’t usually worth hunting during the rut. With a lack of breeding opportunities at the site, big boars have less incentive to visit.