DIY Backcountry Baited Bears in Wyoming

This DIY public land hunt had its challenges, but we loved every minute of it!


In 2019, Cheri and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. In the past we’ve taken vacations in honor of milestone anniversaries, usually ones that involved a warm beach. Because I don’t look that good in a swimming suit anymore, I suggested something different for the 40th. “How about we buy a trailer and take a tour of several national parks across the western US?” She readily accepted my offer, particularly after the vision of me in a swimming suit was brought up. This story really is about bear hunting, so bear with me as I set the stage.

We had an amazing vacation, seeing lots of amazing sights, but the short time we spent in Yellowstone Park was very disappointing. I’ve been to Yellowstone two dozen times, but I’ve never seen it like this. In fact it was such a chaotic zoo, we left two days early. We drove south through the Tetons and ended up in a remote valley along the western border of Wyoming. The Greys River runs through this valley and the history of the mountain man trappers in the area has a lot of appeal to me.

We parked the camper along the river and set about spending a couple days leisurely driving backcountry roads, exploring the creeks and valleys and their stunning alpine views. At one point, I took a long look around me and made the statement, “Man this looks like great bear country!” She turned to me with the look that only 40 years of marriage can define. She knew.

Fast forward to early August of 2020, and I was back in the Greys River Valley loaded for bear. I’d brought along two friends, first my buddy Virgil from South Dakota who has been on several bear hunting adventures with me over the years. And second, a friend from my church Dave, who had just recently gotten into bear hunting. He got hooked when he drew a tag and shot a bear on my property in Minnesota.

Dave lost his wife of 47 years to cancer just before Christmas last year. I knew he would need something to look forward to, which is one of the reasons I invited him on this trip. Then just a couple months before the trip, he was diagnosed with cancer and had several surgeries, removing his lymph nodes among other things. I was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to go, but he was determined. He was feeling pretty good, but just a week prior to the trip, they found another lump in his upper chest. He called me up and asked if I would be willing to remove the stitches while in bear camp; it’s the only way he could still go along. I agreed.

The plan was simple. Arrive a week before the season, get some baits going, then hunt for a week. We mostly would use our ATVs for transportation into the backcountry, then set up baits 200-400 yards back into the mountain valleys. The most difficult part of this was navigating the confusing and convoluted bear hunting regulations of the Cowboy state. See my description in a separate text on that.

I brought pastries and trail mix because they are easy to keep fresh without refrigeration. We had no cell service and no electricity other than a small generator that I would run a few hours a day to keep our two week’s worth of food cold in a small chest freezer I’d brought with me. Hopefully we would need the freezer to take bears home in. We camped in Virgil’s spacious wall tent and had a very comfortable camp.

Once we jumped through the hoops of registering the bait sites, we waited. Finally, one bait was hit, then a couple more. Three of the baits out of four were getting some use. Finally after a week, the fourth one took on a bear, then a second one which was a real giant. I knew the area was home to many color phase bears, but I was surprised when all seven of the bears we eventually had on camera were brown in color.  One was a light brown and I promptly named him Brown Sugar because he was so sweet. Incredibly, every single photo of bears we had on trail camera was in the daylight.

We hung stands at the active baits and had high expectations for opening day. The following day, every single trail cam photo we got was after dark. Every single bear went nocturnal at once. One of the baits was put out of commission by a bunch of campers who decided to set up camp right on a game trail along a creek in a valley below the bait. Two dozen people, seven tents, barking dogs and screaming kids completed the bizarre episode that took place in an area you would never expect someone to choose for a rocky campsite. We were down to three active baits and one had a bear that came late and never made an appearance in the daylight.

Opening morning, we checked the camera to see what our strategy would be for that day. My fears were confirmed that we had three hunters and only two baits worth hunting. I offered to draw straws to see who had to sit in camp for the evening, but Dave and Virgil were adamant that since I had done the work leading up to the trip, I should hunt and they would work out the other bait between them. Very unselfish of them.

Virgil hunted Brown Sugar and I went two miles up the mountain to a bait that had been hit regularly by a large male and sporadically by a large female. Both were brown with a light-colored streak of faded blonde hair down their backs. No one saw a bear that night or the following night. All the bear activity had gone nocturnal and the brown female had disappeared altogether. Virgil and Dave were switching off between the other two baits.

I felt strongly that we had been at the baits too much and the bears were getting too edgy. We were baiting every day, checking cams, hanging stands; just too much activity for the bears to feel comfortable. I proposed we sit it out one night. It sounds crazy to take a day off when you only have a few days to hunt but I felt it was our best chance. My theory was that if the bears came in and found the scent older, and no one around, they might relax a little and we’d have a better chance to kill them. The guys reluctantly agreed.

It worked. Day four arrived and we found that bears had hit two of the baits in the daylight right before dark. Dave went to hunt Brown Sugar, Virgil went to hunt the Bear Creek bait and I went up the mountain again. I sincerely hoped that the big brown male would make an appearance an hour before dark as he had the previous evening.

Not long after arriving in the stand, Virgil saw a brown bear moving through the brush above his stand. The bear hung around, partially circled the bait and was in the area for quite some time but never committed to the bait. He could have killed the bear with a firearm, but like me, he was bowhunting.

I arrived at my stand at 8,000 feet quite winded. I had been driving my ATV to about 200 yards from the bait and parking on an old skidder trail. But earlier, I had back trailed the bears’ approach trails and become concerned that they might be encountering my 4-wheeler when they were coming to the bait. So I parked farther down the mountain and scrambled my way up the mountainside to my stand from another angle.

About an hour before dark, I was rewarded for my decisions. I saw a large brown bear move through the bushes 30 yards behind the bait. I was certain it was the big male that had come to the bait about the same time the previous evening. I readied my bow, but the bear did not come. About 20 minutes later, I happened to catch movement out of the corner of my eye and slowly turned my head. Sure enough, the bear was skirting the edge of a small opening directly behind me. It slowly worked its way directly downwind, but the wind was really swirling. Its nose went into the air a couple times, then it sat down. But the swirling wind and good scent control kept this bear from figuring it out.

Soon the full circle was slowly made and the bear approached the bait. A turn broadside to look over its shoulder and the arrow was on its way. The bear ran 40 yards and dropped within sight, only a few feet from where I first saw it.

Now the real surprise was about to take place. As I approached the bear, I realized it was not the big brown male, it was the female who had not been seen on camera for more than two days. Go figure. Suddenly I had a decision to make. If I spent a lot of time with skinning this bear and taking it back to camp with dark coming on, the odds of spooking the big male off the bait for good were high. I really wanted Virgil or Dave to have a chance at it.

I tagged my bear, rolled it over on its back and quietly snuck out of there. The nights were getting cold, below freezing in fact, so I wasn’t worried about spoilage but there was another concern.  I know I was taking a big risk because the male may come along and tear up the female, possibly feed on her.

The following morning, we came back and found my bear intact, and in fact the male had hit the bait well after dark, a pattern he would not depart from the rest of our time there. Wyoming doesn’t require you to save the meat from the bears, but I like bear meat so I took some of it and we ate some that day in camp.

The last three days of the hunt we never saw another bear in the daylight. While Virgil and Dave hunted, I spent my time fishing and hauling the inactive baits back to camp. I was very disappointed that neither of them got their bears, but they had a great attitude and both agreed they loved every minute of the trip, the scenery and the camaraderie and a dead bear wasn’t necessary to make it a successful trip. We all agreed we would love to do it again. And we learned so much about hunting in this mountainous terrain that I believe we would have a better chance of being successful in the future.



There are several steps you must go through in order to bait bears in Wyoming. And you can’t do any of them until you purchase a bear license, so you can’t just show up and try to get some bears on the baits before you buy your tag. Your license and habitat stamp will set you back just under $400 and then if you’re hunting the early archery season as we did, you’ll need another $72 archery permit. Once you have purchased your tags, you must then register a section of land to bait in and this must be done in person at a regional game and fish office.

This makes it particularly difficult for nonresidents because residents can register a square-mile section of land in April before nonresidents. And anyone who has registered sections in the past has first chance at them. Of course that means outfitters have locked up most of the great spots year after year and nonresidents must figure out a way to squeeze in where they can. An outfitter who operates in the area we were hunting had 28 sections registered. You can register just two sections per person, but you can hunt on the registered sections of others with their permission, which offers a big advantage to those who hunt in a group like we did. Plus, because you must do this in person, you’d best try to find several spots, list the section numbers in order of your preference, just in case you arrive at the game and fish office and discover the sections you scouted are already taken. You cannot place a bait within 200 yards of water or 200 yards of a maintained road, which further narrows the options. It was a five hour round-trip drive for us to go to the Game and Fish office in Jackson.

And if that isn’t complicated enough, you must then go to those sections and establish your bait sites, then call in the GPS coordinates of the exact bait sites. That required a two-hour round trip drive for us to get to cell service to make those calls. Once I shot the bear, I had to once again make the round-trip five hour drive to Jackson to check in the bear in person.

Yes, it is complicated, time-consuming and involved, but it finally seems worth the trouble when you have a nice bear in the truck.