7 Bear Baiting Tactics

7 Bear Baiting Tactics

With the snow disappearing from the high country and hunters getting the itch to head outdoors, most think of one of a few things. Some are the hardcore shed guys, some chase gobblers, and others chase bears. Personally, I like to do a little of the first couple of options, but more than anything, I fancy myself a bear hunter. For as long as I can remember, I have baited bears nearly every spring. My family, friends, and I have had plenty of success over the years, but it’s been a learning experience.

Before I was even old enough to hunt, I was tagging along with my dad to bear baits in the late 80s, and back then, it was easy. I would bet that in those days, we were one of the very few people baiting, and baits set out would draw bears from miles away. With no competing bait for miles, we would have many bears on our bait; my dad saw 13 different bears one evening. As I got older and could hunt, the hunting was still great, but it got more difficult as competition intensified.

Fast forward to the present, and the bear-baiting scene has transformed. In areas where baiting is permitted and bear populations are thriving, it's a given that most canyons will have a bait or two. This increased participation has made the hunt more challenging, with bears being drawn back and forth by competing hunters. However, success is still within reach, albeit requiring more effort and strategic planning.

The Big Boys Roam

Most years, it seems like once the bears come out of hibernation, they will feed for a while before they start to roam as the spring gets later and the rut grows nearer. Due to that, the best strategy is to have your bait set when they first come out of hibernation. That way, as soon as a bear starts rooting around, they find your bait. The goal here is to either get a big boar hitting fast and kill him before he starts looking for ladies or hopefully get some sows hitting that will bring the big boy into your setup come June. Some years, this means packing bait through feet of snow. This takes a lot of effort and is misery best spent with a good friend. In some cases, you can use a snow machine to put your bait in but check regulations to ensure the legality in your chosen area.

Go Farther

As I mentioned, things are different now than they used to be, and often, we find better success when we get further from the road—keeping other hunters from finding your bait. There aren’t really rules in place to keep others from hunting off your bait, and with the effort it takes to pack hundreds or thousands of pounds of bait, I prefer not to have freeloaders hunting my bait sites. Due to this, I always make sure to place baits no closer than a half mile from the nearest road; a mile is even better.

We have done this using different methods, from horses and mules to game carts and on our backs. I prefer to have everything in bags that I can strap to my pack and carry in 50# loads. Anymore, we carry our bait initially with our horse and mules, then keep it stocked, packing regular loads on our backs. I love the Initial Ascent platform for this purpose. The frame with the Pannier Load carrier and the lid is the perfect setup for packing bait.

Load it up to Start

As I mentioned, we carry out the initial bait with our stock. On the first day, we pack in the barrel and several hundred pounds of bait to the site. I like to put plenty of food there to get the bears hitting without being bothered as they settle in. With this first large load, I can generally wait a couple to several weeks before checking back.

Once I check the bait and my trail camera (they were legal), I determine what is hitting the bait. If it’s a bear that we want to hunt, I will hunt the bait as soon as possible. If the weather is decent, I try to hunt and kill that bear as fast as possible with as little disturbance as possible. After as many days as I have available to hunt passes, I will determine if the bait needs to be restocked or if it's still doing okay and pack bait as needed.

Thermals Matter

Before I set a bait in an area, I like to spend some time in the area where I intend to bait. It's especially good to know what thermals tend to do in the exact spot where you want to put bait. Of all the baits we have placed over the years, I believe thermals are the number one factor that keeps you from killing bears if you hunt hard. If the wind is always giving them an advantage, you won't kill them. If this is the case, you don’t necessarily need to find a new canyon, maybe just a better bait station.

Of course, you never know exactly where the bears might be, but I try to pick bait sites where the best cover is above the bait. That way, I can approach the bait site and get set up while the wind is blowing uphill. As the evening progresses to a time when bears most often come in, the wind will be blowing in my face away from the bears' approach. Bears can come in at any time from any direction, but I hunt bears in the evening. I always have done it that way, and it works for me.


You never know what a particular bear may fancy, so it’s best to have various food options at your bait site. You need foods that put off plenty of odors so bears can smell and find your bait from a long distance. I like to have plenty of sweet stuff, dog food, rolled oats with molasses, and lots of popcorn with Boarmasters powder sprinkled all over it. You want everything you need to keep the bears full and happy with the menu. If Joe Blow has the better buffet a mile away, you might lose your customers.

Sit often and stay late.

Time on the stand is one of the most critical things to killing bears. I know a guy who has been trying to kill a bear over bait for nearly a decade now with no success. Every year, he gets bears hitting, and then he will say, “I am going to go sit Saturday evening,” it’s like a Wednesday. For years, I have said they are hitting, hunt the next five days straight, and odds are they will visit the bait when you are there. Bears don’t always visit a bait site every day, but usually, they won't go more than a couple of days without a visit.

Another factor is staying late in the evening. I find out exactly when the legal shooting light ends and don’t leave a second earlier. My wife and kids don’t like this about me because they want to vacate the area while they can still see well, but the last thirty minutes are almost always the best thirty minutes.

Late Season is the Right Season

When we hunters hear late season, we think of snow and cold, but I am referring to the late season as the middle to the end of June in areas where it's legal to bait bears that late. By the middle of June, the bear rut is in full swing, and if you have multiple bears or even a lone sow hitting your bait, you could have a monster boar stroll in at any time. This time of year, is when I’ve seen some of the biggest bears of my life. There isn’t a better time to sit a bait, in my opinion, than the middle of June. Yes, some bears may be starting to rub out, but in the high country where we bait, most bears still have a great coat at this time, unless it's been a hot spring. Although you must plan on some warm sits and plenty of mosquitos, I promise it’s worth it when that sow drags that big boar into view.

Get After It

Anyone who says that they don’t bait bears because it’s not fair or it’s too easy has never actually baited bears. It’s tons of work and can also get pretty hard on the pocketbook. Long, boring evening sits in tree stands or ground blinds are the norm. At times, you sweat to death, and others will swear you are getting hypothermia. I remember hearing that sitting a bear bait is hours of boredom followed by a few seconds or minutes of excitement, which pretty well sums it up. Thirty-plus years later, though, I still love those few minutes so much that I keep coming back for more.

Zach Bowhay is known as a hunter and writer who has successfully hunted many species all across the western states and beyond. Specifically he is highly regarded in the western hunting community as an expert in DIY elk hunting on public lands. For 15 years he has been a well-published writer, sharing his love of the outdoors and expertise in both gear and tactics through his writing as well as video and photos. When not spending time with his wife and three kids he can be found roaming the mountains of the west in the pursuit of adventure.

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