A Bait To Remember

An Ozark Baiting Experience

     I had no idea what I was in for. In August of 2023 I was ready to hunt a big bear, and that led to a litany of experiences both exciting and treacherous while I packed and managed a bait in Arkansas. Sometimes sweat or tears or both were responsible for my drenched attire as I hustled to make the dream of a big boar come true. The 2023 archery bear season is one for the history books for me. It set me up for some wild adventures baiting bears; like a child being thrown into the water with no rope, it was my time to sink or swim. 

            It all began last summer when a buddy told me that I could bait bears on his property and that he had several bears on his trail cams. Bear hunters hear that same old story all the time and it often turns out to be a farce; regardless, I found some hope deep inside, grabbed hold of it, and started counting the days until I could try my hand at baiting boars.

Touring the Property

            In Arkansas, we can begin baiting 30 days ahead of the season opener, so a few weeks prior to that my buddy took me to his place to give me the lay of the land. As I saw more and more of the property, I knew this was bear country and expected to have a bear on the bait quickly. The land had everything going for it: it was very remote, it was bordered by large blocks of public land (unfragmented and unbaited wilderness), it had matured hardwoods with a dense canopy, and it had water at the bottom of the drainage that ran through the middle of the property. I chose a spot to bait on a bench three quarters to the top of the mountain that acts as a natural funnel for wildlife. It was an ambitious spot to choose because I’d have to make multiple trips with a frame pack to fill the bait. But I liked this spot because there were clearly bear trails going through the bench already! 

The Method of Attack

            There were a few main things I liked to focus on when I was baiting. 1) I wanted to make sure and go in midday without fail to get in my stand. 2) I didn’t want the bait to go dry; if a bear shows up, there should always be something to eat. 3) I wanted to focus on variety. I intended to have a new type of bait each time. 4) I wanted to make noise when going into the bait so the bears knew I would announce my presence when approaching (maybe they’d be less on edge). 5) I wanted to use a lot of commercial scents (Northwood’s Bear Products) so that the bears would distribute the scent throughout the drainage.

The Baiting Circus

             When it was time to start baiting, I had everything I needed—including help from a good friend—and we began hiking bait down the mountain. The gravity of the mountain was light as we made the quarter mile round trip with weight on our backs. After moving hundreds of pounds of bait down the mountain, we headed back to civilization wearing a badge of honor from the hard work we had just put in. Everything went as planned.

            Once the bait was all set, I came back four days later, and all the bait was gone. The bears had wiped me out. I was pumped to check my trail camera but found that it had died. I didn’t put in fresh batteries. Oh, how I lamented my rookie mistake! Not ready to give up, I got the batteries swapped out and re-baited. The next few days I could hardly sleep; I was so excited to go back to check my camera.

            I had another friend reach out that wanted to help me bait one time in hopes of seeing a bear (since he had never seen one). I veiled my excitement concerning free labor and he met me at my house. We got to the property and quietly looked off the edge of the cliff, face down into the bench, and saw a bear. He saw his first bear in the wild and it was worth the price of admission. We were pumped as we made our way back to the truck. We were about to put on our packs when I looked back and noticed a bear 30 yards behind us coming towards the truck on the same trail we had just come from. I started talking to the bear and it sat down, not caring about what we were doing 15 yards away. An odd move for sure.

            I tell my friend that this bear is going to break into my truck if we don't run him off. I put a little pressure on the bear, and he bluff-charged me. The bear was too comfortable with us there, so I pitched a rock near him to startle him and walked towards him to run him off. We locked up my truck and headed to the bait. Later, we came back to the truck and found the bed cap had been broken into, there were scratches around my driver’s door handle, and a bag of dog food missing out of the bed of the truck. We spotted the bear about 60 yards through the woods, so I took off after him in the name of justice! My buddy probably had the same look the Israelites had when David took out Goliath, a mixture of shock and excitement over what he just witnessed. We finished baiting that day without any further mishaps.

            I ended up taking multiple friends to the bait over the next few weeks and another buddy witnessed me get within 15 yards of a bear before it would leave the bait. It wouldn’t take no for an answer. My buddy then sat on a boulder and watched a bear for a while on the bait while I made the last trip. He told my wife later that day that her “husband is a wild man!”

The next time I baited, I ended up getting swarmed by yellow jackets and got stung multiple times. The trip after that I was by myself and had to push a bear off the bait. Later, I came back to two bears climbing into the back of my truck after they had already pulled out a bottle of fryer grease with Northwoods in it. I chased them off and found a greasy paw print on my passenger mirror and grease all down my passenger side door where the oil was dripping off one of their muzzles. I proceeded back down the mountain with another load and chased another two bears off the bait. Finally on my last trip out, I saw a bear coming down the edge of the ridge towards me. This bait site was super successful, and the bears were acting weird. 

Since I was seeing bears most of the time I baited and most of my friends had fun experiences, my wife, Joleen, thought it would be great to go with me. I got her set up on top of a huge ten-foot-tall boulder, so she’d feel safe, and she had a good book with her in case things were slow since it takes me several hours to bait. Before I got down off the rock, I already saw a bear coming in and the excitement began. She watched me push the bear off the bait multiple times and now she has great memories. She also witnessed how much effort goes into baiting.

This became the most active bait I had ever seen, and I had to bait it multiple times per week, often in weather north of 100-degrees. There were multiple videos on my trail camera of six and even seven adult bears on the bait at one time. I saw several shooter bears, including a monster bruin. I had all the hopes in the world that it was going to be a memorable hunt. With all the time, work, and money put in, I wanted a bear more than ever.

The Hunt

            I decided to bait one last time and made a couple of trips with a buddy who was hunting with me before setting up for the hunt. Once in the stand, it didn’t take long for the first bear to come in and then another showed up. A little while later, two more came in. The trend continued all day. We had over 20 bear interactions and saw at least 13 adult bears and two cubs.

            45 minutes before the legal shooting light ended, I saw a big ole blocked head emerge from the depths of the mountain. This was one of my target bears, and with him came a chocolate bear that was regularly on the bait with him. I didn’t have to wait long for him to give me an opportunity. He was the big man on campus and he stopped almost on cue in the perfect pose between the two barrels for the mystical flight of the arrow.


The arrow hit its mark and the bear took off. As I replayed the shot in my head, I worried that it might have been a little far back. We got down and inspected the arrow, and it was the prettiest saturation of red I’ve ever seen. The crimson told the story that the Iron Will tipped carbon missile hit the right spot, and the hopes of recovering my prize were reignited. I looked to see if there was a blood trail; boy, was there one! At times you could almost walk at a steady, slow pace and find blood on rocks, dirt, and leaves. I followed the blood for a short distance and once the trail got more difficult to follow, I began walking the ridgeline, looking down and hoping that he didn’t go any deeper into the holler than my eyes could see. I saw a shadow at the base of a tree that looked odd and pulled up my Vortex rangefinder for verification. It was him!

I worked harder for this bear than any critter I’ve ever killed. He’ll always be special to me. This experience taught me that you can dream all you want about killing a big bear, but it’s not likely to happen unless you hustle and grind out the work to make that dream a possibility. Not to mention that you may have some crazy, unexpected adventures while doing so. I had many unexpected moments during this experience where I felt like I was drowning, but I refused to give up and kept swimming. I can’t wait to tell my future grandkids about the time when their grandpa had a wild time hunting a 400ish lb boar.