Shoshone NF Grizzly Pucker Factor


Well-known member
Dec 21, 2018
Two days into the rising sun
Looking for info (and not ridicule hopefully ;)) from someone familiar with NW Wyoming, Shoshone NF area... I have traveled to the NW Wyoming several times, but only to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Within Yellowstone, across 3 or 4 trips (last being in early 2000's), I have only seen two grizzly bears, both visible from the road. I am starting to get interested in doing a hunt or two up there in areas east of the parks, maybe Shoshone NF area. Although I have tent camped in Yellowstone and fished alone up the Lamar River, Soda Butte, Gibbon, Nez Perce, and others, even finding bison carcasses that the fly shop guys told me were being actively fed on by sows with cubs, I will now admit to not being as enamoured of doing a DIY backcountry hunt in grizzly country. Still, I'd describe it more as excessive nervousness, rather than a full-on fear. A little perspective... I live around plentiful black bears. Both in areas I hunt and work, as well as in my yard. I occasionally have close encounters, most of which are harmless. But I have had a pair of extra-too-close for comfort predatory-type encounters with large, likely male bears, wherein I was circled or purposefully stalked to very close distance and it took some cave-man tactics (rock throwing, primal yells) to get the bear to "switch off". Other people have experienced predatory behaviors in local bears and unfortunately, a fatal attack even occurred nearby a couple of years ago. I believe I am now a bit spooked. Dial up the issue with grizzlies and I am not sure I am down with the risk, where I once would have never given a second thought.

So, to the questions. Realizing that literally anything can happen in the forest and that there are so many variables and elements of chance involved - what would people say the odds are (over a week of hard hunting in elk / sub-alpine country) to 1) see a grizzly bear during daylight hours or 2) have a bear come through camp at night. And then, of bears seen / encountered, how many would be "expected" to ever lead to an uncomfortable moment. I am sure that number is very very low, but I am looking for perspective here from people who live, hunt, recreate in those mountains and can comfortably say from experience, you know, 1 out of 10? 1 out of a hundred? 1 out of a thousand?
The odds don’t really matter when you’re the one in an encounter ;)

I hunt in some of the most densely populated grizzly territory in SW Montana, but have yet to have any close encounters...Having a healthy respect for the bears helps a lot, but there isn’t much you can do if you happen to surprise one. I would say that grizzlies and black bears are completely different. Most black bears won’t challenge you too much...they might give a bluff charge, but they are typically easy enough to get scared away unless you just happen to get between mama and cubs. Grizzlies, on the other hand, can be just down right mean. That is certainly not to say that you’re going to be charged for sure if you see one...but you definitely want to keep your distance, and not give them any excuse to be curious about you.

Some of the best hunting can be in good grizz territory...there are a lot of guys who just won’t go where they think there is too great a chance of running into one. We rarely (if ever) hunt in grizzly territory alone.
An experienced hunting guide got mauled to death in this area this past hunting season on the Jackson side of the park. The bear activity and densities are fairly similar on both the south and east sides of the park. Honestly, it is just a risk you have to accept if you want to hunt this area of the State. They have started catching them in the Big Horn Basin in the last several years which is well East of the Park boundary out in the badlands. This shows that the density numbers in the western mountains are forcing bears to seek a broader range to the East. Generally, you are okay if you keep a clean camp and try to choose the areas you hunt a bit more selectively (avoid deep timber, creek bottoms, etc.). Also hunting with a friend is always a good idea in grizzly country especially after you harvest an animal. Have someone on bear watch while the other does the processing.

Honestly, if you are going to hunt this area of the State it is just something you take precaution with and hunt with a little more attention to your surroundings. Another thing to consider is, if you are a non-resident, you will need a guide with you to hunt much of the prime elk areas in this part of Wyoming.

To answer your question directly, 2 of the last 3 back country hunts I've been on in this area we have had grizzlies in camp and sited multiple bears. Luckily we haven't had a real uncomfortable encounter.
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Me and my dad have hunted the area successfully several times for deer and we've seen several,no close encounters. luckily deer are easier to get out whole so we haven't ran into one whose claimed a carcass but we've talked to guys at the trail heads who have. Most of them come in on horseback so the bears aren't as ready to pick a fight but everyone, and I do mean everyone carries bear spray.
I hunt SW MT in heavy g. bear country. For many years I never saw one. I never even could confirm tracks. In the last 5 years things have changed very noticeably. We see tracks pretty much every time that we go deep into the backcountry.

This has been our experience too. One day we came on the tracks of 3 different grizzlies, all within about 5 miles of each other...all in snow that had fallen that morning. They were all 3 different in size, so we could tell they were different bears. Keeps you alert, that is for sure...especially when you are going through an area of thick dead falls, and are on the same trail and going the same direction as those fresh tracks 😂
MTTW, that's funny. I deal with rattlesnakes respectfully too and never get tooooo comfortable sticking my hands where they don't belong, but would also never let them dissuade me from going anywhere. Just use common sense.

From the comments received so far, I am already convinced that for me, hunting in grizzly country is not likely to be a DIY affair. A guide is sounding pretty good. I am surprised, and appreciative, that folks in the know seem to take this issues seriously, and I (so far) have not gotten any responses about how harmless grizzly bears are (you know, the whole, "if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone" approach). I always advocate the position that animals (particularly those like strange dogs and bears) are not people and it is up to US to expect the unexpected and avoid conflicts, and not to believe they will conform to what I expect (or hope) for them to do.
I hunted in Shoshone NF about 4 years ago. Was early November and all the signs said be bear aware April-October but we encountered one grizzly sow that could not read. She was rolling over deadfall logs. Several mule deer were casually grazing on the same ridge, some within 50 yards of her. She never charged and seemed content to look for mice and grubs rather than burn energy trying to get a deer. Or us.

We spotted the bear as the sun rose and were about 100 yards away where we had been sitting for over half hour before light. Was first morning there for us and as we could start to make out blobs at first light the big blob created a pucker factor as the building light made that blob clearer and clearer.

I hired a guide that hunt to have horses and to have someone to watch my backside. I like to hunt from first to last light and as I spoke to other hunters that had drawn the same tag in prior years then it was obvious I would be encountering bears. Bumbling into a bear after dark or worrying as was breaking a deer down about every branch breaking was not something I was keen to experience in some ritual to prove manhood. My wife's family grew up in Montana and she was not happy that I considered a solo hunt for a few weeks before arranging a guide for the hunt. I also saw wolves that hunt that casually trotted through the same drainage as we were eating a sandwich for lunch on the second day.

That hunt was very memorable. Scenery was amazing. Any hunt in that area should be worth the effort.

Well I can tell you, I went to hunt black bear in the Shoshone NF in the fall of 2017. Personally my biggest problem wasn't the grizzly. Being from the east, altitude was my biggest troublemaker. I hunted hard for 6 days, came across tree rubs with grizzly hair stuck to it, had grizzly pass through my camp a few times, one morning had grizzly tracks right next to my tent, even came across a grizzly kill site with a semi buried/half eaten elk in it, but that's as far as i got to coming across a grizzly bear. it definitely kept me on edge a bit, but definitely not enough to deter me from hunting and enjoy the backcountry. If you make smart decisions, like don't keep food in camp with you , but store it at least 200 yards away, cook and eat your food away from camp, don't keep keep anything with a scent in camp or worse in your tent with you, (i.e. deodorant, lip balm, etc.), you should be fine. Just stay vigilant and you should have no problems. Good luck and maybe i'll run into you this fall, because I planning on another fall black bear hunt this fall in Shoshone NF.
Some of my favorite places to hunt here in MT are densely populated with grizzlies and I hunt solo probably 75% of the time. I’m a passionate spring bear hunter and I have a lot of grizzly encounters every spring, most encounters go like you would hope and the bears run off once you make your presence known. All of my bad encounters have come in the timber when things happen fast and you bump into each other generally surprising the bear. Last year was my worst encounter and I got charged while hunting alone, it ended with a warning shot in front of the bear and luckily she walked away as I backed up, if the shot have not scared her things probably wouldn’t have gone well for me after that. I carry bear spray at all times on my chest with my Bino harness and have an in reach on my Bino harness also. I’ll be completely honest that I don’t sleep well in the tent in grizz country, Advil pm really helps me sleep. I have a ton of respect for grizz and a touch of fear, they seem unpredictable sometimes, just grouchy and can flip a switch to pissed off instantly. But at the same time it adds something to the hunt for me, always on edge and keeps you focused. I hunt those places mostly cause I love the landscape and the views while hunting and will never stop hunting there due to the grizzlies. If it’s an area you’ve always wanted to explore I’d say go for it because you may regret not seeing that country someday. Just keep a VERY clean camp and give grizz room if you encounter them. Definitely carry bear spray in my opinion. One other quick note is when I kill an animal right before dark and have to butcher it knowing bears are possibly near by. That is a tough time staying focused and it’s just kinda worrisome, I’ve found that when I play music on my phone while working it really calms me down, I have no idea why and some will say it’s stupid to involve music with hunting, but it really helps me stay focused and get the job done. If you end up trying it good luck with your hunt

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